NATO, Yugoslavs to discuss terms for troop withdrawal Sunday
June 5, 1999
SKOPJE, Macedonia (CNN) -- NATO and Yugoslav military officials will meet at a Macedonian airfield Sunday to discuss the details of a proposed withdrawal of Yugoslav troops from Kosovo, which could lead to the end of NATO's 10-week bombing campaign.
After five hours of talks Saturday in Blace, Macedonia, which a NATO spokesman characterized as "constructive," Yugoslav officials requested more time to consult with higher authorities in Belgrade. But officials of the Western alliance insisted they were laying down the ground rules for the withdrawal, not negotiating terms with the Yugoslavs.
"It's not a place for haggling or equivocation," said NATO spokesman Jamie Shea. "This is a place for decision and action. We expect the Yugoslav military representatives to accept the terms that will be put to them ... and we expect them to have the authority not only to agree but also to order the immediate implementation of what is agreed."
Late Saturday, about five hours after the talks ended, Serb forces fired 16 shells into the Albanian towns of Kruma and Golaj, according to officials of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. There was no immediate verification of any dead or injured.
Sunday's talks are scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m.(0630 GMT) at the Kumanovo Airport east of Skopje, the Macedonian capital.
Also on Sunday, ministers from the G-8 nations -- a group that includes Russia, Japan and six leading NATO powers -- will meet to draft a resolution for the U.N. Security Council incorporating the terms of the Kosovo peace agreement.
Yugoslavia has accepted a framework for a Kosovo settlement that calls for the withdrawal of forces from the disputed province and the introduction of a NATO-led international peacekeeping force.
Those troops will oversee the return of ethnic Albanian refugees and a demilitarization of the province, including the disarming of the Kosovo Liberation Army, which has been fighting for an independent homeland for Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority.
KLA spokesman Pleurat Sejdiu told CNN that the KLA plans to stick to the terms of a peace agreement it signed in Rambouillet, France, prior to NATO's air assault. The agreement calls for disarmament of the rebel group.
"We have some reservations about certain points in this deal, but we are ready to cooperate very closely with NATO," Sejdiu said.
As the talks between NATO and the Yugoslavs continue, NATO continues to strike at targets inside Yugoslavia, flying about 500 sorties overnight Friday into Saturday.
"We're not letting up until we see facts on the ground," said U.S. Vice President Al Gore. "They've got to withdraw, and they've got to start the process in such a substantial way as to make it clear they're going to go all the way through with the commitments they've made."
NATO's decision to continue the air campaign while a peace deal is on the table isn't sitting well in some quarters. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov met with President Boris Yeltsin in a rare Saturday session and expressed concern that strikes were continuing despite the agreement Russia helped to broker.
"The main task ... is to stop bombing. After that, Russia is ready for working out the U.N. resolution, which will give the basis for post-war settlement in Yugoslavia," Ivanov said.
In Washington, about 5,000 anti-war protesters marched to the Pentagon, calling for an end to the bombing.
"We're going to send a message of our own that the American people do not agree with what our government is doing over there," said Sarah Flounder, one of the protest organizers.
Meanwhile, inside Yugoslavia, the government's acceptance of the peace deal has touched off a sense of uncertainty -- and political grumbling among nationalists who have until now been a bedrock of support for President Slobodan Milosevic.
Leaders of the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party met Saturday to denounce the agreement.
"(We) will never accept complete withdrawal of our forces from Kosovo," said Vojislav Sesel, Serbia's deputy prime minister. "We insist on maintaining 15,000 soldiers there and 10,000 police."
On a Belgrade street Saturday, a Yugoslav woman laughed out loud at a headline in a government paper reading, "Courageous and wise move by Belgrade."
Journalist Bratislav Grubacic said "90 percent of ordinary people are absolutely aware of what happened -- this was capitulation. We lost Kosovo, and Milosevic stayed in power."
Despite the grumbling, however, Milosevic appears to have retained a firm grip on political power, despite a devastating war that has left as many as 1 million people unemployed and much of Belgrade without electricity or running water.
In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon announced that the 26th Marine Expeditionary Force, with about 2,000 troops, will arrive in Greece late Sunday and could begin offloading as soon as Monday. The Marines will then move to Macedonia to position themselves to go into Kosovo.
"The exact time they go in, or any NATO force goes in, depends on the Serb forces starting their withdrawal, because the withdrawal has to begin before the NATO forces will go in," he said.
Bacon said it was likely that British and French troops would go into Kosovo before the American contingent. Plans call for the province to be divided into five sectors, with the United States, Britain, Germany, Italy and France each overseeing a sector.
Just what role Russian forces will play in the Kosovo peacekeeping force remains unclear. Former Prime Minister Victory Chernomyrdin, who helped broker the peace deal, said if Russian forces do participate, they will not be part of NATO's force.
"We have not even discussed this question," he said. "Under our law and under our morality, we will never be under NATO."
NATO: Bombing of Yugoslavia could end by Sunday
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