Plan for early end to the bombing divides Nato

Click to follow
The Independent Online
NEW STRAINS emerged within Nato yesterday over the air war in Yugoslavia as the alliance said it would consider an Italian plan for a pause in the bombing.

At the same time Nato was embarrassed again when an alliance jet blasted a hospital in Belgrade, killing four people. The Swedish ambassador's residence was also damaged. The blunder followed earlier accidental strikes on the Chinese embassy, a railway train and a refugee column in Kosovo.

Italy's call for a pause in the air war would constitute a change of strategy. But the proposal by Massimo D'Alema, the Prime Minister, was welcomed by Javier Solana, Nato's secretary-general, who said it was "not in contradiction with the position we have taken".

Mr D'Alema also attacked calls for ground troops to go in as "a totally useless exercise". Some took this as a coded swipe at Tony Blair, Nato's most hawkish proponent of a land campaign in Kosovo.

Britain and the US are expected to oppose fiercely any plan for a pause in the air war, fearing Slobodan Milosevic will use the breathing space to regroup his troops in Kosovo.

Until now the alliance has insisted that a halt to bombing can only take place after Serbia has withdrawn its police and troops from the mostly Albanian province.

The Italian premier outlined his plan in Brussels. The air bombardment would stop once the draft text of a UN resolution was agreed. During a visit to Nato headquarters he argued that a bombing pause could begin "at the moment we have an agreement" for the draft UN resolution with Russia and China.

The Italian plan was expected to dominate discussions last night in London between Mr Solana and Mr Blair and the Secretary of State for Defence, George Robertson.

While Italy and Germany are pushing hard for a halt to the Balkan war, Britain and the US moved yesterday to paper over reported differences in the approach to Belgrade. As the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, travelled to Washington for a show of Anglo-American solidarity on the air war, President Bill Clinton insisted US resolve was not wavering. "We will continue our military campaign until the [five Nato] conditions are met. I believe the campaign is working," he said.

Mr Clinton said signs of dissent within Serbia are beginning to mount, and cited reports of desertions by hundreds of Serbian soldiers and protests in the central Serbian town of Krusevac.

There were no further reports of anti-war protests in Serbia yesterday. But in a disturbing sign that internal repression is deepening, the government of Montenegro - Serbia's junior partner in the Yugoslav federation - said the army had sealed off the republic from the world, taking control of all border points and pouring in troops. The liberal government of Montenegro has long feared it will be overthrown by Mr Milosevic.