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Yugoslavia: Belgrade Approves International Peace Plan

  • Jolyon Naegele

Prague, 4 June 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Yugoslavia yesterday formally accepted an international peace plan for Kosovo.

Shortly after a majority of the Serbian parliament approved a text of the plan, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's office issued a statement saying the government had also accepted it. The plan is based on principles agreed last month by foreign ministers of the Group of Seven industrialized nations and Russia.

Details of the plan were further refined in talks between EU envoy and Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, Russia's Balkan envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott. The Finnish and Russian envoys presented the plan to Milosevic last night.

According to reports out of Belgrade, the plan Yugoslav authorities agreed to yesterday calls for the "verifiable withdrawal from Kosovo by all military, police and paramilitary forces", the establishment of a "security presence" in Kosovo under the auspices of the United Nations, in which there would be "a substantial NATO participation", and the return of refugees to Kosovo.

Serb parliamentarians approved the plan by a vote of 136 to 74 in a special session. Members of ultra-nationalist Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj's Serbian Radical Party voted against the plan. Seselj pledged to resign from the government if NATO troops enter Kosovo as part of a peace deal.

In Brussels, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea deferred comment on the peace deal pending further information from Ahtisaari once he briefs EU leaders summit meeting in Cologne. He reiterated there will be no let up for the time being in NATO's air strikes:

"The air operations continue. A decision to stop those operations has to be made by the North Atlantic Council together, and for the time being, the air operations are ongoing." At the EU summit in Cologne, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine issued a statement saying "the determination, perseverance and convergence of the Europeans, the Americans and Russia has enabled us today to obtain the result we hoped for: the acceptance of the peace plan by the Serbian parliament and by Mr. Milosevic". Nevertheless, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook insists the NATO military campaign would go on until there is what he terms "verifiable evidence" that Belgrade is carrying out the peace plan.

One discordant note was sounded in Moscow by Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, who insisted that NATO must stop the bombing before the UN Security Council passes a resolution on Kosovo.

And Russian ultra nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky yesterday accused Chernomyrdin of "surrendering Yugoslavia" while Communist Party deputy Yuri Nikoforov accused the Russian presidential envoy of "betraying Yugoslavia".

The State Duma, the lower house of Russia's parliament, is due to hold a non-binding, no-confidence vote on Chernomyrdin, possibly as early as tomorrow.

The elaborated peace plan approved by the Serbian legislature yesterday calls for the "verifiable withdrawal from Kosovo by all [of Belgrade's] military, police and paramilitary forces" over seven days. The forces are to be withdrawn behind a 25 kilometer-wide buffer "zone of mutual security". Air defense weaponry will have just 48 hours to withdraw. The reported deal provides for the suspension of military operations after the beginning of the withdrawal.

The plan provides for what it terms a "security presence" in Kosovo under the auspices of the United Nations, in which there would be "a substantial NATO participation." Specifically, it calls for "deployment in Kosovo, under UN auspices, of an efficient international civilian and security presence which would act according to Chapter 7 of the UN Charter.

The international security presence must be deployed under a unified command and control and will be authorized to secure a safe environment for all Kosovo's inhabitants and enable the safe return of displaced persons and refugees to their homes.

A key issue remains how Russian and NATO troops in the planned force will interact. British Defense Secretary George Robertson, speaking to reporters in London, suggested that the NATO-led Stabilization Force in Bosnia, SFOR, is the likely model for an international security force in Kosovo. The force in Bosnia is made up principally of troops from NATO members but also includes Russian and Ukrainian contingents. Robertson:

"I don't say that will be the model, but I point to that as a model that avoids the concept of partition, of Berlin Walls across Kosovo itself."

On other issues, the plan as reported also provides for the establishment of an interim administration for Kosovo under the auspices of the UN and under which the people of Kosovo would enjoy substantial autonomy within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

The plan as reported says that after the withdrawal of military, police and paramilitary forces from Kosovo "an agreed number of Serb personnel will be allowed to return to perform... liaison with the international civilian mission and international security presence, to mark mine fields, and to maintain a presence at places of Serb heritage and at key border crossings." A footnote specifies that these personnel will number in the hundreds, not thousands and will be under the supervision of the international security presence.

The approved plan provides for the "safe and free return of all refugees and the displaced under the supervision of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and undisturbed access for humanitarian organizations to Kosovo".

This would appear to preclude any possible attempt to deny entry to refugees due to lack of documents which were largely confiscated by Serb forces at the border when the refugees left Kosovo.

The plan also calls for reaching an interim political agreement which would secure essential autonomy for Kosovo. At the same time, it says an interim political agreement would "take into consideration" the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity of Yugoslavia and other states in the region as well as the demilitarization of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK).

UCK commander and self-styled Prime Minister of the provisional government of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, has been meeting with West European leaders in recent days. According to the UCK press service, Kosovapress, Thaci is due to meet British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Cologne yesterday at the EU summit to discuss the peace plan.