NATO commander claims Yugoslav forces defying agreement
June 10, 1999
BRUSSELS, Belgium (CNN) -- NATO has warned Yugoslavia it must expedite efforts to withdraw its forces from Kosovo after military observers reported there were no signs that troops were being pulled out of the disputed province in line with a newly signed agreement.
CNN's Patricia Kelly reported that NATO's supreme commander Gen. Wesley Clark had also identified instances where the Yugoslav military had breached cease-fire conditions of the agreement, which came Wednesday after marathon session of intense talks near the Yugoslav-Macedonian border.
Kelly said Clark had seen no indications of a withdrawal and had advised a senior Yugoslav general to move his troops out as soon as possible.
Clark told CNN the cease-fire was being breached with attacks against Kosovars in western Kosovo near the Albanian border.
Clark also said withdrawals could be confirmed from the air and there could be no suspension in air operations against Yugoslavia until the withdrawal began.
The implementation of a cease-fire can only come on Clark's recommendation.
On Wednesday, Senior NATO commander Lt. Gen. Michael Jackson announced Yugoslavia had agreed to a "phased, verifiable and orderly withdrawal from Kosovo" that would allow for a NATO peacekeeping force to enter the province and provide a "secure environment" there.
Jackson said once NATO can confirm Yugoslav forces have begun to pull out of Kosovo, the alliance would suspend its bombardment of Yugoslavia.
However, "I have made it clear that if subsequently the withdrawal timetable is breached, the agreement requires the air operation to resume," Jackson said.
Yugoslav Foreign Ministry spokesman Nebojsa Vujovic said army troops and police would start pulling out on Thursday.
U.S. troops, artillery, and heavy equipment began arriving on the border of Macedonia Thursday.
Moves towards a cessation of hostilities came as U.S. Marines deployed from vessels anchored off the Greek coast.
The 2,200 Marines went ashore in amphibious craft shortly after dawn and will travel the 175 miles (280 kilometers) by land to Macedonia for deployment in and around Kosovo.
CNN's Jeff Flock reported from the landing zone at Litohoro that the full force was expected take up to eight hours to come ashore.
The amphibious force will fall under NATO command, Flock reported.
Greek authorities dispersed a small number of protesters.
U.S. sources told CNN that Yugoslavia had 11 days to withdraw. Once the pullout is completed, "several hundred" Yugoslav troops would be allowed to return to Kosovo to protect religious shrines and border locations, CNN's Wolf Blitzer reported from Washington.
As Yugoslav forces leave, British forces would enter from Macedonia to serve as the vanguard of a 50,000-strong NATO-led force in Kosovo, known as KFOR.
The peacekeeping force will "establish a robust military presence that will provide a secure environment for the safe return of the refugees, both inside and outside Kosovo, to their homes," Jackson said.
Among other requirements outlined by the agreement, Yugoslav forces must:
On what could be the last day of the air war, NATO pilots flew 443 sorties, including 60 strike flights and 22 anti-air defense missions, the alliance said.
All NATO aircraft returned safely. The alliance has lost only two fliers during the war -- both U.S. Army helicopter pilots who died on a training mission in Albania when their Apache helicopter gunship crashed.
NATO ambassadors threw their support behind the military agreement in a late-night session of the North Atlantic Council in Brussels, Belgium.
NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said the alliance's supreme commander, Gen. Wesley Clark, would be watching the situation in Kosovo closely to verify that Yugoslav forces have begun to leave.
"As soon as Gen. Clark has confirmed this withdrawal has begun, I intend to instruct him to suspend NATO air operations," Solana said.
At the United Nations, the U.N. Security Council was preparing to vote on a resolution, drafted by the foreign ministers of the world's top seven industrialized nations and Russia, that endorses a Kosovo peace plan. The vote will occur once the Yugoslav withdrawal begins and NATO pauses its bombing campaign.
Bursts of gunfire and anti-aircraft artillery ripped into the skies over Belgrade and the Kosovo provincial capital, Pristina, as residents and troops celebrated the news that the bombing campaign could be at an end.
In the northern Albanian town of Kukes, a group of male Kosovo refugees hugged each other in the town square when they heard about the peace deal. But some remained skeptical.
"It's not easy to believe it," said Delnie Vehopi, who left part of his family in Kosovo. "But as soon as we can go back we will. We left everything behind us. We have no problem with the Serb people who lived in Kosovo. It was only the Serb military and police."
NATO officials said Wednesday they had seen some signs that Yugoslavia was at least preparing for a troop withdrawal.
"We know that some transporters have been heading from southern Serbia to northern Kosovo -- that's the primary equipment you would send if you were planning to withdraw," said NATO spokesman Jamie Shea.
"We know that certain forces ... have started to regroup and we've seen evidence of military vehicles being gathered, but as I said earlier, one truck doesn't make for a withdrawal any more than one swallow makes for a summer. So obviously we're going to be vigilant," he said.
Shea stressed that once a Yugoslav withdrawal is verified, NATO would suspend -- not terminate -- its bombing campaign.
"Obviously we're going to keep the military operation going, even if the strikes are suspended, as a sort of Sword of Damocles over the head of Milosevic until such time as we are certain of a complete withdrawal," he said. "Then we'll halt the air operation."
In Washington, President Bill Clinton welcomed the agreement and said NATO will "watch carefully" to make sure the forces leave Kosovo peacefully.
The president said the agreement "is another important step toward achieving our objectives in Kosovo."
Talbott rules out separate Russian Kosovo sector
Russia and the United States began tough talks on Thursday over Moscow's role in a Kosovo peacekeeping force after U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott ruled out a separate sector for the Russians.
Asked whether a Russian zone was possible in Kosovo, as Moscow has proposed, Talbott told reporters before the talks: "The short answer is no. We feel very strongly and I think our Russian colleagues agree unity of command is very important, and unity of command means all of Kosovo will be under one command arrangement."
"There will be specific arrangement for division of labor within that but nothing that would bear any resemblance to partitioning or dividing Kosovo up into different national sectors," Talbott said at his hotel before talks were scheduled to start with the Russians.
"There will be arrangements to make sure that units from different countries, troop contributing countries, work together," he said. The talks would be to sort out such details.
Interfax news agency quoted a high-ranking Defense Ministry official as saying Moscow planned to propose Russia be given one of four sectors in Kosovo, in the northwest. It quoted the official as saying neutral and other ex-Soviet forces would be welcome in the sector but not NATO units.
Talbott said Russian participation in the peacekeeping force in Kosovo was "desirable, very desirable."
He said Finnish military and other officials would join the U.S.-Russian talks in Moscow. Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari has been the European Union envoy in talks with Russia, the United States and Belgrade.
Correspondents Jeff Flock, Wolf Blitzer, John King and Lou Waters contributed to this report.
Belgrade celebrates agreement
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