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Southeastern Europe: NATO's Solana Spells Out Long-Term Vision

  • Ben Partridge



London, 29 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- NATO Secretary General Javier Solana says Bulgaria and Romania strongly oppose any changes to existing national borders of the Balkans countries as part of any eventual peace settlement to the Kosovo crisis.

Solana, who met with Balkans leaders at the Washington NATO summit at the weekend, said: "One of their deep-rooted views is that borders in this part of Europe should not be changed. Too many border changes have taken place in the past."

The NATO position is that an autonomous Kosovo should remain part of Yugoslavia. NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said tonight any attempt to partition Yugoslavia would "reopen the border issue in the whole of the area. Historical precedents for partition have not been favorable." Belgrade rejects any deal that requires it to give up Kosovo.

Solana said speeches by the Bulgarian and Romanian Presidents in Washington had made clear that "they are absolutely determined to see that the situation created by (Yugoslav President Slobodan) Milosevic in Kosovo never repeats itself again, not only for the sake of the Serbian people, but for their own security."

Serb military, police and paramilitary forces have forced hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians to flee Kosovo in recent weeks in what western politicians call a new outbreak of "ethnic cleansing," saying that it threatens to destabilize the region.

NATO air strikes have continued over the past 24 hours with Belgrade reporting that 20 civilians were killed when an alliance bomb hit a residential neighborhood south of the city. NATO military officials admitted that a laser-guided bomb "went astray."

NATO officials met at the weekend with leaders of the front-line countries neighboring Yugoslavia. The seven front-line states are Albania, the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Slovenia.

Albania and Macedonia are struggling to cope with an influx of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians. The economies of the region have also been hard hit because their trade flows -- particularly exports of fruits and vegetables -- have been disrupted.

But Solana told a news briefing in Brussels yesterday that envoys of the Balkans countries had given their "full-support" to the five-week air campaign which aims to stop Serb "repression", and to allow the refugees to return home under international protection.

Solana said: "Living next door to Milosevic, they understand better than anyone else how important it is that NATO has stood up to the policies of his government. They know that our success is vital to their future, their security and their stability."

He noted that the front-lines states are giving the alliance a "good deal of practical support" including over-flying and transit rights, and agreement to host NATO forces. Hungary has just granted NATO the use of its air bases for tanker refueling.

But he said NATO is also aiding the front-line states by helping them feed and shelter the refugees, many of them women and children, in hastily-built tent cities. He said NATO has also given South East European countries assurances that it would not allow them to be threatened or attacked by Yugoslav forces.

He said the NATO allies wants to build a lasting peace and stability in the Balkans region. He said: "In Washington, we set out a vision of a South East Europe that would be at peace, stable, prosperous and increasingly integrated into the European mainstream."

He said: "We will work hand in hand with other institutions to achieve this vision."

What would be NATO's role in this? Solana said NATO will establish a consultative forum to discuss security issues with regional countries, would hold regular meetings with them on a "19 plus one" basis, and would promote regional cooperation.

He expressed hope that it would be possible to enter the 21st century "not only with Kosovo resolved but with the Balkans able to look to the future with a little more hope."

He said the 19-nation alliance welcomes the EU proposal for a conference on a "stability pact" for South Eastern Europe next month.

He said: "We will need to look ahead at the process of reconstruction that must follow the end of the Kosovo crisis." He noted that he himself met in Washington on Monday with the directors of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, both of which "were standing ready" to offer finance, help and advice to the region.

Solana added: "I would like to send a clear message to the Serbian people. The Serbian people can also be part of this vision, if they so wish. Our quarrel, as I have said so many times, is not with them but with the government of Milosevic." He said the Serb people "deserve an alternative, a vision of a democratic Serbia integrated under this scheme into the rest of Europe and enjoy the same benefits -- cooperation and integration of the other countries in the region. We will offer them such an alternative."

He said the further enlargement of the alliance will remain "a vital part of NATO's evolution. The door of NATO will stay open and we will help the candidate countries to prepare more actively for the day when they will be ready to join us."

A number of East and Central European countries are seeking to join the alliance, which last month admitted Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary as full members.

Solana said: "At the same time we will promote a wide ranging partnership with other countries in the Euro-Atlantic area." NATO has signed Partnership for Peace agreements with many countries, reaching as far east as the Caucasus and Central Asia.

His remarks coincided with a flurry of diplomatic activity aimed at reaching a Kosovo solution. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan had talks yesterday on the crisis with NATO officials in Berlin, a day before he is to fly to Moscow for discussions with Russian mediators. He said Russian authorities were playing "a very constructive and useful role".

Russian special envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott are both involved in the diplomatic efforts. Solana said: "We still have some differences with the Russians, but we are making progress."

Yugoslav authorities say 20 civilians, including women and children, died when NATO bombed a residential neighborhood in Surdelica, 350 kms south of Belgrade. NATO said one of its laser-guided bombs -- aimed at a military training center -- went astray. NATO military officials, pointing out that their fliers are under strict orders to avoid civilian casualties and collateral damage, said "things like this can happen."

Aid agencies said 2,000 refugees fled Kosovo into Albania yesterday while up to 5,000 crossed into Macedonia, reportedly the most in a single day in weeks. NATO officials are trying to expand existing refugee tent camps and to erect new ones.

NATO spokesman Shea said the Belgrade Government has put all private television and radio stations in Serbia under military control. He also said there are reports that the secessionist Kosovo Liberation Army is "getting numerically stronger", and that 12,000 men have been infiltrated into the province to fight the 40,000-strong Serb forces there.

NATO military spokesman General Giuseppe Marani said over the past 24 hours NATO planes have hit Serb command-and-control facilities, communications, storage and production facilities, bridges, army barracks and fielded forces on the ground.

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