War In The Balkans: Milosevic surrenders to Nato's demand for total withdrawal

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SLOBODAN MILOSEVIC came to power on a pledge to keep Kosovo inside Serbia. Yesterday he appeared to sign it away as his parliament voted to accept the G8 proposals to end the conflict with Nato.

The Serbs put a hopeful gloss on the document brought to Belgrade by the Finnish President, Martti Ahtisaari, and the Russian envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin, stressing it "confirms the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Yugoslavia". But their bold rhetoric masked what amounts to a surrender to Nato's key demands. The deal demands the total withdrawal of Serbian forces from Kosovo within seven days and the deployment of a Nato-led peace force. It is a bitter pill for Belgrade.

Tony Blair heard the news attending an EU summit in Cologne. After their working lunch was interrupted by news of the breakthrough, the 15 heads of government spontaneously raised their glasses. "It is good news that the demands made at the outset of this campaign have been accepted," the Prime Minister said. "The justice of our cause was very clear to me from the outset." Mr Blair insisted "no deal" was made with Belgrade. "Mr Milosevic thought that allied unity would crack, that we wouldn't have the resolve to see it through. We have shown that we are unified ... that we did have the resolve to see it through."

The EU summit agreed to call for an urgent resolution to be adopted by the United Nations Security Council, authorising the creation of a peace-keeping force in Kosovo and a provisional international civil administration.

The EU leaders said in a statement: "There is now a real possibility of achieving a political settlement, the first stage of which is an undertaking to proceed with the verifiable withdrawal of all Yugoslav forces from Kosovo. This would enable Nato operations to be suspended." The Cologne summit ceremonially congratulated Mr Ahtisaari and Mr Chernomyrdin for their efforts.

Washington was cautious, however. "This is not a time for popping champagne corks," said the State Department spokesman James Rubin "What we are going to be looking for is implementation, implementation and implementation."

After the Serbian parliament voted 136-74 in favour of the peace plan, Mr Milosevic's former nationalist allies stormed out of the government, lambasting what they saw as capitulation. Serbia's deputy premier, Vojislav Seselj, said: "We shall not sit in the government and await the arrival of Nato troops into Kosovo."

The all too public outrage of Serbian nationalists suggests trouble lies ahead for Mr Milosevic. Much as he tries to sell the package as a victory that has staved off a Nato invasion, he will inevitably be accused of betraying the cradle of Serbdom, as Serbs call Kosovo, to foreign powers and hated Albanians.

As well as a total Serbian withdrawal, the deal demands the return of all 800,000 Albanian refugees and free and unhindered access to Kosovo for international aid bodies. A UN-appointed administration is to take over Kosovo's government. Belgrade will be allowed to retain "hundreds" of officials in Kosovo, but they, too, will be subject to UN authority. The Serbs have seven days to withdraw their forces and only then will the 72-day air campaign be formally ended. The Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, said the alliance would not halt the air campaign until there was a "verifiable withdrawal" of Serbian forces from Kosovo.

Many factors cracked Serbia's initially stout resistance. There was war weariness among the Serbs, fuelled by the justifiable suspicion that soldiers were being asked to die for nothing. Belgrade's failure to drive a wedge between Nato hawks and doves meanwhile exposed Serbia to the threat of continually intensifying bombing. What finally forced Serbia and Mr Milosevic to cave in was the shift by its Russian ally in favour of Nato's terms for ending the conflict.

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