Russian envoy: NATO would let some Serb troops stay in Kosovo
May 24, 1999
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- As NATO entered the third month of its air war against Yugoslavia Monday, Russia's Balkans envoy reported he had persuaded NATO allies to allow some Yugoslav troops to remain in Kosovo as part of any peace deal.
The independent news agency Beta reported that NATO struck targets near the northern Serbian city of Novi Sad, and other media said NATO missiles have devastated Yugoslavia's power grid and seriously threatened water supplies.
Belgrade's water supplies were down by 90 percent, according to some reports. Fifteen NATO bombs hit water pumps early Monday near the northwestern town of Sremska Mitrovica.
Other pumping stations were shut down because of power outages caused by NATO hits in Belgrade, Novi Sad and Nis. Millions of people were without electricity.
"Every effort is being made in this difficult situation to restore power supply to priority users -- hospitals, the water company, bakeries -- in order to alleviate the humanitarian disaster being caused by NATO," Serbia's power company told the Tanjug news agency.
NATO began its bombing campaign on March 24 to force Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to comply with an international agreement to resolve the conflict in Kosovo between Serbs and ethnic Albanians, who seek independence or autonomy.
"Let the people of Yugoslavia be quite clear," said British Defense Secretary George Robertson on Monday. "The bombing can end at any time. It's in Milosevic's hands and he knows our conditions, which are reasonable and sensible, and nothing less than full compliance will do."
But Russian envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin said Monday that he had persuaded NATO to bend on one of its conditions -- a complete withdrawal of Yugoslav troops from Kosovo.
"It has taken two or three weeks to convince our counterparts -- the United States and (other) NATO countries -- that while withdrawing the (Yugoslav) troops, it's necessary to leave some of them behind," Chernomyrdin said.
Chernomyrdin has been meeting with Finnish President Marrti Ahtisaari and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott to find a diplomatic solution to the war. Neither Talbott nor Ahtisaari, who plan to meet again in Moscow Wednesday with Chernomyrdin, commented on the Russian's statements.
NATO has been considering allowing Serb troops to guard some historical sites in Kosovo at the end of the war.
But CNN's Walter Rodgers reported from Belgrade that NATO's relentless attacks appeared to have no adverse effect on the public's opinion of Milosevic. Instead, Rodgers said, Belgrade's citizenry appears increasingly angry at NATO.
The alliance, however, continued to report growing disaffection with Milosevic's policies, ranging from anti-war protests in Serbian towns to desertion of some Yugoslav troops.
Milosevic balked at a provision in the Kosovo peace plan calling for an international peacekeeping force in the province with NATO at its core. The Yugoslav president has said he would accept a lightly armed force controlled by the United Nations, but NATO insists that nothing less than a fully armed contingent can guarantee the safety of ethnic Albanian refugees returning to their homes.
Efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict continue, with Russian Balkans envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin, Finnish President Marrti Ahtisaari and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott scheduled to meet again Wednesday in Moscow.
Meanwhile, Isa Zymberi of the Kosovo Information Center said in Brussels that "Albanians in general and Kosovars in particular are 100 percent behind NATO." In fact, he said, Albanians "continue to ask for intensification" of NATO's attacks on Yugoslavia.
On Tuesday, representatives of NATO countries will discuss a possible increase in the number of troops to be deployed as a peacekeeping force when the bombing campaign ends.
NATO now has about 13,000 troops, mostly British and French, in Macedonia as part of a future force, called KFOR. The Pentagon said 45,000 to 50,000 troops likely would be needed for that operation, up from an initial assessment of 28,000.
The call for an increase prompted protests from Yugoslavia's top diplomat at the United Nations, Vladislav Jovanovic, who called the possibility "a very dangerous new step in the wrong direction."
"This is a disguise for invasion, which is in preparation, and nobody can call it a liberation of Kosovo," he said on CNN's "Late Edition."
But NATO denied the troops were preparing to invade Kosovo.
"Nobody is talking about putting in ground troops into a combat situation," said NATO spokesman Jamie Shea. "Everybody agrees that the air campaign has to run its course until such time as those Serb forces are degraded, diminished, demoralized and on their way out."
"For some time, we have asked NATO to do assessments and updates of plans -- one for entry in a permissive environment and the other, nonpermissive," said U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on CBS' "Face The Nation" on Sunday. "We are now focusing very much on the entry into a permissive environment."
However, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told the BBC that NATO must be ready to "deploy troops in a permissive or a nonpermissive environment" -- meaning with or without the Yugoslav government's consent.
Cook also said there are signals from Washington that the United States was no longer categorically rejecting early deployment of ground troops.
In an opinion piece published in Sunday's New York Times, U.S. President Bill Clinton reiterated NATO's oft-stated view that the air campaign was working, but said he did "not rule out other military options."
Also Sunday, sources told CNN that Clinton had authorized the CIA to conduct a covert operation to destabilize the Milosevic government.
Pentagon: No plans for Kosovo invasion
Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites:
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