Balkan envoys press terms

Finnish president and Chernomyrdin meet with Milosevic

`A realistic chance'

Negotiations continue as Serbian leaders discuss peace plan

June 03, 1999|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Balkan peace envoys presented Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic yesterday with a comprehensive plan to end NATO's war and bring international troops to Kosovo.

Talks were scheduled to continue today, while the Serbian parliament, normally a rubber stamp for Milosevic, was to be convened to discuss the measures. That body rejected NATO's last offer to end the Kosovo crisis on March 23, the day before the allies began their intensive bombing campaign.

The plan's key features include deployment of NATO and Russian forces in Kosovo, and an end to allied airstrikes after the West verifies that Serbian security forces have started their withdrawal from the province.

Russia's Viktor S. Chernomyrdin and Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari delivered the proposals to Milosevic and met for nearly two hours with the Balkan leader, who was recently charged with war crimes. The envoys made their trip only after Russia and the West finally agreed to broad outlines to end the conflict.

It was difficult to tell whether Milosevic was being forced to capitulate or allowed to negotiate. Few here were predicting a quick end to the conflict. But in recent days, Milosevic's regime has appeared to prepare the public and the military for a settlement, and hinted that it is ready to accept foreign troops in Kosovo -- a major obstacle up to now.

Russian spokesman Valentine Sergeyev called the meeting "pretty productive," and told Russia's Interfax news agency: "It is necessary for the Yugoslav leadership to accept this document."

Before arriving in Belgrade, Chernomyrdin told reporters: "At the moment, there is a realistic chance that the war will end."

The most contentious issues involved the removal of Serbian troops from the Yugoslav province and the insertion of international peacekeepers to oversee the return of 900,000 ethnic Albanian refugees to their homes.

Russia envisions two separate peacekeeping forces and commands, which some contend could be a recipe for a de-facto partitioning of Kosovo, handing the mineral-rich northern section to the Serbs and the southern part to the ethnic Albanian majority.

The West favors a single contingent of peacekeepers under a single command in what is being labeled an "internal security presence," which would enable the refugees to return.

"NATO will command the NATO forces, Russia the Russian forces," Chernomyrdin told reporters. "Relations between the two contingents will be governed by separate agreements.

"The peacekeeping process should be under United Nations auspices. We underlined that we need to create the conditions [for the refugees] to return and live in safety," he said.

"It is most important that a document is worked out between Yugoslavia and NATO covering withdrawal of Serbian forces and the timing of the deployment of peacekeepers," Chernomyrdin said.

NATO's civilian spokesman, Jamie P. Shea, insisted that there would be no Russian peacekeeping sector and no partition, although he said the force could have "various areas of command."

"In substance, it's clear we need to have a unified command," Michael Steiner, adviser to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, told the British Broadcasting Corp.

But even the hint of a separate command drew a harsh rebuke from ethnic Albanian rebel leader Hashim Thaqi, who told Reuters: "We reject categorically any idea of separate zones of international forces."

According to sources familiar with the proposals, the detailed plan recognizes Yugoslavia's territorial integrity, including Kosovo's status as a Serbian province.

The ethnic Albanian rebel force known as the Kosovo Liberation Army would be "demilitarized and transformed" under the plan. Western officials envision the KLA being turned into a political party with a good number of its recruits trained as police for Kosovo.

As the leaders considered the latest proposals to end the bombing, many war-weary people in Belgrade were anxious for a deal that would end the conflict.

"I didn't expect there would be a signed peace deal," said Zaga Simic, 29, a hairdresser. "Always, something turns against us when we have too much hope. I will accept NATO troops in Kosovo when I know it will lead to the end of the war."

But Milan Miracic, 37, a waiter, objected to any mention of U.S. soldiers on Kosovo's soil.

"Of course, we are tired, but also we are ready for further war if we should have to defend our freedom," he said.

Slobodan Timotijevic, 41, an ice cream salesman, was not optimistic about the negotiations.

"Any plan will be bad for us," he said. "Western countries are not wishing us well. Russia does not care too much about us. I think the presence of NATO in Kosovo will make things much more complicated.

"And we are not feeling tired when we are defending our country," he said. "We will have enough time to be tired after the war."

But the way 39-year-old bus driver Slavica Vesic sees it, the sooner the war ends, the better.

"I am disappointed because we are waiting for this peace deal for more than a month," he said. "We are sick of the war. Any kind of deal will bring the end of the bombing."

Sun staff writer Mark Matthews contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 6/03/99

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