Serbia stands firm on Kosovo Yeltsin intervention produces OK to talks, but no truce or pullout

June 17, 1998|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

MOSCOW -- Under pressure from Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin, Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic made modest concessions yesterday toward peace in Kosovo but flatly refused to agree to a cease-fire or the withdrawal of ground forces in the separatist province.

The Russian and Yugoslav leaders signed a nine-point pact expressing Milosevic's willingness to resume talks with a moderate faction of Kosovo Albanians and to open the restive region to humanitarian groups and foreign diplomats.

But the agreement did not provide for any international mediation in the negotiations or monitoring of the situation in Kosovo, where more than 250 people have been killed this year in clashes between government forces and Albanian separatists.

"There are no grounds for the Yugoslav army not to be on the territory of Yugoslavia," Milosevic told reporters. "Therefore, any withdrawal of units of the Yugoslav army from any part of Yugoslavia is out of the question."

Yeltsin and other officials in Moscow praised the agreement as a success of Russian foreign policy that reflects their desire to end the Kosovo conflict through diplomatic means -- not Western military intervention.

But in Washington, presidential spokesman Mike McCurry said the document falls short of Western demands and creates an apparent "loophole" by linking the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces to the cessation of "terrorist activities."

"There's no justification for continuation of the brutal campaign of violence by Serb security forces and the withdrawal of Serb security forces is fundamental," McCurry said.

The Yugoslav army and Serbian police have engaged in repeated clashes with the growing Kosovo Liberation Army, forcing tens of thousands of refugees to flee across the border into Albania.

A recent offensive by the Yugoslav government prompted six foreign powers -- the United States, Russia, Britain, Germany, France and Italy -- to demand that Milosevic agree to a cease-fire and withdraw his troops from Kosovo.

Operating as the Contact Group on Yugoslavia, the six nations also have called for open access for international monitoring and humanitarian aid, the repatriation of displaced people and immediate peace talks by the Yugoslav regime with Kosovo's Albanian leadership.

To demonstrate the Western powers' seriousness, NATO staged exercises over Albania and Macedonia near the Kosovo border Monday, using 85 warplanes.

In a rare appearance before the media, Milosevic said NATO's show of air power had no effect on his talks with Yeltsin. "I see no connection with the NATO maneuvers here," he said.

He also denied that his forces had engaged in "ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo and blamed the killing of civilians on Kosovo Albanian "terrorists."

While Milosevic yielded on some of the lesser demands of the Contact Group, it was unclear whether he had gone far enough to prevent military intervention by the West.

"There was some progress," said U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright in Washington. But she added: "It is insufficient that the killing of civilians and depopulating of villages continues."

In Kosovo, a spokesman for Albanian separatists said the offer announced in Moscow was "absolutely insufficient" for restarting the peace talks.

"No one is disputing the need to have negotiations, but they must be held under the conditions spelled out by the Contact Group," said Blerim Shala, a spokesman for the negotiating team headed by separatist leader Ibrahim Rugova.

"That includes, above all, a cease-fire and withdrawal of Yugoslav army troops and special Serb police units," he said.

Pub Date: 6/17/98

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