Prague, 10 June 1999 (RFE/RL) - NATO Secretary General Javier Solana announced today that NATO has suspended its 79-day bombing campaign against Yugoslavia amid signs that Serbian forces have begun withdrawing from Kosovo.
In making the announcement, Solana said Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic had met NATO's five conditions for ending the bombing, the chief one being the start of a verifiable troop withdrawal. Solana addressed reporters in Brussels:
"I can announce that today, Milosevic has complied with the five conditions the international community has [demanded of him], and therefore a few minutes ago, I instructed General [Wesley] Clark to suspend NATO's air operations against Yugoslavia. I have taken this decision following a consultation with the North Atlantic Council, and also after confirmation from General Clark that the full withdrawal of the Yugoslav security forces from Kosovo has begun."
Solana said that all parties to the conflict should take the opportunity of the bombing halt to build a lasting peace:
"Let me stress at this moment that I would urge all parties to the conflict to seize this opportunity for peace. I call on them to comply with their obligations under these agreements that have been concluded these past days, and with all the relevant UN Security Council resolutions. The violence must cease immediately."
Both U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin were planning major announcements later today on the bombing halt and a pending vote in the UN Security Council to approve a resolution authorizing an international security force for Kosovo.
News of suspension of the air campaign follows an agreement yesterday between NATO and Yugoslav generals in Macedonia on details of the Yugoslav troop pullout. The agreement set a deadline of 24 hours for the withdrawal to begin.
Yugoslav sources earlier reported that the pullout was underway.
Western correspondents on the scene today reported about 150 trucks, other armored vehicles and cars carrying soldiers had crossed the northern border of Kosovo at Medare. They said the convoy included armored vehicles and mobile anti-aircraft weapons.
Large convoys of trucks and other military vehicles were also seen converging on Kosovo's provincial capital, Pristina, apparently massing for a withdrawal.
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said earlier the troop withdrawal talks, led by British General Mike Jackson, had given clear instructions to the Serbs:
"General Jackson has literally shown the Serbs the way home, they have agreed on the routes, they've agreed on the phasing, they've agreed on which area goes first. We now want to see them comply with the agreement they entered into yesterday, and if they do, there need be no more bombing."
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said today that once the bombing campaign was stopped then the Security Council could quickly consider a key draft resolution worked out by the leading industrialized democracies (G-7) and Russia setting the terms of the peace process, including authorizing an international peacekeeping force for Kosovo (KFOR).
Correspondents say in spite of the bombing halt, though, problems remain in the peace negotiations. These involve chiefly the composition and command of the international security presence.
In Moscow today, high-ranking Russian and U.S. officials met to narrow differences over the command of the force.
NATO insists that it form the core of any peacekeeping force, while the Russians say their soldiers will take orders only from Russian or UN commanders, not NATO. Russia wants to deploy its force of up to 10,000 troops separately in one of four zones in the province.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, taking part in the talks, warned against any partition of Kosovo. He said the U.S. respected Russia's position but that the peacekeeping contingent force should be under a "united command."
Talbott spoke to reporters after meeting with Russian Balkan envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin.
Chernomyrdin said Russia was adamant it must retain command over its forces, but both he and Talbott said they were confident that the differences could be overcome.
Meanwhile, ministers of the G-7 group of leading industrial democracies and Russia are meeting today in Cologne, Germany, to outline a proposed Balkan stabilization pact.
The pact is aimed at providing technical and economic aid to countries affected by the Kosovo conflict with the aim of preventing future conflicts.
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said the pact and other measures are aimed at integrating the countries more closely into the Euro-Atlantic community.