NATO, Yugoslavia Sign Peace Deal
KUMANOVO, Macedonia (AP) _ NATO and Yugoslav generals signed an agreement today to withdraw Serb-led forces from Kosovo, paving the way for an end to the 11-week alliance bombing campaign and the return of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanian refugees.
A Serb official said Belgrade would begin pulling out its forces Thursday. Refugees in northern Albanian embraced one another when they heard news of the agreement.
In Belgrade and the Kosovo capital, Pristina, people welcomed the news by firing weapons in the air in celebration and honking horns.
``The war has ended,″ Yugoslav Col. Gen. Svetozar Marjanovic told reporters in Macedonia, adding that the talks were ``very difficult.″
British Lt. Gen. Mike Jackson, commander of alliance troops in Macedonia, made the announcement after lengthy negotiations at this French military base near the Kosovo border.
Details of the agreement were not released. But Jackson said it laid out plans for how all Serb-led forces would conduct a ``phased, verifiable and orderly withdrawal from Kosovo.″
``It also provides a clear legal basis for the deployment of the international security force ... to establish a secure environment in Kosovo,″ he said.
``Verifiable compliance with this agreement will establish the conditions for the suspension of the air campaign,″ he added.
Jackson said once it had been confirmed that Serb forces had complied with the withdrawal, NATO’s secretary-general ``will direct suspension of the airstrikes.″
``I have made clear that if subsequently the withdrawal timetable is breached, the agreement requires the air operation to resume,″ he added.
In Bethesda, Md., President Clinton welcomed the withdrawal agreement and said NATO will ``watch carefully″ to make sure the forces leave Kosovo peacefully according to the agreed timetable.
He said the agreement ``is another important step toward achieving our objectives in Kosovo.″
Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said the Serbs could begin pulling out ``in a matter of hours.″
``They have to start the pullout and we have to verify it,″ Bacon said.
Yugoslav Foreign Ministry spokesman Nebojsa Vujovic, who took part in the talks, said Serb-led forces would begin leaving Kosovo on Thursday. He urged an immediate end to the bombing.
Jackson said the agreement raises hopes that ``some normality″ will be restored to all of Kosovo’s people, ``regardless of their ethnic background.″
``Very soon I shall deploy KFOR (peacekeepers) into Kosovo to even-handedly implement this agreement,″ Jackson said. ``It 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 the peacekeeping force would ``do its utmost″ to provide for the refugees to go home as soon as possible.
In the northern Albanian town of Kukes, a group of male refugees hugged each other in the town square when they heard about the peace deal. They also embraced with Philippa Hewitt, a New Zealander with the Swiss-based Med Air, which helps process refugees arriving from Kosovo.
``I’m very excited for them because it has instilled some hope,″ Hewitt said. ``It’s been so difficult. My Kosovo colleagues are joyful. But there’s a lot of work still to be done before the refugees can go home. They will not return to the same country they left. We want their return to happen in a controlled way.″
Several refugees expressed happiness at hearing about the peace deal but there was also some of the same skepticism as expressed last week when the peace deal was first announced.
Delnie Vehopi, 24, who left part of his family in Kosovo, said ``it’s not that easy to believe it.″
``But as soon as we can go back we will,″ Vehopi said. ``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...Thank you all in the world for helping us.″
Asked if the refugees would rush en masse to Kosovo rather than wait until conditions were right, several said they would wait. One young man said, ``We waited 10 years for this. We can wait a few more days or months,″ referring to the fact that ethnic Albanians had been repressed by Serbs for many years.