Liberation of Kosovo: Diplomacy - Russia sticks to demand for a sector

THE UNITED States and Nato inched closer to an agreement with Russia over peacekeeping in Kosovo yesterday but received a noisy reminder by Boris Yeltsin that Moscow would not give in over the main sticking point.

Meeting for a second day of arduous talks in Helsinki, the US and Russian defence ministers - William Cohen and Igor Sergeyev - appear to have agreed on two important points at issue.

But last night, amid pressure to wrap up before today's G8 summit opens in Cologne, they were still grappling over the last big disagreement: Russia's desire for its own sector in Kosovo.

Convinced that this would lead to Kosovo's partition, Nato and Washington have refused to budge in their opposition to this, although they have suggested that the Russians have "a zone of responsibility".

Madeleine Albright, the US Secretary of State, repeated Nato's opposition to a Russian sector yesterday after she flew into the Finnish capital for parallel talks with Russia's Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov.

But, back in the Kremlin, President Yeltsin made his views clear before the television cameras by saying, in what was close to an angry snarl, that he was "categorically against" the idea that Russia should not also have a sector. He said he had made his case anew to Mr Sergeyev in a telephone call to Helsinki.

Nato has set up five sectors in Kosovo under US, British, French, German and Italian control.

The two points that appeared settled yesterday are - according to Mr Ivanov - a command structure for the K-For forces and the use of the airport at Pristina, seized by several hundred Russian paratroopers on Saturday. Reports in Moscow suggested that the Russians might have agreed to work through a senior Russian officer in the K-For command structure.

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