Crisis in Kosovo brings UN arms ban

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THE UNITED Nations Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Yugoslavia last night to press President Slobodan Milosevic to make concessions to ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, including talks leading to substantial autonomy for the troubled province.

China abstained, saying the resolution would not facilitate negotiations. Envoys of both Russia and China said they did not consider unrest in Kosovo a threat to international security - the traditional justification for the council to become involved in an internal dispute.

United States ambassador Bill Richardson said the resolution sent an "unambiguous signal" to the Yugoslav government in Belgrade that the world "will not tolerate violence and ethnic cleansing" in the Balkans. Referring to the sluggish response to wars elsewhere in the former Yugoslavia, Mr Richardson said: "We must avoid the mistakes of the past when the international community waited too long before taking decisive action."

Yugoslavia is composed of Serbia and the smaller province of Montenegro. Both have republic-level governments but are governed on the federal level by a single government.

Yugoslavia has sought to block independence for Kosovo and refused to restore the autonomy that Mr Milosevic rescinded in 1989.

The crackdown by Serb police in March killed more than 80 people and stoked fears of a wider war in the Balkans.

Last week, the foreign ministers of the US, Britain, France, Russia, Germany and Italy set a deadline of yesterday for the council to vote on a weapons ban following the crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.

The resolution called on Kosovo's Albanian leadership to condemn all forms of terrorism. It said the best way to defeat terrorism in Kosovo is for Yugoslavia "to offer the Kosovar Albanian community a genuine political process".

"In adopting this resolution, the Security Council sends an unmistakable message," British envoy David Richmond said. "It says to Belgrade that repression in Kosovo will not be tolerated by the international community." The resolution was also a clear signal to Kosovo Albanians "that terrorism - in whatever guise and for whatever end - is unacceptable".

Russia agreed to accept the resolution after the other council members agreed to delete a reference to the situation in the province constituting "a threat to international peace and security in the region".

During his speech, the acting Russian ambassador Yuriy Fedotov said that although events in Kosovo had an "adverse regional impact", Moscow did not believe they "constitute a threat to regional or even international peace and security".

China's deputy ambassador, Shen Guofeng, said that security council involvement in Kosovo "may create a bad precedent and have wider negative implications".

The embargo is generally believed to be largely symbolic, since both the Yugoslav government and Albanian extremists are already well armed. Supporters believe a unanimous vote would send a strong signal to Belgrade to offer a political solution to the Albanians.