US to join Nato force in Kosovo

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The Independent Online
AS PRESSURE intensified on Yugoslavia to send delegates to the Kosovo peace talks, which are due to start near Paris on Saturday, Nato countries were yesterday working out details of a peace-keeping force, of between 20,000 and 30,000 men, including a small, but significant, US contingent.

Under plans being finalised by European and American officials, Britain would make the largest single contribution, of 8,000 men, to the force which would only be deployed if ethnic Albanians and Serbs reach a settlement at Rambouillet.

France is understood to be offering up to 6,000 troops, Germany 3,000 and Russia, the Netherlands and the Nordic countries a further 3,000 between them.

The crux however is the US contribution, controversial in Congress but seen as crucial for the credibility of the peace-keeping operation and as a guarantee that Washington was in for the long haul in ensuring that the autonomy deal worked.

William Cohen, the US Defense Secretary, assured the Senate Armed Services Committee that a "relatively small" US ground force could be sent, assuming a deal is struck in Rambouillet. General Henry Shelton, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, suggested a contingent of 2,000 to 4,000 American troops.

Mr Cohen was speaking a day after the CIA director, George Tenet, warned that even if an agreement was reached, Nato ground troops would be needed to stave off the risk of a wider war in the spring.

As have his opposite numbers in London and Paris, the Defense Secretary flatly opposed an invasion of Kosovo by Nato to impose a peace in what planners jargon calls a "non-permissive environment".

Last night, plans were going ahead for the Rambouillet conference to start as scheduled, under the joint chairmanship of Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, and the French Foreign Minister, Hubert Vedrine.

After the decisions of the political and military representatives of the Kosovo Albanians to attend, only the assent of the Serbian and Yugoslav governments is lacking.

Although President Slobodan Milosevic has given conflicting signals, the surprisingly thorough and even-handed coverage of the Contact Group proposals in the Belgrade press makes Western officials fairly confident that, after some suitable suspense, he will agree to send delegations. "They ran our statement in full. The only thing they changed was that they had been `invited,' not `summoned' to the conference," one Western diplomat said.

It is most unlikely that Mr Milosevic, who was again warned explicitly by Washington that he faced Nato airstrikes if he did not comply, will attend in person.

The Serbian delegation could be headed by Milan Milutinovic, Serbia's President,while the federal Yugoslav team could be led by Mr Milosevic's deputy, Nikola Sainovic.

The draft peace plan, in which only minor changes will be permitted during the negotiations, will turn Kosovo into something approaching a protectorate. The OSCE monitoring mission would have wide powers and will supervise elections within nine months.

Though Kosovo will not be granted full independence, the Serbian government will lose almost all its authority over the province, which will have its own assembly and police force. The agreement runs for an interim period of three years, after which the final status of Kosovo will be determined.

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