U.S. Envoy Presses Milosevic
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Back again for another try, a U.S. troubleshooter pressed President Slobodan Milosevic on Friday to accept Western terms for peace in Kosovo province. But U.S. resolve to punish the Yugoslav leader with force was undermined by reluctance among some NATO allies and Russia’s unwavering opposition.
U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke met with Milosevic for three hours, then left for consultations at the U.S. Embassy, sources close to the talks said. The two met again later Friday in a session that lasted past midnight.
Holbrooke told reporters he would go the Pristina for a meeting with the chief ethnic Albanian political leader, Ibrahim Rugova, before returning to Belgrade later Saturday.
Holbrooke refused to characterize his talks with Milosevic, except to say: ``There are serious discussions and the situation is serious.″
Holbrooke is expected to remain in Yugoslavia as long as there remains a possibility of persuading Milosevic to accept international terms for ending the seven-month conflict in the majority Albanian province.
In dispatching Holbrooke back to the Yugoslav capital on Thursday, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright warned Milosevic that ``time is all but gone″ for a peaceful settlement.
Her words were echoed Friday by NATO’s American supreme commander, Gen. Wesley Clark, who said his forces were moving ahead with final preparations for airstrikes.
Speaking in Naples, Italy, Clark questioned why Milosevic would want to ``risk the ravages of armed conflict and the destruction of his own country.″
Despite the general’s tough talk, NATO remained divided about the legality and effectiveness of using force against the Serbs.
Italy and Greece, among others, are reluctant to proceed without a mandate from the U.N. Security Council, where Russia and China are opposed.
Meeting in Brussels, Belgium, NATO allies searched for broad consensus for a strike that would allow them to proceed without the direct blessings of the Security Council.
But the alliance failed in its effort to pressure Russia into dropping its opposition to airstrikes.
``We must not allow NATO strikes,″ Russian President Boris Yeltsin was quoted as saying in Moscow Friday. ``We want to achieve a political, peaceful solution without the use of military force and, I think, we shall succeed.″
The chairman of the Russian parliamentary defense committee said lawmakers may respond to any use of force by recommending Russia abandon its treaty with NATO.
Russia signed an agreement with NATO in May 1997 that sets up a new consultative mechanism and spelled out NATO’s intentions as it expands into central and eastern Europe.
Hundreds of people have been killed and tens of thousands have been driven from their homes since Milosevic launched a crackdown Feb. 28 against the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army, which is fighting to wrest Kosovo province from Serbia, the main republic of Yugoslavia.
Milosevic has defied U.N. orders to withdraw substantial forces from the province, maintaining they are needed to prevent new attacks by Kosovo Liberation Army ``terrorists.″
After the first round of talks Friday, he called NATO threats of airstrikes ``belligerent attempts″ to solve the Kosovo problem, adding that he favors negotiations.
Holbrooke arrived from London, where he met with officials of the six-nation Contact Group on the Balkans. He said that movement toward authorizing the use of force by NATO continues ``in a sustained and intense manner.″
``The situation remains just as serious at it has been before,″ he said shortly before the start of his fourth meeting with Milosevic in five days.
In Pristina, Kosovo’s provincial capital, cafes were full, with people appearing to make the most of what could be the last few days of relative peace.
``I am not afraid,″ said Jehona Xhaferi, 25, an ethnic Albanian. ``Maybe that’s crazy, but I see it as the finishing phase of everything,″ she said, alluding to the months of Kosovo turmoil.
The international demands Holbrooke was presenting to Milosevic included an immediate end to hostilities and a withdrawal of forces and heavy armaments to levels before March, before the government crackdown on Kosovo started.
In addition, Holbrooke was expected to press for an international monitoring force to be allowed to oversee compliance. State Department spokesman James Foley said Holbrooke described discussions so far as ``very intense and tough going.″
The KLA announced a unilateral cease-fire throughout Kosovo starting Friday, a move that will add to the pressure on Milosevic to reciprocate.
But Serbian media reported at least five KLA breaches of their cease-fire Friday. They said Serbian police and ethnic Albanians loyal to the Serbian government were attacked, but there were no casualties.
The KLA said it was government troops who were on the offensive. In a statement read on state television in neighboring Albania, the rebels claimed villages were being attacked west of Pristina, but added that their troops continued to respect the unilateral cease-fire.
The claims of renewed skirmishes could not be independently verified. Foley said Friday that there had been no new reports of fighting in Kosovo. But he said the absence of fighting did not mean peace.
``While there has been no shooting in the past 24 hours, neither has there been any measurable change in the Serbian deployment of army troops in the field,″ he said. ``A large police presence also remains on major roads and highways.
The Serbian and Yugoslav governments showed little sign that they were prepared to bow to international pressure.
Citing the Kosovo crisis and NATO threats of intervention, the Serbian government Friday put into effect a harsh decree tightening state control over companies and independent media.
The decree broadens government authority and envisions punishment for companies, institutions and individuals who act contrary to the government’s view of patriotic behavior.