UN backs off Kosovo strikes

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The Independent Online
WESTERN powers hesitated on the brink of military intervention in Kosovo yesterday as Serb hardliners warned Nato could be dragged into a quagmire.

Tony Blair and Robin Cook, said yesterday that the United States and the European allies were on the brink of launching attacks on Serbian military targets, to underline international revulsion at recent atrocities in the Serb-ruled province.

But the UN Security Council showed little sign of taking firm action. Now under Britain's chairmanship, the council was expected last night merely to condemn Serbian atrocities.

The Independent has also obtained evidence that European Union sanctions against Serbia are almost completely ineffective and may amount to less than pounds 1m in blocked investments.

An internal European Commission paper contains a damning indictment of the effectiveness of economic sanctions against Yugoslavia, which now consists of two republics, Serbia and Montenegro.

"Only a few member states" have done enough work to make them effective, it says. The wording of the sanctions allows "ample opportunity for the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Serbian governments to use freely other financial assets".

The Security Council's response is expected to be in sharp contrast with the expectations raised by political leaders at the Labour Party conference, where both Mr Blair, and Mr Cook vowed to punish the Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

The Security Council's permanent five members remain divided on Kosovo, with Russia and China both publicly opposed to a resolution authorising Nato air-strikes. Russia yesterday reiterated its opposition to air-strikes, now in the final stages of planning by Nato in Brussels.

Britain argued, meanwhile, that the council was still awaiting a report, due on Monday, from the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan on Kosovo.

But Mr Annan appears unlikely to use the report to prod the Council into approving military action. Sources close to him said he is not convinced air strikes would be effective.

In Washington, the State Department warned American citizens to leave Yugoslavia because of the increasingly likelihood of military action .

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