Allies plan postwar Kosovo

Support growing to make province U.N. protectorate

War In Yugollavia

April 13, 1999|By Mark Matthews and Tom Bowman | Mark Matthews and Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The United States and NATO officials, looking ahead to a postwar Kosovo, favor the creation of a United Nations-protected zone, policed by an international force with sizable Russian participation, officials said yesterday.

While publicly vowing to press relentlessly ahead with their bombing campaign, Western allies are quietly exploring a solution to the crisis that would deprive Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic of control of Kosovo. At the same time, by offering Russia a major role, the allies hope to prevent a deepening rift between the West and Moscow, a long-standing ally of Serbia.

The idea of a U.N. protectorate emerged on the eve of a meeting today in Oslo between Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and Russia's foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, that U.S. officials hope will repair badly frayed relations between Washington and Moscow.

As the campaign of airstrikes ended its third week, a missile from a NATO aircraft, intended for a nearby bridge, slammed into a passenger train yesterday in Yugoslavia, killing at least nine people and injuring 16, said Yugoslav authorities.

The aircraft was attacking the railroad bridge about 155 miles southeast of Belgrade when it inadvertently struck the train, NATO and Pentagon officials said. The bridge was being used to transport military supplies, officials said.

"I can tell you that NATO has released the fact that a bridge was attacked, and there was an indication there may have been a train on that bridge," said Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles F. Wald, a military spokesman, who provided no details. "They're reviewing that right now."

Changing focus of attacks

Weather continued to hamper allied attacks throughout Yugoslavia, with 24 targets struck in the past two days. The focus of the air campaign is increasingly turning to Serbian army and police forces fighting in Kosovo, Wald said, with targets including fuel, channels of communication, roads and bridges, command and control, air defense, and some industry for long-term sustainment. Six military convoys have been attacked by NATO airstrikes in recent days, officials said.

In Brussels, Belgium, NATO allies united in a show of resolve to continue bombarding the forces and infrastructure of Milosevic's war machine. NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana assigned top priority to the safe return of Kosovo's hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians, who have either fled or been forced out of the province by Serbian forces.

While insisting that air power can do the job, U.S. and NATO officials, under pressure from some members of Congress, have acknowledged that contingency plans exist for a ground invasion that could quickly be revised to meet new conditions.

Seeking middle ground

The outlines of a postwar Kosovo are beginning to take shape. NATO officials are trying to forge a middle ground between nationhood for the province and rule by Belgrade. Some kind of U.N. protectorate would deny control to Milosevic while avoiding any formal redrawing of national boundaries in the Balkans.

"A U.N. protectorate is the flavor with the least amount of negatives," a U.S. official said.

"We're heading in that direction," a NATO official added. Though a partitioning of Kosovo hasn't been ruled out, American officials and some allies oppose it as perhaps opening the way to Kosovar independence.

Under a U.N. protectorate, or trusteeship, Milosevic would be denied immediate sovereignty over the province. Yugoslavia would not likely regain control for as long as his regime is in power, the NATO official said.

"On the other hand, no one wants to go down the route of a greater Albania or independence" for Kosovo, said the NATO official.

A powerful international force would be sent in to provide a safe return for the hundreds of thousands of refugees now in Albania and Macedonia. Rather than it being solely a NATO force, officials now speak of the alliance as providing the "core" of such a force.

This could allow for NATO commanders to lead the force but for non-NATO countries -- chiefly Russia -- to play a vital role in the leadership. Current figures call for the force to number 28,000, including 4,000 Americans.

Russia already has a role in the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Bosnia-Herzegovina and it supplied half the U.N. force in Crotia's eastern Slavonia.

U.N. welcomed

In a nod to U.N. involvement in settling the conflict, Albright yesterday welcomed a "very positive statement" Friday by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who said he would urge an immediate bombing halt if Yugoslavia met a series of conditions that closely parallel NATO's. These include:

An end to intimidation and expulsion of Kosovo's population.

A complete cease-fire.

Acceptance of the return of refugees and displaced people.

Acceptance of an international force.

Verification of compliance by the international community.

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