NATO troops ordered into Kosovo
Small Russian force enters Yugoslavia
June 11, 1999
SKOPJE, Macedonia (CNN) -- NATO peacekeepers got orders to enter Kosovo on Friday, moving in behind a Yugoslav army pullout in the wake of the alliance's suspension of air raids.
Helicopters carrying British airborne troops and some U.S. forces were poised to move into Kosovo from Skopje, Macedonia. The bulk of the force was expected to follow on Saturday.
Friday's order came after a small contingent of Russian troops crossed from Bosnia into Yugoslavia. The Russians were awaiting an agreement with NATO to enter Kosovo, the Serbian province the Yugoslav army is leaving after a 79-day NATO bombing campaign.
NATO's expected entry into Kosovo was part of a cease-fire agreement worked out over the past week, culminating in Thursday's suspension of NATO airstrikes as the Yugoslav army began to withdraw.
And with talks on possible Russian participation in a Kosovo peacekeeping force stalled Friday, a small Russian force moved into Yugoslavia -- to the apparent surprise of Western officials.
A U.S. envoy made a quick return to Moscow to discuss the action, and British officials said their 13,000 troops in Macedonia were put on "ready" status as a result of the Russian move.
NATO estimated the Russian force at roughly 200 troops, which came from Moscow's peacekeeping mission in Bosnia. They moved into Yugoslavia on Friday morning in a convoy of 15 light armored vehicles and 25 trucks.
The vehicles bore the name of the Kosovo peacekeeping force - - KFOR -- in hastily painted letters. But the Russians have not yet entered Kosovo, the Serbian province the Yugoslav army is leaving after a 79-day NATO bombing campaign.
Moscow told U.S. officials they will wait for an agreement on the peacekeeping force before moving into the province.
"We've been given absolute assurances that they won't move into Kosovo," Vice President Al Gore said.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov spoke to U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright about the matter Friday, telling Albright the Russians' mission was to scout for a staging area that would be used for later Russian elements of KFOR.
Western officials were not the only ones caught by surprise: Some Russian officials appeared to have been in the dark as well. Russia's Defense Ministry initially would not confirm that Russian peacekeepers were moving from Bosnia to Yugoslavia.
Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott had left Moscow on Friday after unsuccessful talks with Russian officials about the makeup of KFOR. But he quickly headed back to the Russian capital, his plane turning around in mid-flight.
Talbott said Friday that Russia and NATO would "move forward together."
"That isn't to prejudge what the nature and arrangements will be for Russian participation in KFOR, nor has Russia decided categorically that it is going to be part of KFOR," Talbott said. But he warned that a unilateral Russian move would be "potentially quite dangerous."
In Macedonia, where tens of thousands of NATO troops had massed to move into Kosovo behind the outgoing Yugoslav army, NATO and Yugoslav commanders met again Friday at a coffee shop on the border.
NATO officials in Brussels said most of the Kosovo peacekeeping force would move into Kosovo on Saturday, with British and French forces leading the way. Brig. Jonathan Bailey said the talks would help coordinate "the movement in and the movement out."
The coffee shop was where initial talks on the withdrawal were held last week.
The mission of the peacekeepers will be to "monitor, verify, and, when necessary, to enforce compliance" with the agreement Yugoslavia accepted last week, said British Lt. Gen. Michael Jackson, KFOR's commander.
"What we do in Kosovo will be both robust and completely even-handed," Jackson said Friday.
In Kosovo, meanwhile, the Yugoslav army's exodus from Kosovo continued: Trucks, troops and civilians streamed out of the battered province while NATO troops prepared to move in.
Yugoslav armor and mobile anti-aircraft weapons moved northward, along with private cars full of Serbs fleeing the province. The Serbs fear reprisals by Kosovar Albanians, hundreds of thousands of whom are expected to return over the next three months.
An estimated 40,000 armed Serbian troops or special forces in Kosovo are scheduled to withdraw from the province. The pullout must be complete by June 21, according to a NATO- backed peace deal approved by the United Nations Security Council on Thursday.
The war began after Yugoslavia rejected a peace agreement for Kosovo similar to one it accepted last week. The accords were aimed at ending a year of ethnic conflict in the mostly ethnic-Albanian province of Yugoslavia's dominant republic of Serbia.
NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana warned that NATO could resume its bombardment if Yugoslavia reneged on its agreement to withdraw. And he added that separatist rebels of the Kosovo Liberation Army must also stand down during the withdrawal.
"Violence or noncompliance by any party will not be tolerated," he said.
KLA leader Hassim Thaci said on Thursday his group would demilitarize and develop a political organization. Thaci said the KLA will "not attack Serbian troops that are withdrawing, but we reserve the right to defend ourselves."
Russians move into Yugoslavia ahead of NATO peacekeepers
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