Kosovo peace talks falter as ethnic Albanians balk at disarmament

AS NEW and fierce fighting broke out in northern Kosovo yesterday, the US piled the pressure on ethnic Albanians to sign up to the proposed peace agreement and save the faltering Rambouillet conference from total collapse.

But, less than 24 hours before today's deadline of 1400 GMT, Madeleine Albright, the American Secretary of State, appeared to be making only the slowest of progress.

And without the assent of the Albanians, it is impossible to get Slobodan Milosevic, the Yugoslav President, where Washington wants him, facing a stark choice between the acceptance of Nato peace keepers or the certainty of allied airstrikes.

There are two big stumbling blocks for the Kosovo Albanians: the plans to disarm the Kosovo Liberation Army, which has led the bloody guerrilla war against Belgrade for the last year; and the absence from the final draft document of any mention of a referendum that would guarantee the independence the Albanians are seeking. Last night General Wesley Clark, Nato's supreme commander in Europe, arrived unexpectedly in Rambouillet, apparently to reassure the Albanians that they would be adequately protected by the alliance even without the KLA, and even if - as seems increasingly possible - a peace keeping force contained a large contingent of Russians, traditional allies of the Serbs. Yesterday Igor Ivanov, the Russian Foreign Minister, raised this very option by declaring that Russian troops could join the force if it was authorised by the United Nations and had the approval of Belgrade.

But Nato's line, reiterated at the alliance's Brussels headquarters yesterday, is that the 28,000-strong force must be Nato-led and unencumbered by any type of "dual key" arrangement which fatally undermined the Western troops supposed to keep the peace in Bosnia before the 1995 accord.

The Serbs, meanwhile, continued their strategy of trying to separate the political and military parts of the deal, and play upon Western divisions over the use of force, growing more obvious as the final negotiating showdown approaches. Speaking before another session with Mrs Albright yesterday, Milan Milutinovic, the Serbian President, said Belgrade might be ready to talk about foreign troops once a political agreement granting autonomy but not independence for Kosovo had been reached.

That would be the ultimate quandary for the West: what to do if Mr Milosevic signed up to the political agreement and put foward suggestions for a peacekeeping force, less directly controlled by Nato? Almost certainly Italy, and perhaps France, would oppose any airstrikes.

As the frantic diplomacy continued in France, it was fighting as usual in the southern Balkans. Yugoslav armour and KLA fighters clashed for more than three hours near Vucitrn, north of Pristina, sending hundreds of civilians fleeing for their lives.

And, in a sign that hostilities may be about to intensify, it was reported in Kosovo that the KLA had chosen Suleiman Selimi, 29, a radical hardliner, as its supreme commander.

What will Happen Next?

If both Serbs and ethnic Albanians accept the big powers' peace plan

28,000 NATO troops would be deployed in Kosovo, and a new constitution would be introduced amid preparations for elections in nine months. Some sanctions would be lifted on Yugoslavia. Kosovo would receive international aid.

If the Albanians accept but the Serbs do not

THIS WOULD open the way to Nato air strikes against Yugoslav targets, and guarantee Nato protection for Kosovo.

If the Serbs accept, but the Albanians do not

THE WESTERN nightmare. The Kosovars would be told they have to face the Yugoslav army alone, with the near certainty of massive bloodshed.

If both the Serbs and the Albanians refuse

RAMBOUILLET WOULD have been a complete failure, and the West would restart the search for a solution from scratch.

If the Albanians accept, and the Serbs say 'Yes, but...'

THE TRICKIEST of all for the West. Suppose Mr Milosevic agrees to the political side, but says he wants UN, not Nato peacekeepers? The West says the package is all-or-nothing. But can we really bomb Belgrade over a dispute about who keeps the peace?

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before