NATO Warns Both Sides in Kosovo
LONDON (AP) _ Backed by a stiff NATO warning of possible military action, the Clinton administration and its allies are intensifying efforts for a political settlement to end the violence in Kosovo.
If Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic does not accept the terms, NATO could bomb Serb installations.
The 16-member alliance meeting Thursday in Brussels, Belgium, leveled a threat to ``increase its military preparedness.″
The six-nation Contact Group, made up of the United States, Russia, France, Britain, Germany and Italy, convened today to consider a new U.S. initiative to bring peace to the Serbian province.
Meantime, in Yugoslavia today, police clashed with ethnic Albanian rebels in a village near the Albanian border, killing 20 guerrillas, Serb sources said. One policeman was also reported killed in the village of Rogovo.
The Western alliance is trying to pressure both Milosevic and the ethnic Albanians to negotiate an end to the hostilities or face the consequences.
``NATO stands ready to act and rules out no option,″ Secretary General Javier Solana said in Brussels. He made clear that those options included a military one.
``We are ready to act if necessary,″ he said. ``The parties must seize this opportunity.″
The U.S. plan being presented to the Contact Group on the former Yugoslavia would require Milosevic to negotiate terms of self-rule with ethnic Albanian leaders, withdraw troops and special police units from Kosovo, and permit war crimes investigators to look into the massacre at Racak two weeks ago.
The American formula provides for the two sides to set aside the independence issue for three years. The parties then could resume discussions on the province’s long-term future.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called the NATO statement a welcome step. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who is leading the meeting of six foreign ministers, said, ``Our aim is intense negotiations, with international involvement within days rather than weeks.″
In Washington, White House press secretary Joe Lockhart said the United States would continue to pressure Milosevic and the ethnic Albanian Kosovars to reach an agreement.
``But we will also continue on the NATO track to use the credible threat of force to make him comply with the agreements he made in October,″ Lockhart said. ``There’s an activation order in place now for airstrikes and an air campaign, and we expect if he is unwilling to comply that those threats may become very real.″
Cruising in the Adriatic Sea and standing armed and ready at allied airfields in Italy are dozens of ships and fighter planes primed to strike at Serb targets.
Although the Contact Group was expected to ratify the plan that Albright worked out with the other foreign ministers through telephone diplomacy, other hurdles to a settlement in Kosovo remain.
These include disunity among the ethnic Albanians; many are demanding more than self-rule within Yugoslavia. Meanwhile, Russia’s objection to bombing the Serbs could serve as a brake on the action.
About 2,000 people died and nearly 300,000 were driven from their homes in seven months of fighting in Kosovo last year between the Kosovo Liberation Army and Serb forces. The conflict was halted only by the threat of NATO airstrikes last fall.
The shaky ceasefire arranged by U.S. mediator Richard Holbrooke with Milosevic last October has unraveled, thousands of civilians have been forced from their homes and, Albright charges, Milosevic has sent much of his forces back to Kosovo.
Speaking on behalf of the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s top policymaking body, Solana said Milosevic must withdraw Serb security forces down to levels agreed to in October.
The allies also demanded that all armed ethnic Albanian elements in the province must immediately cease hostilities and any provocative action.
Earlier Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan met with the U.N. Security Council and said a threat of force was essential to bring about a negotiated settlement.
``I am pushing very hard for a political settlement,″ Annan said. ``If force becomes necessary we will need to look at that,″ Annan said. ``The threat is essential.″