Yugoslav forces agree to begin pullout today

NATO, Yugoslav generals sign deal to end Kosovo war

Celebration in Belgrade

Serbian leaders portraying pact as triumph for Milosevic

June 10, 1999|By Will Englund | Will Englund,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

KUMANOVO, Macedonia -- NATO and Yugoslav commanders emerged from wearying, stamina-testing talks last night to announce that they had reached an agreement that should spell the end of the war over Kosovo.

Yugoslav forces are to begin a withdrawal sometime today. As soon as NATO has verified that the withdrawal has started, the bombing campaign will be halted.

An advance guard of British troops could be entering Kosovo later today if all goes quickly, with 50,000 more troops to follow.

"Verifiable compliance will establish the conditions for the termination of the air campaign," a haggard Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Jackson, commander of the NATO ground force, said after signing the agreement with his Yugoslav counterparts.

Heavily armed U.S. Army soldiers, 1,700 strong, began moving by road toward the Macedonia border from neighboring Albania as preparations for Kosovo peacekeeping accelerated, according to wire reports.

Nearly 2,000 Marines aboard ships off the coast of Greece also began moving ashore early today en route to hilly northern Macedonia to help spearhead the entry of U.S. forces into Kosovo.

Another 200 Army troops were to begin flying to Macedonia from U.S. bases in Germany, according to Defense Department officials.

As soon as the bombing has stopped, the United Nations Security Council will be asked to pass a resolution that authorizes the introduction of international troops into Kosovo.

Russia was expected to co-sponsor the resolution, which its foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, helped draft Tuesday in Cologne, Germany.

In one change demanded by China, the council inserted a reference to the importance of the principles contained in the U.N. charter. A diplomat described it as a "face-saving" change that made no difference in substance.

China, which maintains that NATO airstrikes violated the U.N.-guaranteed territorial integrity of Yugoslavia, is unlikely to veto the resolution, which is backed by the rest of the council.

Yugoslav leaders were portraying the end of the war as anything but a defeat for Belgrade.

"The policy of peace prevailed, the policy of peace which is conducted by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and President [Slobodan] Milosevic," said Col. Gen. Svetozar Marjanovic, deputy chief of Yugoslav forces and one of the men who has been bargaining off and on in Macedonia since Saturday.

Serbian state television also portrayed the agreement as a triumph for Milosevic's so-called peace policy and emphasized the key role played by the United Nations. Throughout the tense negotiating standoff of the past few days, the Yugoslav government boosted the U.N. role: To give in to NATO would be politically unpopular.

The agreement worked out by the world's leading industrial countries Tuesday gives an important role to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, letting him name a civilian administrator for Kosovo who is supposed to work closely with the peacekeepers.

But in fact the agreement clears the way for NATO troops to take control of Kosovo and prepare for the return of nearly 1 million Kosovar Albanian refugees driven out by the Serbs since March.

As news of the deal spread, anti-aircraft bursts, gunfire, fireworks and car horns could be heard throughout the Yugoslav capital, Belgrade.

Among those celebrating in a comfortable neighborhood cafe was Natasa Miljkovic, 27.

"This is really the end," she said. "Now, I can peacefully go home without fear and the knowledge that I should be in an air raid shelter. And I hope this peace will last."

Jelena Babic, 32, a psychology student, said, "I can imagine how the people of Kosovo are feeling. Also my feelings are mixed. We will have peace, but we have lost Kosovo."

`Another important step'

In Washington, President Clinton pronounced himself "very pleased," but spoke cautiously, saying the military accord "is another important step toward achieving our objectives in Kosovo."

"We and our allies will watch carefully to see whether the Serb forces are peacefully leaving Kosovo in accordance with the agreed timetable," Clinton said in a carefully worded statement.

White House aides were similarly reticent, but they allowed themselves a sidelong glance at what could be the biggest foreign policy victory of the Clinton presidency.

"President Clinton is the first world leader to have waged a war against genocide and won," one senior aide said.

Jackson said the talks had been difficult and had diverged from their original purpose -- presenting NATO's six-page logistical plan governing the withdrawal of 40,000 Yugoslav army and police troops.

The talks, in effect, became negotiations over policy issues that strayed far from purely military questions.

A process that began with consultations in Moscow, Bonn, Germany, Belgrade, Helsinki, Finland, and Washington came down in the end to a camouflaged tent set up by French soldiers in a wheat field in northeastern Macedonia.

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