Yugoslavs balk at signing Kosovo withdrawal agreement
June 6, 1999
KUMANOV0, Macedonia (CNN) -- Despite two days of intense discussions, Yugoslav military officials were still reluctant Sunday night to sign an agreement outlining terms for a withdrawal of their forces from Kosovo -- prompting NATO to accuse them of stalling.
Talks between the Yugoslavs and NATO had lasted into the night as NATO warned the Yugoslavs to accept its terms or face continued airstrikes.
"There is very little chance" that the talks, which began Saturday, would be allowed to continue into Monday, said NATO spokesman Maj. Trey Cate.
For more than 15 hours Sunday, the two sides met inside a tent at an airfield at Kumanovo, Macedonia. They then took a break in the evening so the Yugoslavs could consult with officials in Belgrade. That break was then extended.
NATO leaders insist that the Yugoslavs sign the six-page document, which outlines the procedures for withdrawing forces from Kosovo. NATO is adamant that there will be no negotiations with the Yugoslavs and that the withdrawal from the Serbian province will take place on NATO's terms.
However, earlier Sunday, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea cautioned against the assumption that NATO's conditions would be agreed to quickly by the Yugoslavs.
"There are a number of very technical, very complex issues to be discussed, and these talks in Kumanovo could take some time to conclude," he said.
Indications from Kumanovo were that very little progress had been made. Sources reported that Yugoslav military leaders had agreed to only six of the 20 provisions in the document.
The Yugoslav generals asked for more time than the allotted week to move their forces from the province. They also sought protection from attacks by the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army, which has been fighting for an independent homeland for Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority.
U.S. officials indicated Sunday they will resist any delay, which they say could open up opportunities for snipers, terrorists and looters and the laying of booby traps.
U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said he was concerned about any "slow rolling" of the withdrawal process.
"We're not going to allow any kind of deliberate policy of delaying day by day, whatever the time frame is," he said on ABC's "This Week" program.
Yugoslav officials are also asking NATO to guarantee the safety of ethnic Serbs still living in Kosovo, fearing bloody reprisals when ethnic Albanian refugees forced from the province return home.
Keeping up the pressure on the Yugoslavs, NATO flew more than 400 sorties from Saturday night into Sunday, according to alliance spokesman Maj. Gen. Walter Jertz. Munitions facilities in Vrsac and Pristina, was well as tanks, artillery and armor on the ground, were among the targets.
Serb media reported that NATO bombs hit Prizren, Kosovo Polje and Djakovica.
There was also military activity along the border between Albania and Kosovo. NATO used B-52 bombers to strike an area near Gorshub in Yugoslavia, just inside the border. The mountain plateau was also the scene of a daylong artillery and mortar battle between Yugoslav forces and the KLA.
Yugoslavia has accepted a framework for a Kosovo settlement that calls for the withdrawal of forces from the disputed province and the introduction of a NATO-led international peacekeeping force.
Those troops will oversee the return of ethnic Albanian refugees and a demilitarization of the province, including disarming of the KLA.
Despite the agreement, NATO leaders have vowed to press ahead with their air assault until they see concrete evidence that the Yugoslavs are complying. Even then, Shea said Sunday that the airstrikes would only be suspended, not stopped.
"The sword of Damocles is a good technique for concentrating President (Slobodan) Milosevic's mind, and that's why we'll keep that sword in place," he said.
Cohen said Sunday he is not concerned that the KLA will refuse to demilitarize.
"Everything we've seen to date would tend to indicate they would indeed be on board, because the objective of getting all the Serb forces out will be achieved, assuming this agreement in fact is concluded," he said on CNN's "Late Edition."
In an interview on "Fox News Sunday," NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said the majority of the 50,000-troop peacekeeping force for Kosovo would consist of European troops under the command of a British general.
British and German troops arrived in Macedonia Sunday to prepare for a possible deployment; the first American troops were scheduled to arrive Monday.
On Monday in Bonn, foreign ministers from the Group of Eight countries -- Russia, Japan and six leading NATO powers, including the United States -- will meet to finalize the text of a U.N. Security Council resolution outlining the peace agreement.
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is to join the G-8 meeting and, while in Bonn, will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov to try to reach an agreement for Russian participation in the Kosovo peacekeeping force.
Russian officials have ruled out putting their troops under NATO command in Kosovo -- something Cohen indicated would be unacceptable. And he said there was "no guarantee" that the Russians would be involved.
"The Russians can participate much as they are participating in (peacekeeping in) Bosnia. But there cannot be separate command structures," he said.
Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, who helped broker the peace framework between NATO and the Yugoslavs, said he plans to travel to China to persuade the Chinese government to support the resolution in the Security Council.
China, which holds a veto as one of the council's five permanent members, has been strongly critical of NATO's campaign in Yugoslavia, particularly after its embassy in Belgrade was bombed.
"My prime aim is to go to see the permanent member who has not been briefed properly. I think I owe it to the Chinese that I explain what has happened in these talks that I have attended," Ahtisaari said on "This Week."
NATO, Yugoslav generals take a break; no resolution in sight
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