War In The Balkans: Support for German peace plan

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The Independent Online
GERMANY WON European backing last night for a new diplomatic push to solve the crisis in Kosovo without gaining agreement on its detailed plans, which include proposals for a 24-hour cessation of Nato bombing.

With Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary-general, attending an emergency summit of European leaders in Brussels, heads of government called for a new UN resolution to outline the framework of a peace deal. The 15 leaders also stressed their commitment to wooing Russia, arguing that its "contribution is indespensible to finding a solution to the Kosovo problem".

And, after an afternoon of crisis talks to revive the diplomatic process, the heads of government agreed a blueprint for an "interim administration" of Kosovo's post-war administration which could come under European Union control. A special conference is planned on the "long-term stabilisation, security, democratisation and economic reconstruction of the region".

However, the EU leaders repeated their backing for the air campaign - and the specifics of a six-point plan proposed by Joschka Fischer, the German Foreign Minister, proved more contentious. The plan was unveiled yesterday morning, and the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroder, moved swiftly to avoid a row over its specifics.

At a press conference, Mr Schroder described the paper as "an attempt to describe the various stages of the process", and laid stress on the carefully crafted statement agreed by leaders.

Mr Annan said he "had no plans for a trip to Belgrade" but said: "We need to intensify the search for a political solution."

Earlier, Tony Blair argued that military objectives had to be seen through before the finer detail of peace plans could be discussed. One senior British source said: "You have to be resolute in seeing through a military campaign. there can be no compromise."

Bonn's initiative sets out a series of steps starting with the withdrawal of Serb forces from Kosovo and the parallel cessation of activities by the Kosovo Albanian forces. Transitional arrangements for the territory would be approved by the UN Security Council and the text transmitted to Belgrade. That would lead to a 24-hour end to the bombing, which would be extended if Serb troop withdrawals continued and appeared genuine. Nato would establish military control of the peace-keeping force. Meanwhile, reconstruction of Kosovo would begin.

Behind the scenes, Britain was careful not to rubbish the German proposals, believing that they may provide the basis for a political settlement once there are clear signs that the Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, intends to back down. Whitehall is also aware that opinion favours an increase in diplomatic efforts to end the air campaign. The main difference of emphasis lies in the timing of any peace initiative, and the willingness to go into detail now about the shape of a settlement package.

Some cause for more optimism emerged when the Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, appeared to underline his eagerness to step up diplomatic efforts to end the crisis by naming former prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin as his personal envoy to deal with the conflict.