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Yugoslavia: Agreement With Milosevic Could Avert Air Strikes

Belgrade, 13 October 1998 (RFE/RL) - U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke announced an agreement today with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic that Holbrooke says could prevent NATO air strikes against Serbian military targets in Kosovo province. Following several days of intense negotiations, Holbrooke told reporters in Belgrade this morning that Milosevic has agreed to allow 2,000 staff from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to work on the ground in Kosovo to verify compliance with a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding a cease-fire. He also agreed to allow non-combat NATO aircraft to fly surveillance missions over Kosovo.

Milosevic said in a statement following the announcement the agreement would guarantee that Kosovo remains a part of Serbia. He said the agreement averts the risk of NATO military strikes against his country.

The agreement followed an earlier NATO announcement approving the use of air strikes against Serbian military targets and giving Milosevic four days to agree to U.N. demands. Milosevic remains under deadline to comply with the demands.

In addition to the cease-fire, the Security Council has called for dialogue between Belgrade and Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders on autonomy for the province. It also is demanding cooperation with relief organizations to shelter tens of thousands of displaced persons.

Holbrooke said it is now up to Milosevic's government to prove its commitment to the agreement, which has yet to be signed. He said NATO Secretary General Javier Solana and NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe Wesley Clark will visit Belgrade soon for follow-up talks.

International leaders welcomed news of the breakthrough. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the agreement was positive but he warned that NATO was still ready to use force if necessary to make Milosevic adhere to the deal.

In Moscow, Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin hailed the announcement and said he was confident that Russia will take part in the mission of OSCE observers in Kosovo.

At a meeting today in southern Turkey, Balkan leaders, including Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic, also welcomed news of an agreement. Summit participants, including officials from Greece, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, Macedonia, Bosnia, and Croatia called for dialogue between the two sides in Kosovo.