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Yugoslavia: NATO Ambassadors Ponder Milosevic's Progress In Kosovo

Brussels, 27 October 1998 (RFE/RL) - NATO ambassadors today are studying reports from international observers in Kosovo to determine if Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is fulfilling his pledges to withdraw troops from that province. The ambassadors are in Brussels, and will convene a special meeting of the North Atlantic Council later today to decide whether to launch air strikes on Yugoslavia. Milosevic has been given until late tonight to comply, or face strikes.

But reports today quote officials and diplomats as saying that NATO might be satisfied with less than a full pull-back by Milosevic. They say that if he makes sufficient progress, NATO may shelve its immediate threat of air strikes and instead issue an open-ended threat to use force if Milosevic resumes his crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.

Correspondents in Kosovo report refugees today began returning to at least one town vacated by Serbian forces. In Malisevo, central Kosovo, ethnic Albanian former inhabitants were arriving in a festive atmosphere. However, they fled again when a column of Serbian armoured vehicles arrived.

Meanwhile, the United Nations refugee agency says threats of an unfolding humanitarian crisis in Kosovo this winter have eased with the winding down of Serb military action.

The chief spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Kris Janowski, told reporters in Geneva that the current situation is not ideal, but is not one where people will be starving or freezing to death. He said the number of people chased from their homes who are still living out in the open has dwindled.

Janowski said tens of thousands of people have returned to their home areas since the height of the fighting, burning and pillaging of Kosovar villages by Serb forces battling ethnic Albanian separatists, though he says there are still an estimated 150,000 displaced people within the province.

Also today Russia demanded that NATO "immediately" revoke its threat of air strikes at Yugoslav military targets over the Kosovo crisis.

In a statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said a UN resolution on Kosovo has given "the green light" to launching an OSCE monitoring mission and thus to a peaceful solution in Kosovo.

Saturday's UN resolution endorsed earlier agreements between NATO and Milosevic that would allow OSCE and NATO to monitor Milosevic's compliance with international demands to end a crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. Russia, which has consistently opposed the use of force in Kosovo, abstained on the resolution.