War in the Balkans: Russians back UN peace plan in Balkans

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The Independent Online
SERBIA STOOD isolated yesterday as Russia, its last ally, signed up for a peace settlement in Kosovo enforced by a multinational force operating under a United Nations mandate.

President Bill Clinton warmly welcomed the development. "The significance, as far as I know, is that this is the first time that the Russians have publicly said they support an international security as well as civilian force in Kosovo. This is a significant step forward and I was personally very pleased by it."

Mr Clinton suggested there was "a real peace process" under way although he stressed it would remain a twin-track approach, balancing air strikes with diplomacy.

Slobodan Milosevic, the Yugoslav President, responded by saying he could accept a UN peace mission, armed with "self-defence weapons", but ruled out any Nato participation. "We cannot accept an occupational force, not under a Nato or UN flag," he said.

President Milo Djukanovic of Montenegro told The Independent that Mr Milosevic had miscalculated badly and must accept defeat in the Balkans. "Milosevic will have to accept the withdrawal of police and military forces from Kosovo. There must be an international military presence, under the auspices of the United Nations," he said.

Though many details werefudged, notably on the make-up of the peace- keeping force, the statement issued in Bonn by foreign ministers of the Group of Seven leading industrialisedstates and Russia (G8) echoed Nato's key demands. It calls for the "deployment in Kosovo of effective international civil and security presences, endorsed and adopted by the UN, capable of guaranteeing the achievement of common objectives".

Western leaders interpreted that as a rubber-stamp for a military force with Nato at its core, although the word Nato does not appear in the communique.Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, suggested a force of about 30,000, including British and US troops.

"If it's going to be credible, it must have real teeth," Mr Cook added. "And those teeth will have to be supplied by Nato."

Diplomats said Russia accepted that the name of the international force was up for discussion, but that its composition, as far as Nato was concerned, was non-negotiable. Nato officials insist their troops will not wear UN blue helmets.

Igor Ivanov, the Russian Foreign Minister, pointed out that the Yugoslav government had yet to assent to any deal. "This is not an agreement with Belgrade," he said. "This is not a peace settlement."

But the "agreed principles" of the eight powers present in Bonn yesterday do provide a basis for a UN Security Council resolution which, if approved, will put enormous pressure on Mr Milosevic. The statement follows from the Rambouillet accord, which Mr Milosevic refused to sign, and incorporates Nato's five demands. It calls for an "immediate and verifiable end to violence and repression in Kosovo".

There is no mention of the violence inflicted by Nato, suggesting that Russia has abandoned its demand that the bombing must stop first. The foreign ministers urged the return of refugees, unhindered access to humanitarian organisations, and the establishment of an interim administration under the UN's aegis. Nato has made concessions, too. No longer is it insisting that "all" Yugoslav forces be withdrawn from Kosovo, and Mr Cook conceded that a "token force" might be allowed to stay behind.

The document is unclear about Kosovo's political future. In the interim, the G8 is seeking "substantial self-government for Kosovo, taking full account of the Rambouillet accords and the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity of Yugoslavia".

Speaking in Rome, Kosovo's moderate ethnic Albanian leader, Ibrahim Rugova, said the agreement represented "a good basis" for a settlement, but Jakup Krasniqi, a spokesman for the Kosovo Liberation Army, said the KLA is not prepared to disarm.

As to the long-term future of the ravaged province and the rest of the region, Mr Clintonmade it clear in Bonn that the Balkan frontline states could soon expect an infusion of cash. But Serbia would only become part of a new Marshall Plan if it mended its ways and adopted democracy, Western leaders suggested. Viktor Chernomyrdin, Russia's special envoy, must now return to Belgrade and try to persuade President Milosevic he has nothing to gain from holding out any longer.

With four of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council on board, China's approval will now be solicited.

Germany's Interior Minister, Otto Schily, reached an agreement yesterday to take another 5,000 Kosovo refugees in addition to the 10,000 already in the country. A government spokesman said the refugees would be taken in after other European Union nations did their part to help.

Meanwhile, the bombing goes on. Whilst welcoming the joint statement, President Clinton said there would be no change in Nato tactics. "We need to stay with the strategy we have and continue to aggressively support our air campaign and aggressively support any diplomatic initiative that will secure the conditions necessary for a lasting peace in Kosovo." But a French diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, boldly predicted yesterday that "the bombing will be over within 14 days". Perhaps that is too optimistic, but an end is, for the first time, in sight.