Talks on troop withdrawal to resume as NATO pressures Yugoslavia with new bombing raids
June 7, 1999
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- NATO responded Monday to stalled troop withdrawal talks between it and Yugoslav military officials with an intensification of its bombing campaign against Yugoslavia.
NATO blamed Belgrade for the early morning breakdown of the talks, saying that Serb generals had tried to re-negotiate key points which NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said were "non-negotiable."
Just hours after the talks were suspended, air raid sirens sounded on Monday in Belgrade for the first time in days, and Serb media reported new bombing raids near the cities of Pec and Decani.
NATO struck Yugoslav artillery, an ammunition storage site at Kursumlija, a radio relay site at Rudnik and an air defense post at Kopaonik.
CNN's Jim Clancy said windows in Belgrade rattled with several sonic booms, but no airstrikes were reported in the heavily populated capital.
Senior Pentagon officials had warned the air campaign would step up after Serbs refused to sign an agreement outlining steps in the withdrawal process.
U.S. State Department Spokesman James Rubin, en route with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to a meeting of foreign ministers in Germany, said that the Yugoslavs had failed to "guarantee the safe return of the refugees and the safety of all the people of Kosovo."
Rubin said that Yugoslav delegates to the talks in Kumanovo, Macedonia on Sunday presented proposals that were "not consistent" with an agreement the Yugoslavs had previously reached with Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari and Russian envoy to the Balkans, Viktor Chernomyrdin.
Among the thousands of Kosovo refugees in Macedonia, some who had anticipated an end to the conflict in Kosovo, and the possibility of returning home, found the setback in talks on Sunday devastating. Some expressed their disappointment, while others appeared simply resigned. Many took a "wait-and-see" approach to the talks.
Diplomatic efforts go forward
Rubin said more bombing can be expected in Yugoslavia until Yugoslav troops are removed from Kosovo. "The air campaign will continue, and we will continue to make diplomatic efforts with our G-8 colleagues toward a peaceful resolution of this conflict."
Some European leaders had expressed optimism that the talks would be resumed, playing down the earlier, apparent breakdown in discussions.
"The talks have not been broken off, they are merely interrupted," Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's top foreign policy adviser Michael Steiner said.
President Clinton cut short a weekend trip to the presidential retreat of Camp David in the Maryland mountains and made plans to return to Washington earlier than scheduled, the White House said.
White House officials said they did not know whether the change of plans was related to the stall in the talks in Macedonia.
Timely withdrawal of troops at issue
Senior Pentagon officials said the Serb military delegation to talks along Kosovo's border refused to agree to NATO's terms for a speedy withdrawal of Serb forces from the province.
The officials said the Serbs want a United Nations Security Council resolution on Kosovo to be passed before they would have to withdraw and peacekeeping troops could move in.
British Lt. Gen. Michael Jackson, the senior NATO commander at the talks, said NATO "has no alternative but to continue and indeed intensify the air campaign until such time as the Yugoslav side is prepared to agree to implement the agreement fully and without ambiguity."
Pentagon officials said the Serbs also indicated they "needed more time" than the seven days alloted by NATO to get their estimated 40,000 troops and police out of Kosovo.
But Pentagon officials said the Yugoslavs have yet to provide convincing reasons for a delay.
The NATO air campaign had been scaled down in recent days, in expectation of a Serb withdrawal from Kosovo. But officials said it will now be increased.
Yugoslav officials willing to continue talks
Jackson said NATO would be willing to resume discussions with the Yugoslavs at any point, once they are ready to accept NATO's proposal.
A spokesman for the Yugoslav side, Nebojsa Vujovic, said his side was willing to continue the discussions with NATO.
"We will continue with our constructive effort, and we are ready to talk further," he said.
"Speculation that we have no mandate for those talks are not correct," he said. "We have a clear mandate in accordance with the political document established in Belgrade."
The breakdown came after talks between the two sides had continued all day Sunday and stretched until nearly 3 a.m. Monday local time. On Saturday, a five-hour session had been held at a different location.
NATO leaders were insisting that the Yugoslavs sign the six-page document, which outlined the procedures for withdrawing forces from Kosovo. NATO was adamant that there would be no negotiations with the Yugoslavs and that the withdrawal must take place on NATO's terms.
Sources reported that the 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, and they also wanted protection from attacks by the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army.
Both sides have safety concerns
U.S. officials said Sunday a delay could make Kosovo vulnerable to snipers, terrorists and looters.
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 also asked 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.
Yugoslavia 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 would oversee the return of ethnic Albanian refugees and a demilitarization of the province, including the disarming of the KLA, which has been fighting for an independent homeland for Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority.
NATO leaders had vowed to press ahead with their air assault until they saw concrete evidence that the Yugoslavs were complying.
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.
U.S. Marines' arrival delayed
British and German troops arrived in Macedonia Sunday to prepare for a possible deployment. U.S. Marines who were supposed to disembark in Greece Sunday, on their way to Macedonia were delayed until at least Monday because they did not yet have Greek government to come ashore.
For diplomats, Sunday's turn of events made related plans unclear. Foreign ministers from the G-8 countries -- Russia, Japan and six leading NATO powers including the United States -- were to meet to finalize the text of a U.N. Security Council Resolution outlining the peace agreement.
Albright is scheduled to join the G-8 meeting in Bonn, and to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov to try to reach an agreement for Russian participation in the Kosovo peacekeeping force.
Russian officials have said they will not put their troops under NATO command in Kosovo.
"The Russians can participate much as they are participating in (peacekeeping in) Bosnia. But there cannot be separate command structures," Cohen.
Ahtisaari, who helped broker the peace framework between NATO and the Yugoslavs, said he would delay a trip to China. He had planned try to persuade the Chinese government to support the resolution in the Security Council.
China holds a veto as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, and has been strongly critical of NATO's campaign in Yugoslavia.
Talks between NATO, Yugoslavia fall apart
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