Cohen in Helsinki for talks with Russians over Kosovo force
June 16, 1999
HELSINKI, Finland (CNN) - U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen arrived Wednesday in Helsinki, Finland, insisting Russia will have to meet NATO's requirements to take part in the Kosovo peacekeeping force.
Cohen is scheduled to meet later Wednesday with his Russian counterpart Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev to try to resolve the impasse brought to a head by Russia's takeover of the airport in Pristina NATO planned to use at its initial headquarters.
Cohen told reporters traveling with him that "we made it very clear there cannot be a separate sector for Russia. So we are trying to find ways in which we can meet their needs, but not in any way violate the fundamental rules that NATO has to insist upon."
As U.S. and NATO officials have for days, Cohen again downplayed the significance of the 200 Russian troops holding the airport insisting they were not an impediment to the NATO operation, and attributing their surprise deployment to vague orders Russian President Boris Yeltsin gave the military to "take what action they thought was appropriate to be a part of KFOR."
Russian troops arrived unexpectedly ahead of NATO forces early Saturday and took control of the airport. They are denying NATO access until a deal is worked out on Russia's role in the peacekeeping operation.
A contingent of about 15 vehicles carrying 29 Russian troops brought relief supplies from their base in Bosnia to the troops at the airport.
Cohen said President Yeltsin appears in control, and that the insertion of Russians troops into Kosovo reflects Russians are eager to participate in KFOR.
Cohen said the U.S., negotiating on behalf of NATO, would be "as creative as we can, while still adhering to the basic principles of the unified command." But he added he was "eager and pleased" to be sitting down face to face with Sergeyev, whom he talked with by phone briefly before leaving Washington Tuesday night.
Cohen said Sergeyev "indicated that he has had instructions from his president, that he should sit down and see if this can't be resolved in a constructive fashion."
Cohen also allude to the larger goal of getting U.S. and NATO relation with Russia back on track, "We cannot have a stable Europe, without having a stable and secure Russia"
Senior U.S. administration officials told CNN Tuesday that Russian military leaders in Kosovo appear close to accepting an arrangement with NATO's KFOR commander, Lt. Gen. Mike Jackson.
But the officials warned that several critical details must still be worked out, including how many Russian troops will participate in the force, in which sector they will be located and the specific command structure.
Officials said one possibility under consideration was allowing the Russians to report to a non-NATO general, perhaps from Finland, who in turn would report to Jackson.
British Rear Adm. Simon Moore described talks Tuesday between Jackson and Gen. Viktor Zavarin, commander of the Russian forces at the airport, as "amicable and constructive." But he said a number of issues remain to be resolved.
Withdrawal extension granted
NATO has granted a Yugoslav request for a 24-hour extension for the withdrawal of Serb forces from parts of southern Kosovo, an alliance spokesman said on Wednesday.
Lt. Col. Robin Clifford told Reuters NATO was convinced the Yugoslavs were making a "sincere effort" to comply with requirements for a pullout under a peace deal, but that a flood of refugees and other factors had delayed the retreat.
NATO had given Yugoslavia until midnight (2200 GMT) Tuesday to pull out of "Zone One," a sector stretching across Kosovo's southern border that also juts north to include the provincial capital, Pristina.
Long columns of civilian and military vehicles could be seen on the roads leading north out of Pristina throughout the day.
"There appears to be full compliance (by the Serbs)," Clifford said early Wednesday.
Pristina was tense but quiet after midnight. Several shots rang out on darkened, deserted streets a few minutes before the deadline, but NATO officers dismissed it as parting shots fired into the air by departing Yugoslav forces.
Although the first requirement seemed to have been met, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea warned that equipment problems may cause the Yugoslav forces to miss the deadline for complete withdrawal. The Serbs are facing logistical and maintenance problems, he said.
Yugoslav forces have until June 20 to leave the province completely.
NATO finds more horrors
NATO peacekeepers reported Tuesday finding at least 20 burned bodies in the ruins of a Kosovo house near the Albanian border.
German soldiers with the NATO-led KFOR mission cordoned off the gruesome scene in Mala Krusa, called Krushe Emadi by Albanians.
The town in the Serb province of Kosovo is located near where some of the heaviest fighting took place between the Kosovo Liberation Army and Serb forces. The deserted area is marked by signs of the recent war -- burned houses, bombed factories and dead animals.
The KLA said Serbian paramilitary forces had gathered 50 to 60 people in the house and set it ablaze. Those who tried to jump from windows to escape were shot, a KLA officer said.
The KLA said the massacre occurred on March 26, shortly after NATO began bombing Yugoslavia. Eyewitnesses reported similar accounts as they crossed days later into Kukes, Albania.
Near the Macedonia border, residents in Stari Kacanik took CNN reporters to the site of possibly 16 graves, not far from where a suspected mass grave was found Monday in Kacanik.
The residents said about 150 people were killed by Serb forces and buried at Kacanik and Stari Kacanik. U.S. troops are guarding the graves at Kacanik.
KFOR said forensic investigators were being sent to examine the sites.
Serbian church demands that Milosevic resign
Meanwhile, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic on Tuesday received rare but blistering public criticism from Belgrade for the Kosovo situation.
The Serbian Orthodox Church demanded that Milosevic and his Cabinet resign.
"The isolation of our country on the international scene cannot be solved or overcome with this kind of leadership," church leaders said in statement.
"Faced with the tragic situation in our nation and our country, convinced that the final justice is with our Lord and not in the hands of an instrumentalized court in The Hague, we demand that the current president of the country and his government resign in the interest of the people and its salvation," the statement said.
Also, the ultranationalist Radical Party attempted to resign from the Yugoslav government. But Serbian President Milan Milutinovic said it couldn't because the country was still in a state of emergency.
Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj said his party was leaving the government because Milosevic was "betraying" Kosovo.
In a public speech in central Serbia Tuesday, Milosevic dodged the criticism and urged Yugoslavs to look to the future.
"By reconstructing our country, we will renew ties with the whole world ... by correcting an image which for the whole decade had been created by those who were dissatisfied with our resistance to colonization of the Balkans," he said in the town of Aleksinac.
Land mine on border kills 2 refugees
Yugoslavia signed a peace accord last week to halt more than two months of NATO bombing. The alliance began the air campaign March 24 when Belgrade refused to sign an agreement designed to end fighting between Yugoslav forces and ethnic Albanian rebels in Kosovo.
In other developments:
British troops said they arrested five suspected ethnic Albanian guerrillas who fired on them. No one was reported hurt. The British suspected the five killed a Serb man earlier in the day.
Paul Risely of the international war crimes tribunal at The Hague, Netherlands, which has indicted Milosevic and others, said the tribunal is coordinating with KFOR to investigate sites of reported atrocities.
KFOR spokesman Lt. Col. Robin Clifford said he had no information on reports of the launch of a rocket grenade near the Pristina airport, other than no NATO personnel were involved.
On the Macedonia border, between 1,500 and 2,000 refugees - - ignoring warnings that it may not be safe for them to return home -- went across the border into Kosovo. Three people hit land mines, a U.N. spokesman said. Two were killed, and the third was seriously injured.
More U.S. troops enter Kosovo
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