Nato steps up pressure as Serbs retreat

Click to follow
The Independent Online
YUGOSLAVIA WAS put under more international pressure yesterday to comply with UN demands to pull back its forces in Kosovo, or face air strikes.

Javier Solana, Nato's Secretary-General, was having talks with President Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade last night to discuss the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces.

Earlier in the day, Mr Solana said he did not believe Belgrade was yet complying with UN resolutions. But the US State Department spokesman, James Rubin, said the Serbian police were "generally departing" the Kosovo countryside.

In the town of Malisevo - where the Serbian police and the Kosovo Liberation Army face each other less than half a kilometre apart - there were signs of a pull-back by Yugoslav forces. Several busloads of police officers and four armoured vehicles set out on the main road, apparently withdrawing. One of the Serbian police officers said they were leaving for good. However, many fortified positions were still manned by the police yesterday afternoon. Under the deal brokered by the US envoy, Richard Holbrooke, police deployments are supposed to return to pre-March levels, when the war in Kosovo began. But Malisevo was almost 100 per cent Albanian and probably did not see a police officer from one month to the next. There was isolated gunfire in the town yesterday, while villagers in the neighbouring hamlet of Dragobil claimed they had been attacked by the police overnight.

One elderly Albanian man, Pajazit Pacarizi, said: "They started shooting first with guns, then with mortars, then they started shelling. We didn't sleep all night." The police at the next checkpoint said they had been attacked by the KLA and had been defending themselves. If this persists, the 2,000 OSCE monitors could end up working across active front lines.

Many of the people in Dragobil were refugees who had fled neighbouring Malisevo during the Yugoslav summer offensive. No one was prepared to go back until the police had left and the international monitoring mission had arrived.

"I have been dreaming of having a coffee in the centre of Malisevo," one man said, "but not while they [the police] are there."

Meanwhile at a meeting of the six Kosovo "contact group" nations in Paris, Western governments persuaded Russia to support UN ratification of the Kosovo peace deal struck between Washington and Belgrade. Moscow agreed to sign up for a UN security council resolution which would formalise the main points of the Holbrooke-Milosevic agreement. But the Russian foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, refused to accept any form of wording in the UN resolution which would imply support for the use of force by Nato if Belgrade failed to deliver its promises.

Western diplomats say they can live with such a compromise. They say the very fact that the agreement is enshrined in a UN resolution would - morally, if not legally - strengthen the case of the West for military action to bring the Serbs in line.