United Nations, 11 June 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The U.N. Security Council has authorized an armed international peacekeeping force for Kosovo to enable the return of more than 800,000 Albanian refugees to their homes in peace and security.
The resolution was adopted Thursday 14-0 with China abstaining. Beijing had demanded that each act of force the peacekeepers might employ be approved first by the Security Council. But the council decided that the resolution gives far reaching powers to the peace contingent to use force whenever necessary to restore and maintain order to Kosovo.
The first wave of the 50,000-strong force of NATO-led troops could start moving into Kosovo by the weekend. U.S. President Clinton said NATO reserved the right to resume air strikes if the withdrawal of 40,000 Serbian police and military forces stalls.
"We have now stopped (Yugoslav President Slobodan) Milosevic's ethnic cleansing machine in its tracks," said Britain's UN envoy, Jeremy Greenstock. "He attempted to destroy the lives and the homeland of a whole people. In that he has been defeated."
Both China and Russia had refused to allow a vote on the resolution until NATO bombing ended. That happened formally on Thursday after NATO confirmed that the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces from the Serbian province had begun.
"We are gratified that the members of NATO have finally recognized the futility of the war they have unleashed," Russia's UN envoy, Sergei Lavrov, told the council meeting. "This insight came at a heavy price."
About 850,000 Kosovar Albanians either fled or were forcibly expelled from the province after the NATO air war began on March 23. Belgrade said hundreds of Serbian civilians were killed in the attacks and NATO estimates that at least 5,000 Yugoslav soldiers perished in the 78-day air war.
Besides demanding an end to the air strikes, China had also held up passage of the resolution because of several amendments it proposed to the text. Its effort to have language dropped referring to the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague, which two weeks ago indicted Milosevic, was defeated. China also failed to stop the council from authorizing the peacekeepers to use force if necessary. China had wanted force to be reserved to self-defense.
Instead, China settled for a change to the resolution's preamble which refers to the principles of the UN charter, a move China said gives the council authority to manage the peacekeepers' military operations. After strenuous opposition to this interpretation by Britain, the U.S. and other members, China and the rest of the council agreed to disagree.
In the end, China said it decided not to veto the resolution because Yugoslavia had accepted the terms of the agreement.
But the Chinese deputy representative to the UN, Shen Guofang, used his speech before the vote to denounce NATO for its air war.
"Over two months ago, without authorization by the Security Council .. the U.S.-led NATO blatantly launched military strikes against the sovereign state of Yugoslavia," Shen said. "NATO has seriously violated the Charter of the UN and norms of international law, undermined the authority of the Security Council and hence set an extremely dangerous precedent in the history of international relations."
Shen also said that NATO had been "flagrant" in making China's Belgrade embassy one of its' "bombing targets."
China had raised the embassy bombing in talks with the U.S. over the text of the resolution, demanding that NATO release to it its official investigation in to the incident.
Because China did not use its veto, which it has as a permanent council member, diplomats speculated that Beijing had wrested concessions from the U.S. on one of several matters, including the embassy bombing report or China's admission into the World Trade Organization, which is being held in part by the U.S. Congress. Talks on details over China's admission were suspended by China after the embassy bombing.
To resume those talks, China still wants a formal apology from a high-ranking U.S. official and the report on the bombing. China has also demanded that those responsible for the incident be punished.
A Chinese government spokesman at the UN denied that any deals had been made between the U.S. and China during the negotiations over the resolution.
"We have no self-interest in this matter, we only want the charter of the UN to be followed," the spokesman said.
The resolution charges the peace force with deterring renewed hostilities, enforcing the cease fire and ensuring the withdrawal of Yugoslav troops from Kosovo. It will also disarm the Kosovo Liberation Army, which until Wednesday was still engaged in fierce battles with Serbian forces.
The interim UN civil administration that the resolution set up will "establish and oversee the development of provisional democratic self-governing institutions" for Kosovo. It will perform basic civil administrative functions "for as long as required," including organizing elections, and creating a political process to decide Kosovo's future within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
The UN administration will also support reconstruction of the province, humanitarian aid efforts and will create local police forces made up by many former KLA fighters.
Though it is not by name as a protectorate, the combination of military, police and civil functions under direct UN authority for a mandate of one year that can be later extended by the council had many diplomats here privately calling the UN operation a protectorate.
A UN spokesman said the legal differences between a protectorate, as opposed to interim administration or transitional authority were difficult to define.
The UN has most recently run a transitional authority in the Eastern Slavonia region of Croatia and in Cambodia.
Vladislav Jovanovic, Yugoslavia's charge d'affaires, objected to the UN administration for Kosovo.
Jovanovi said: "Yugoslavia cannot accept a mission that would take over the role of government in Kosovo ... or any form of open or hidden protectorate."