UN set to press for ceasefire in Kosovo

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AS THE Western powers seek to apply fresh pressure on President Slobodan Milosevic to pull back his forces from the province of Kosovo, the United Nations Security Council will this morning adopt a mandatory resolution calling for a ceasefire and opening the door to possible military intervention.

Acting on an urgent appeal for action made by the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, at the UN General Assembly on Monday, the Security Council is set to adopt the resolution at an exceptional session with foreign ministers from most of the member nations taking the place of their ambassadors.

"This is a major step forward," commented a senior US diplomat last night. "It recognises for the first time that the situation in Kosovo represents a threat to the stability of the whole region."

The resolution, a draft of which was seen by The Independent, stops just short, however, of explicitly threatening the use of "all necessary means" - UN shorthand for force - against President Milosevic. Such language has been furiously resisted by the Russian Federation. China is also hesitant about any intervention within the boundaries of a sovereign nation.

Nor does the resolution include a world-wide ban on flights by the Yugoslav national airline, JAT. That had also been proposed by France and Britain in line with a similar ban adopted by the European Union and implemented, after some prevarication, by Britain at the end of last week.

Most significant, however, is the evocation in the resolution of Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which means that compliance by Belgrade will become automatically mandatory. Any violation of its articles, therefore, will be punishable by sanctions and, by implication, possibly also by force.

Plans for military intervention in the region have already been drawn up by Nato commanders in Brussels and are believed to weigh various options, including the launch of cruise missiles or bombardments of military targets in Kosovo.

Some 250,000 civilians in the province, which ethnically is predominantly Albanian, have already been driven from their homes. Human rights organisations have issued warnings that a grave refugee crisis will take hold as winter sets in unless international action is taken quickly to end the crisis.

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian ambassador in New York, was adamant last night that the resolution gave Nato no automatic right to begin a military intervention. "There is nothing in the resolution that authorises the use of force," he said.

The draft text, which is likely to draw an abstention today from China, demands that "all parties, groups and individuals immediately cease hostilities and maintain a ceasefire in Kosovo". It also calls on Belgrade to "cease all action by the security forces affecting the civilian population and order the withdrawal of security units used for civilian repression". If Belgrade ignores the resolution, it adds, the UN will "consider further action and additional measures to restore peace and stability to the region".

In his address on Monday, Mr Blair declared: "Our patience with broken promises and phony assurances is exhausted."