NATO Generals Meeting Serbs
BLACE, Macedonia (AP) _ NATO and Yugoslav military commanders gathered today for crucial talks on terms for the withdrawal of Serb troops from Kosovo _ a key condition for a halt to the NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia.
Lt. Gen. Michael Jackson of Britain, representing NATO, met with a delegation of Yugoslav generals in a coffeehouse near the Yugoslav-Macedonian border at Blace. Alliance officials said they did not intend to negotiate but rather to spell out details on the troop pullout.
The talks had been delayed for nearly three hours, though it was unclear what prompted the delay. The meeting was also supposed to include Russian officials, but NATO officials said they did not attend and did not explain why.
The meeting _ the first direct talks between NATO and Yugoslav military personnel since the alliance’s air campaign began March 24 _ comes after Western nations said they will ease and then cease their air campaign if Belgrade respects a peace deal it approved Thursday.
Western and Russian leaders must fine-tune the terms of the peace plan accepted by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
Foreign ministers from the Group of Eight _ Russia and the seven major industrialized democracies _ had been expected to draft a U.N. resolution approving the agreement Sunday. However, a U.S. official said the meeting had been postponed because Russia was not ready to finalize the terms.
The main dispute is over the 50,000-strong multinational peace force for Kosovo envisaged in the plan. Russian officials, after ensuring Milosevic accepted the essentially NATO-led peace force, have now expressed concern about putting their share of peace troops under NATO command.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is prepared to meet in Germany with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and the ministers of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan on a moment’s notice, spokesman James P. Rubin said in Washington.
White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said Russia’s participation in a peacekeeping force remained an ``open question.″
In Moscow, Ivanov said today that the continued bombing of Yugoslavia by NATO jets could threaten the Kosovo peace plan.
Ivanov met with President Boris Yeltsin to discuss the conflict and told him that the air campaign ``continues to seriously worry us,″ the ITAR-Tass news agency quoted him as saying.
Meanwhile, to keep up the pressure on Yugoslavia, NATO carried on with air attacks overnight.
``We have to make it clear to Belgrade NATO is resolved to continue action until″ the peace agreement is carried out, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said in Brussels, Belgium.
NATO said it focused its attacks on Milosevic’s forces in Kosovo responsible for the campaign to expel ethnic Albanians from the province. Shea said this morning that attacks over the past 24 hours had hit 30 artillery pieces, nine tanks and over two dozen other military targets in Kosovo.
Early today, sirens in Yugoslav capital Belgrade wailed, and air alerts sounded in at least five other major towns in Serbia, the dominant Yugoslav republic, the official Tanjug news agency reported.
Missile attacks were reported before dawn near the town of Lipljan in Kosovo and on Mount Rudnik in central Serbia. Tanjug said an area near the southwestern Kosovo town of Prizren was heavily bombarded for more than an hour.
Serb forces shelled several villages in Albania today across the border from Kosovo, where there has been fighting between Serbs and rebels of the Kosovo Liberation Army.
A spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Andrea Angeli, said an 18-year-old woman was killed and two other girls were wounded.
French President Jacques Chirac said NATO leaders had agreed to limit attacks to ``only strict military targets″ _ as opposed to targets with both military and civilian functions _ until a verifiable Yugoslav troop withdrawal begins.
Chirac, speaking at the end of a two-day European Union summit in Cologne, Germany, said the 15 European leaders were ``unanimous″ in agreeing that NATO should modify its targets.
At Blace, which has served as the main crossing point for refugees fleeing from Kosovo into Macedonia, the tents set up outside the coffeehouse for the military talks were put under guard by an Italian contingent of NATO troops.
Binoculars and tank guns were trained on hills to the north, just inside Yugoslavia, where Serb snipers have been reported in recent weeks.
Jackson, who commands 15,000 troops in Macedonia, was joined by EU representatives. The Yugoslavs were led by Col. Gen. Blagoje Kovacevic, a deputy chief-of-staff of the Yugoslav army, and Col. Gen. Obrad Stevanovic, a senior commander in the Serbian special police forces. Both have troops active in Kosovo.
Yugoslav generals are expected to seek assurances NATO will not strike troop convoys as they leave Kosovo. Under the plan, some 40,000 Serb government troops expected to withdraw from Kosovo within about a week.
The Yugoslavs are also expected to demand NATO guarantees that the ethnic Albanian rebel Kosovo Liberation Army will not exploit the pullout by sending guerrillas deeper into Kosovo.
The pullout is a key condition for the return of hundreds of thousands of Kosovo Albanian refugees who have fled Serb forces since airstrikes began March 24. The Kosovo crisis escalated in February last year when Milosevic sent in troops to crack down on the KLA, which is fighting for independence.
Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said in Washington that the alliance could end its bombing of Yugoslavia as soon as Sunday if Serb military authorities keep up their end of the peace deal.
President Clinton said Friday ``I am anxious to end the bombing″ against Yugoslavia but not until NATO has proof that Milosevic is complying with the alliance’s terms.