War In The Balkans: Peace troops could move within days

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THE VANGUARD of a Nato-led international force could be moving into Kosovo as early as the end of this week, after the leading Western powers and Russia agreed on a United Nations resolution to end the 11-week bombing war against Yugoslavia.

The deal sealed yesterday by foreign ministers of the G8 countries is the biggest step so far towards a settlement of Europe's biggest conflict in half a century. It came as Russia, isolated in its support for President Slobodan Milosevic, dropped its last objections. The document broadly endorses both Nato's demands from the start of the conflict, and the peace deal that President Milosevic signed last week - only for his army commanders to raise new objections inabortive military talks at the weekend.

But with Moscow lined up alongside it the alliance feels that at last President Milosevic has been cornered. "We got what we came for," the US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, said - a sentiment echoed by Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary: "Now there are no more alibis for Milosevic."

The draft document thrashed out after a 12-hour negotiating marathon in Germany spread over two days, is being studied by diplomats at the UN where it could be approved by the Security Council today.

Last night fresh discussions were underway between Nato and Yugoslav commanders on a timetable for the pullout of the 40,000 Serb forces in Kosovo. Once withdrawal is demonstrably underway, Nato would call a pause in the 76-day campaign of air strikes, triggering passage of the resolution at UN headquarters in New York.

The international force, led by units of the British, French and US troops in the region, would then start to move in. To meet Russian sensibilities that Nato has taken control of proceedings, the draft does not refer specifically to Nato, merely to the "relevant international organisations" which will look after security in the province.

But annexes talk of a "substantial Nato participation", and alliance leaders last night insisted that despite the presence in Kosovo of a separate Russian force of up to 10,000 men, Nato would have unfettered command of operations.

That provision, however, could yet cause problems with the Russians. Igor Ivanov, the Russian Foreign Minister, said his country's contingent would be independent of the Nato command structure. But Mrs Albright ruled out talk of any "Russian sector" in the province.

The UN will be in overall charge of the civil administration of the province, which will be administered as an international protectorate as it is rebuilt.