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Yugoslavia: Clinton Says Verification Is Key In Kosovo

Washington, 14 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton says international monitors in Kosovo will be in a position to give NATO the facts it needs to decide whether to launch air attacks against Serb positions should these troops continue their crackdown against ethnic Albanians.

Clinton said in remarks at the White House Tuesday that once the observers are in place NATO will be able to determine if Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic lived up to his commitments in the Serb province.

Clinton said a team of about 2,000 international monitors - working from the ground and the air in Kosovo - will verify certain key issues.

He said: "First, the cessation of hostilities must continue. Second, the troops President Milosevic recently sent to Kosovo must begin to move out, and those already there must begin to come back to their garrison. Third, the international monitors must be allowed to enter and be given full freedom of movement. Fourth, humanitarian relief agencies must be able to bring help to the hundreds of thousands of displaced persons. And fifth, serious autonomy negotiations with the Kosovars must begin to go forward."

Under the threat of NATO air attacks, Milosevic agreed Monday night to these demands during negotiations with U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke. NATO had threatened to launch strikes unless Milosevic eased his hardline position.

Clinton said he hopes international inspectors in Kosovo will help build confidence among Kosovars to return to their homes. About 250,000 ethnic Albanians have been forced to flee their homes.

The American president said the agreement worked out late Monday between Milosevic and Holbrooke gives the international community a chance to save ethnic Albanians from starvation and freezing this winter.

Asked by a reporter what happens if Milosevic does not keep his word, Clinton said: "He is going to pay the price of a defeat here for continued aggression by his government, and he is not going to succeed in his designs."

Earlier Tuesday, White House National Security Adviser Sandy Berger said the 2,000 monitors on the ground will be led by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The United States is a member of the OSCE, which has played a role in settling the Bosnian conflict.

Berger said 2,000 people are sufficient to determine what is going on in Kosovo but added that the ultimate enforcement is NATO airpower.

Berger said: "The OSCE mission will have authority to establish permanent presences at any location in Kosovo, to accompany movements by Serbian Police and military border units, to help coordinate relief efforts and return people to their homes; upon a political settlement, to supervise elections, help establish institutions and local police, and demand removal or punishment of individuals or units who violate compliance. The ground element, not only will provide an international watchdog over all elements of Serbian forces to ensure continued compliance, but its presence hopefully will provide and build confidence among the Kosovar people, that is necessary for them to feel comfortable in returning to their homes and engaging in a political process."

NATO's decision Monday marked just the second time in the alliance's history that it authorized the use of force. The first NATO military strikes were in Bosnia in September 1995. They led to the Dayton peace accords that ended the war.

Berger also said that Milosevic has undertaken to make some unilateral commitments regarding an interim settlement with the Kosovar Albanians on the status of Kosovo. The Yugoslav news agency Tanjug reported from Belgrade that within nine months there will be "free and fair elections" for "the organs of authority of Kosovo, including those on a municipal level."

The West wants Milosevic to halt the crackdown he launched in February against the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army. Ethnic Albanians make up 90 percent of the population of Kosovo, a Serb province. Serbia is the dominant republic of Federal Yugoslavia.