Early return is a distant hope for most refugees

EVEN IF the details of a peacekeeping force for Kosovo can be rapidly agreed, many if not most of the refugees will spend the winter in Albania and Macedonia, US officials said yesterday.

As the size and complexity of the operation became clearer, it was evident that there will not be enough time to get everyone home before the weather once more turns for the worse.

The peacekeeping force will include 44,000 Nato troops - including 12,000 Britons, 7,000 Americans and 6,500 French - as well as 4,000 non-Nato soldiers from other European nations. There is no indication if, where, or in what strength the Russians would participate.

Until the Serbs withdraw, nothing will happen. There was no withdrawal under way yesterday. Fighting was still taking place in several areas between Serbs and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Some Nato nations want a UN Security Council resolution before they deploy, and a meeting of G8 ministers will take place later this week to prepare it.

The first stage of a peacekeeping operation would be for Serbian forces to withdraw in stages over seven days, starting from the south-west of Kosovo, moving up to the north. Enabling forces of the Nato nations would replace them as they left. "As they withdraw, Nato will come in and fill in behind them," said Ken Bacon, the Pentagon spokesman. This will be a highly complex job to choreograph.

The British and French (who are in the central and western sectors) would go in first. Highly mobile, lightly armed forces - the Parachute Regiment for Britain and the Marines for the US - would be deployed initially.

The enabling forces will de-mine their sectors, then set up communications, military headquarters and command posts, clear important infrastructure like airports, roads and bridges and prepare for the arrival of larger, more heavily-armed forces, such as elements of the US 1st Infantry Division. It will be one or two months before the whole force is present. Then they can begin the task of repairing infrastructure and preparing for refugee return.

There are at least three problems for Nato. The first is the finding, housing and feeding of internally displaced people still in Kosovo. This alone will preclude bringing back the refugees from Macedonia and Albania, who are at least under cover.

Then there is the question of the local Serb minority population. The Pentagon's expectation is that most if not all would leave for Serbia. "Many Serbs may want to leave Kosovo," said Mr Bacon, who gave little indication that the US was concerned if this resulted in a further ethnic partition.

It is not clear how their safety will be ensured if they stay, because there is also the question of the KLA. They would be demilitarised but not disarmed. Mr Bacon said: "They will be allowed to keep hunting rifles and things like that." In practice it would be impossible to disarm them without a fight which Nato clearly does not want.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Partner Manager - EMEA

£50000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Partner Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Regional Sales Manager - OTE £100,000

£45000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Regional Sales Manager is re...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The company provides IT support...

Recruitment Genius: IT Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This manager is for a successfu...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific