NATO, Yugoslavs hold marathon talks
June 9, 1999
KUMANOVO, Macedonia (CNN) -- Negotiations between Yugoslav and NATO generals in Macedonia continued on Wednesday as the two sides worked to map out the details of a Serb withdrawal from Kosovo -- a key step in bringing an end to NATO's 11-week-old air campaign.
But there has been a delay in negotiations as a Yugoslavia diplomat left the talks, ostensibly to consult Belgrade from the Kosovo side of the border.
The military leaders began the talks around 9:30 p.m. (3:30 p.m. EDT) beneath a giant camouflage tent at a military heliport near here -- resuming talks that stalled early Monday when Yugoslavia balked at several points in a NATO-prepared withdrawal document.
But there was still no breakthrough as the discussions carried over from late Tuesday into Wednesday.
The meeting recessed at 7 a.m. (1 a.m. EDT) Wednesday for breakfast. Later, the representatives began holding internal meetings in their own groups and intended to reconvene full negotiations.
But face-to-face talks have been delayed as the leader of the nine-member Yugoslav delegation, Deputy Foreign Minister Nebojsa Vujovic, left the talks before 10 a.m. (4 a.m. EDT).
Earlier in the session, Vujovic and two generals also broke away to consult Belgrade but returned to Macedonia about 90 minutes later.
Military sources told CNN one of the main sticking points is that the Yugoslav leadership is concerned Kosovo Liberation Army rebels will attack Serb forces from the rear once the withdrawal begins.
The Serb leaders, sources said, want NATO to move in close behind to fill the military vacuum created once the withdrawal is under way. Other key issues yet to be resolved, sources said, are the timetable for the withdrawal and a Serb request to maintain a presence along the Kosovo border.
Military sources also said officials are concerned that -- in addition to booby-trapped minefields -- about 3,000 unexploded NATO ordnance in Kosovo may pose a danger to peacekeepers and refugees once they begin to enter the war-torn province.
Oil refinery hit again
While the talks continue, NATO pushed ahead with the bomb campaign, now in its 77th day. An oil refinery in Pacevo, just outside Belgrade, was struck for the second straight day and air raid sirens blared across Yugoslavia. NATO also struck at Serb forces on the ground in Kosovo.
The military talks began just hours after the Group of Eight foreign ministers settled on a proposed U.N. resolution for peace in the troubled region.
At the Pentagon, spokesman Ken Bacon earlier said there are signs Serb troops are making preparations to withdraw, including the mobilizing of vehicles and other means to transport troops from the region.
"We've certainly seen preparations for moving out," Bacon told reporters.
However, a freelance journalist reporting from central Kosovo told CNN there was heavy shelling in regions where displaced Kosovars have been seeking shelter for the past 2 1/2 months.
"These are areas where refugees are staying," he said. "The Serbs should know there are no KLA positions there."
The "technical-military" meeting in Macedonia marked the next step in the plan that could result in a halt of NATO's bombing and a deployment of NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosovo "within a few days" of a verifiable withdrawal by the Serbs, said British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook.
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, during a stop in Brussels, said it is now up to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to move the peace process forward by "accepting the terms of the military, technical agreement and by abiding by it."
No immediate action taken on draft resolution
As the G-8 ministers announced they had settled on a draft U.N. resolution Tuesday in Cologne, Germany, Cook said the sequence of events leading to a peace in Kosovo included the technical-military agreement and a verifiable withdrawal of Serb forces from Kosovo. He said that would lead to a suspension in the NATO bombing campaign.
Once the bombing had stopped, the Security Council is to then vote on the draft resolution, and once it is passed an international peacekeeping force would be deployed in Kosovo, said Cook.
The draft resolution was introduced in the Security Council Tuesday but no immediate action was taken.
The G-8 ministers announced a "real breakthrough" Tuesday morning after Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov had consulted with Moscow on the terms of the plan.
"We got what we came for," Albright told reporters.
Asked if Russia was fully behind the draft proposal, Ivanov said, "The important thing is that this document should allow us to achieve the objectives that we had, which is to stop the war in the Balkans. If we achieve that in the nearest future, then we can be satisfied with this resolution."
In Belgrade, Yugoslav officials had no immediate reaction and indicated they might not react until the draft resolution goes before the Security Council.
'Let us see him do it'
In Brussels, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said NATO would not "prematurely surrender the pressure of NATO air operations until Milosevic begins to move. He knows what he has to do now. Let us see him do it."
The text of the draft agreement does not specifically refer to NATO but does refer to the peace agreement hammered out by Russian envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin and Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari last week in Belgrade with Milosevic. That agreement does refer to NATO.
Asked how Russia would participate in the peacekeeping force, Ivanov said the principles had been agreed to but the details had yet to be worked out.
U.S. State Department Spokesman James Rubin said diplomats would continue to work with Russia on an arrangement similar to that now in effect in Bosnia where Russian troops are part of a peacekeeping force.
Earlier, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev said Russia is considering a force of up to 10,000 troops for Kosovo that would NOT be under NATO command.
Pentagon: Greece OKs landing of future peacekeeping U.S. Marines
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