Kosovo talks please Russian

Indicting Milosevic hinders negotiations, Chernomyrdin says

NATO attacks escalate

Belgrade lacks power after more airstrikes

War In Yugoslavia


BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- A day after President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia was indicted on war crimes charges, a search for a negotiated solution to the conflict in Kosovo proceeded yesterday, clouded by uncertainty and recriminations but with the Russian envoy voicing modest expressions of hope.

After nine hours of talks with Milosevic about a Kosovo settlement, the Russian special envoy, Viktor S. Chernomyrdin, pronounced himself "very pleased," but added, "We face the most difficult negotiations in the next few days."

The sticking points remain the shape of any international force to police a settlement, the command of such a force and the size of the Yugoslav army and police contingents allowed to remain in Kosovo.

Yesterday's talks were important but not definitive. The atmosphere was colored by the indictment of Milosevic and four top aides Thursday by the international criminal tribunal at The Hague on charges of war crimes in Kosovo.

Chernomyrdin said he hoped to return to Belgrade next week with Martti Ahtisaari, the president of Finland, after further talks with Strobe Talbott, the deputy secretary of state.

But Talbott took pains yesterday to say Chernomyrdin was not representing the United States or NATO.

In an official statement issued last evening, the Yugoslav government said it accepted the principles for a settlement issued by the Group of Eight main Western industrialized countries and "agrees that the U.N. Security Council should pass a resolution based on those principles."

The government also said, "The return of all the refugees to their homes should be ensured as soon as possible."

But Belgrade has accepted the principles before, and everyone acknowledges that putting them into a substantive, detailed peace settlement is the difficulty. Even the United States and Russia still disagree over those details.

The G-8 principles, worked out May 6 in Bonn, Germany, call for a halt in the violence and oppression in Kosovo, withdrawal of Serbian forces from the province and deployment of an international security "presence," understood to be an armed force under a U.N. flag with participants from at least some NATO countries.

The principles also call for the return of ethnic Albanian refugees, establishment of an interim administration before new elections and opening of Serb-Kosovar talks on the province's future.

No electric power

Chernomyrdin flew yesterday to a Belgrade without electric power after renewed NATO attacks on the nation's grid in what NATO officials said proudly was their heaviest day of bombing yet, with 792 sorties, a record in the air war that began March 24.

He arrived in a sour mood, in part a function of what Russian officials described as a very difficult set of negotiations over two days with Talbott.

Chernomyrdin said he was "unsatisfied that all of our negotiations have failed to achieve results" and said: "If they continue in this vein, then their continuation would be senseless."

But he noted that the talks were currently the only hope of a peaceful resolution and called again for a halt to NATO's bombing as an important prerequisite for negotiations.

Before leaving Moscow, he told reporters about the indictment: "We knew, we warned, we asked, `Don't do this, because it will simply complicate the process.' But we are flying to Belgrade. We deal with the lawfully elected president of Yugoslavia and will go on dealing with him."

Doesn't speak for allies

Talbott, briefing NATO ambassadors in Brussels, Belgium, yesterday, emphasized that Chernomyrdin is representing only the Russian government in talks with Milosevic and not NATO or the United States.

Talbott also criticized Chernomyrdin for an Op-ed piece in the Washington Post in which the Russian complained about NATO policy, called the Kosovo issue a "domestic conflict" and said Russia would cease its efforts unless the bombing stopped.

NATO's position is to be represented by Ahtisaari of Finland, which is not a member of NATO. But Ahtisaari, long expected in Belgrade, once again did not come with Chernomyrdin. The reason, Chernomyrdin said, was the indictment of Milosevic.

But Yugoslav officials said it might be that Ahtisaari -- or NATO -- also wants to wait for the Russian and NATO positions to move closer before he speaks to Milosevic.

Chernomyrdin is bringing further ideas on the makeup of an international force under U.N. auspices to police a Kosovo settlement. The Russians are said to be willing to supply up to 10,000 soldiers and to be exploring the idea of German troops as the center of a NATO contingent.

Belgrade would prefer NATO troops from countries, such as Germany, Italy, Greece and Spain, that are not associated in the public's mind with the bombing of Yugoslavia, as the United States and Britain are.

Who should command

There is also a dispute over who should command such a force, with Russia wanting a neutral nation, and over how many Yugoslav troops and Serb police should be allowed to remain in Kosovo, even as a symbol of sovereignty.

The Russians believe, as Belgrade does, that if all Serb forces pull out, the vacuum will immediately be filled by the Kosovo Liberation Army, which is supposed to be disarmed in any settlement.

While NATO says it wants a strong force with NATO at its core to protect ethnic Albanians from Serbs and to prevent a reinfiltration of Serb forces, Yugoslav and even some NATO officials believe that the biggest threat to the international force will be the KLA and are skeptical that NATO will disarm the insurgents.

Pub Date: 5/29/99

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