The Trojan horse that `started' a 79-day war

IN THE LAST days of the Paris peace talks on Yugoslavia last March, something extraordinary happened. The Serb delegation - after agreeing to a political revolution in Kosovo - was presented with a military appendix to the treaty which demanded the virtual Nato occupation of all Yugoslavia. The Serbs turned it down and Nato went to war. Yet 79 days later, Nato - which had refused to contemplate a change in the military document - lost all interest in the annexe and at the final dramatic meetings on the Macedonian border was content with a Nato force inside only Kosovo.

Official obfuscation and confusion has ever since surrounded this all- important, last-minute addition to the Paris "peace" agreement. Was it presented by the Americans to force President Slobodan Milosevic to reject the whole peace package and permit Nato to bomb Serbia? Nato sources claim the Serbs would anyway never have abided by the Kosovo political accords: in which case, why did the West negotiate with Belgrade in the first place?

Even the text of the military appendix was not known to journalists reporting the two sets of "peace" talks in Rambouillet and Paris. The Serbs say they denounced it at their last Paris press conference - an ill-attended gathering at the Yugoslav Embassy at 11pm on 18 March. Although a summary of an early draft of the peace treaty was placed in the House of Commons library on 1 March, the full treaty and the military annexes together were not put in the library until 1 April - the first day of the parliamentary recess and a week after Nato's bombing campaign began.

The full annexes demanded Nato rights of road, rail and air passage across all of Yugoslavia, the use of radio stations, even the waiving of any claims of damages against Nato. For any state - even one as grotesque as Serbia - this would have amounted to occupation. The Foreign Minister of France, Hubert Vedrine, said the military appendix was similar to that used by Nato when it moved troops into Bosnia and that Nato forces needed access to Kosovo through Belgrade. But he has never explained why this supposedly essential part of the treaty was abandoned once Nato troops moved into the province.

Milan Komnenic, who was the Yugoslav Federal Information minister and a member of Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement (then in government but soon to be in opposition), was in Paris during the talks and has become preoccupied with the military annexe. He is writing a book about the negotiations, The Trap of Rambouillet. A tall, bespectacled figure with a reputation for intelligence and integrity - he admits atrocities were carried out by Serbs - he says he still does not understand why the war started.

"We don't know when the Russians found out about paragraphs six, seven and eight of the annexe," he said. "Igor Ivanov [the Foreign Minister of Russia] claimed the Russian side didn't know about the annexe at all. The surprise is that besides the Americans, no one knew about the annexe. We were given it one day before the end of the Paris talks - at `a minute before midnight'. Before that, we heard only rumours about the implementation of the political agreement."

According to Mr Komnenic, the American negotiator Christopher Hill and the Austrian diplomat at the talks, Boris Petritsch, insisted on the annexe while the Russian negotiator, Boris Mayorski - who later refused to attend the Kosovo Albanian signing of the "peace" agreement - abstained. "Hill and Petritsch were `for' the annexe and [Robin] Cook and Vedrine apparently agreed with a version - not identical to the final annexe - which was called an `explanation' of the political agreement and which said there could be no implementation with a Nato presence only in Kosovo," Mr Komnenic said.

In January, the Hill plan was published without annexe B in the Kosovo Albanian newspaper Koha Ditore, Mr Komnenic says. "And Hill gave Mr Draskovic and myself a copy of the plan in February - calling for a military presence in Kosovo but not in all of Yugoslavia. Then in Paris, Hill put annexe B on the table - one day before the collapse. I don't even know if our side knew till then about the annexe... But when we realised the danger of war was threatening, we de facto accepted the political agreement. It's clear the Americans were surprised by our acceptance of the agreement. So they were preparing their trap."

Since the military annexe became widely known, Western leaders have either tried to explain it away as a routine addendum to any peace implementation or an essential mechanism to get Nato into Kosovo. Mr Cook has adopted both tactics. Replying to Sir Peter Emery in the Foreign Affairs Select Committee on 28 April - when the Nato bombardment had been going on for more than a month while half the Albanian population of Kosovo was being "ethnically cleansed" by the Serbs - Mr Cook said: "The proposal for a military presence in Kosovo was one confined to Kosovo." This, he said, would require a "force agreement" with the Yugoslav government "that may [sic] be the text which has appeared". The issue, he said, had never been raised by the Serb delegation "which suggests to me that there is something deeply false about the idea that this is now the basis on which talks broke down". The idea that the military annexe was the "casus belli" was a "canard".

Goran Matic, a minister in Mr Milosevic's government and a close friend of the President, says that the European Contact Group designed the political framework for the Rambouillet talks and that at one meeting the Russians refused to discuss the political and military annexe. "Around the end of the second week of March, our delegation received the paper which contained the military annexe," Mr Matic said. "The Contact Group had managed to present the paper without the Russians. Our delegation, together with Mayorski, decided to withdraw acceptance of the paper because it wasn't produced by all the Contact Group. For this reason, we said the paper was only `informal'. But the Americans were trying to `legalise' the paper, which wasn't acceptable to the Russians. Mayorski put in a written objection. We were ready to accept the political solution of the Kosovo problem and UN troops to regulate the implementation - but not Nato troops in occupation. United Nations Security Council resolution 1244 [which ended the conflict] could have been accepted before the bombing."

In any event, when Nato commanders met the Serbs for the "military-technical agreement" at the end of the war - after thousands of Kosovo Albanians had been murdered by Serb forces and as many as 1,500 civilians killed by Nato bombs - the supposedly crucial military annexe was never mentioned. Miraculously, Nato - with 40,000 troops to move into the province (10,000 more than originally envisaged) - no longer needed appendix B. Not a single Nato soldier moved north of Kosovo into the rest of Serbia.

What was the real purpose of Nato's last minute demand? Was it a Trojan horse? To save the peace? Or to sabotage it?

NATO'S LAST-MINUTE DEMAND

"Nato personnel shall enjoy, together with their vehicles, vessels, aircraft and equipment, free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access throughout the FRY (Federal Republic of Yugolsavia) including associated air space and territorial waters. This shall include but not be limited to, the right of bivouac, manoeuvre, billet and utilisation of any areas or facilities as required for support, training and operations."

Interim Agreement for Peace and Self-Government - Kosovo, Appendix to page 8, March 1999

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