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Yugoslavia: U.S. Does Not Expect New Russian Troop Movements

  • Frank Csongos

Washington, 15 June 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The United States says it does not expect Russia to send any more peacekeeping troops into Kosovo until arrangements are worked out between Washington and Moscow on their role.

The comment was made Monday at a White House news briefing by U.S. President Bill Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger. He said Moscow has told the U.S. that Russian President Boris Yeltsin, in effect, gave an order for his troops to participate in the Kosovo peaceekeeping mission "and the generals took it from there" by dispatching troops ahead of NATO.

Also participating in the briefing was U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who said she and U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen will meet their Russian counterparts in Helsinki, Finland, in the next few days to seek agreement on Russia's peacekeeping role.

Earlier Monday, Clinton discussed for the second straight day on the telephone the issue with Yeltsin. Clinton also discussed Kosovo with Czech President Vaclev Havel, Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, Romanian Prime Minister Radu Vasilev and Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski.

The Russians refuse to serve under NATO command and have expressed an interest in a separate sector of Kosovo to be placed under their control. During the weekend, about 200 Russian troops took over control of Pristina airport and its vicinity and were refusing to allow NATO troops to enter. NATO had planned to use the airport as headquarters for its peacekeeping efforts in Kosovo.

NATO will coordinate the arrival of up to 50,000 international troops, including 7,000 Americans, supervising the return of the refugees and ensuring the safety of both the ethnic Albanian majority and the Serb minority in the province.

Albright sought to downplay the Russian troop involvement, pointing out that they are far outnumbered by NATO-led forces, called KFOR. She reasserted allied policy that the peackeepers must be under a unified command system.

Albright said: "The crisis in Kosovo entered its new phase less than a hundred hours ago. In that time, 13,000 to 15,000 Serbian forces have departed, 14,000 KFOR peacekeepers have began to deploy, and this is truly an extraordinary situation. The dangers are considerable. We are working closely through NATO and with Russia, to ensure that the terms of the UN Security Council resolution and the Military Technical Agreement, between NATO and the Serb forces, are observed."

Albright added: "I know that there is some concern about Russian peacekeeping forces in Kosovo. And I want to stress that we welcome Russian participation in KFOR, and we are constant high-level discussions with Russia to work out in appropriate role."

The secretary of state said the next step is returning the nearly 1 million ethnic Albanian refugees to their homes and reconstructing the battered Serbian province.

Albright said: "We want to work with all the people of Kosovo to restore order, resume normal economic activity and resuscitate community institutions. Our goal is a democratic Kosovo at peace with itself and secure from external threats. And this won't happen overnight. But as President Clinton consults with his colleagues this week, he will do all he can to ensure that the effort is well-launched. Even as we focus on the next steps in Kosovo, we are also taking a longer view. Our aim is to help a region which has been one of the continent's most violent become instead a part of the European mainstream. We and our European allies have recognized, after our experience in Kosovo and earlier this decade in Bosnia, that isolated program to assist individual countries in this region have been insufficient, and we need to coordinate our resources and encourage real integration within the Balkans, throughout Europe and across the Atlantic."

In New York, meanwhile, the United Nations disclosed peace plans for Kosovo to parallel the NATO-led military operation, delegating reconstruction and the building of institutions to two European organizations.

The civilian component will be led by a UN special representative, whom U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan still has to appoint. The operation is to be called the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo. It needs approval by the UN Security Council.

Under the plan, the 15-nation European Union (EU) would lead reconstruction of "physical, economic and social infrastructure and systems of Kosovo."

In addition, the 54-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) would have the responsibility of building up institutions and personnel for them, human rights monitoring and organizing elections.