Humiliation of the Serbs

Milosevic's generals summoned to Macedonia by Nato and given a week to quit Kosovo
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The Independent Online
IT WAS an unremarkable place to make history, a restaurant of red brick and stone cladding next to a dusty field of scrub. Here, in the course of a long and hot afternoon, Serbian commanders were told by Nato the terms of retreat from Kosovo.

This was the humiliating end to Slobodan Milosevic's savage Kosovo adventure. The Serbian delegation had come not to negotiate as equals in war, but to accept the terms under which their battered forces will be allowed to go back home. Last night the Pentagon said British and French forces were likely to be the first to go into Kosovo, probably from Albania.

The venue for the talks was chosen by the alliance: not behind Yugoslav borders in Kosovo, not in no man's land, but at Blace, inside Macedonia, an area bristling with Nato armour. As the talks began, Nato jets were still attacking targets 12 miles away. The media were there in numbers, Serbian objections to their presence curtly dismissed.

In a last gesture of protest, or petulance, as Western officials put it, the Serbs turned up late. The talks, scheduled for 9am, did not start until after midday. General Blagoje Kovacevic, a deputy army chief of staff, and General Obrad Stevanovic, a senior commander of the notorious Interior Ministry police, arrived in a convoy of Mercedes and BMW saloons. Someone in the crowd outside suggested loudly that the registration numbers be checked to see whether they had been looted.

The Russians, who had played a large part in brokering the peace deal, were not present: differences with Nato over the peace agreement may pose the greatest threat to its implementation. Jamie Shea, the Nato spokesman, yesterday ruled out the introduction of a separate zone for Russian troops, although the Russians are refusing to put their soldiers under Nato command. "It is our intention to have soldiers of the international security force, including of course many Nato soldiers, in every village and on every street corner," he said. "We are not talking about differentiated zones."

Nor was General Wesley Clark, Nato's American Supreme Allied Commander, at the talks. All sides, however, were in constant communication by satellite phones with interested parties.

After five hours the Yugoslav delegation left to seek clarification of "points of minor details", according to Lieutenant Colonel Robin Clifford, a British officer.

The Serbs were told by General Sir Mike Jackson, British commander of Nato's Kosovo Force, of the routes and timetable the Yugoslav army must abide by in their withdrawal. The forces would move out along two agreed safe corridors at specific times.

Mr Shea said the Serbs would have seven days to complete the withdrawal once the details were finalised. They are expected to be given 48 hours to shut down and remove their air defence artillery and radar. That would allow Nato aircraft to begin intensive monitoring of ground movements.

Any violence by withdrawing troops would leave them open to air strikes, Mr Shea stressed. "Those troops have to pack their bags and leave without delay and certainly without a last final fling of ethnic cleansing."

Inside the Albanian-owned restaurant, called Europe '93, Gen Jackson sat facing the Serbian delegation across a table strewn with documents and maps. Around 30 people were present, including members of the UN and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The atmosphere was described as businesslike rather than amicable. There was a short break for lunch provided by the Italians, who control this sector of the frontier. The Serbs drank water and fruit juice, the British tea.

Up on the hill overlooking the restaurant, Serb soldiers could be seen watching through binoculars. They, in turn, were in the gunsights of Nato armour.

It is expected that when large-scale withdrawal begins, British paras will fly in by helicopter to secure the airport at Pristina, the Kosovo capital. That will allow reinforcements and supplies to be flown in without having to go through Albania or Macedonia.

Light and then heavy armour will then move up the roads from Macedonia into Kosovo.

During yesterday's talks the Serbs, it was said, raised the question of the Kosovo Liberation Army, and the threat it poses to Serb civilians in Kosovo. Nato says there are plans to protect them and the KLA has been warned not to enter areas with concentrations of Serbian populations. Mr Shea called on the KLA not to "take advantage of the situation".

When the Alliance troops go into Kosovo they will be accompanied by war crimes investigators. The OSCE is said to have details of 1,500 graves of people murdered by the Serbs.

Aid agencies have been told it will be at least a month before the refugees can begin to return.