The Balkans Truce: Serbia's generals prepare to face the final shame

IN AN ultimate humiliation for the Serbs, the Yugoslav army high command will meet a British general on the Macedonian border today to agree the terms of its withdrawal from Kosovo. General Mike Jackson will meet the commanders on the same border where, weeks before, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians streamed across in a tide of misery and desperation not seen in Europe since the forced migrations at the end of the Second World War.

The choice of the site will not be lost on the Yugoslav generals. There, where Serbian border guards gleefully tore up refugees' documents and ripped out the vehicle number plates to stop them from returning to their homes, Serb military chiefs will agree on the details of their own departure from the province they consider the cradle of the nation.

On behalf of Nato the 55-year-old British general will demand maps showing the location of mines and booby traps and warn that the actions of the retreating forces will be monitored. There is frantic military activity in Macedonia as General Jackson's force prepares to move in as soon as a withdrawal by Slobodan Milosevic's forces begins. Senior defence sources say one plan is for the First Battalion of The Parachute Regiment to go in by helicopter and secure the airport in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo.

The Paras will be followed by a battalion of Gurkhas and US Marines stationed in the Ionian Sea. Britain is sending eight Chinook and four Puma helicopters for the paratroops' use.

Nato strategists want a large-scale Serbian withdrawal by Tuesday, although Serbian commanders will say there is not enough time and that they do not have enough fuel. Nato will not harry the retreating Serbs out of the province. The alliance spokesman, Jamie Shea, said: "They know the way back home."

The alliance fears that President Milosevic's forces, especially the often anarchic paramilitary groups, may lay waste the territory they are leaving behind. Another worry is that the entire Serbian civilian population of Kosovo will pack and flee with the retreating army rather than face the inevitable wrath of the returning Albanians.

Stunned Serbs in Pristina warned that they would dig up their ancestors' bodies and load them on to carts rather than leave a single trace behind. "It will be like in Croatia and Bosnia," one man said, recalling the exodus from the Krajina and from Sarajevo in 1995. "Like them, we will dig up our dead and take them with us." About 10 per cent of Kosovo's 1.8 million population is Serbian.

Nato officials expect the Serbs to raise the question of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which is expected to spill across the border in large numbers as soon as the Serbs quit. US army officers, according to defence sources, have been meeting KLA leaders in Albania and urging them to exercise restraint and not fire on the retreating Serbs. "Clearly we will want the KLA to exercise restraint," Mr Shea said.

In Cologne, attending the European Union summit, Tony Blair, said the paratroops would not be "an aggressive force" but suggested they might meet pockets of Serbian resistance. "We are going to be going into a situation where Serb forces have been very active and it is necessary to have every single part of this special force properly equipped for all eventualities. Hopefully, we have seen the beginning of the end."

Mr Blair added that the job would not be done until the 800,000 Kosovo refugees were back in their homes. The Prime Minister warned Mr Milosevic that there was "no question" of halting Nato's bombing campaign until it was clear its demands were being met. "We will not trust Mr Milosevic's word. We have had enough experience of him breaking it."

Although there was no mention in the peace deal of Mr Milosevic's indictment for crimes against humanity by the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, Mr Blair said that did not mean he would never be prosecuted.

He warned Serbia that the devastated country of 10 million would not receive a penny of aid while Mr Milosevic remained in power. An emotional Mr Blair spoke of his "just cause", a triumph of good over evil. "We did it for justice.

"Let this mark the point at which those countries so often scarred by ethnic conflicts and religious and racial divisions were able to be brought properly into the true family of European nations."

For all the tough talk about putting Mr Milosevic on trial, the West does need him to remain in power for at least the next few months, until the pull-out of his forces from Kosovo is completed.

A French diplomatic source at the Cologne summit said Nato could stop bombing as soon as tomorrow if Belgrade agrees on a withdrawal.

Halting the bombing by the weekend would ease the way for the foreign ministers of the G8 nations - seven Western industrial nations plus Russia - to approve a draft UN Security Council resolution on a Kosovo settlement.

The UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, said he expected work to start on a resolution "as early as next week". Asked whether he thought the conflict over Kosovo would soon be at an end, he said: "Yes, I am optimistic."

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Harry Redknapp. Mark Hughes and Ryan Shawcross
footballNews and updates as Queens Park Rangers host the Potters
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
i100... with this review
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam