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Yugoslavia: OSCE Signs Kosovo Verification Accord

Belgrade, 16 October 1998 (RFE/RL) - Western and Yugoslav officials have signed their second pact in two days providing for surveillance of Serbia's southern province of Kosovo. Today's accord will allow the dispatch of a 2,000-member observer team to Kosovo. Also today, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that Moscow is ready to take an active part in ground monitoring to verify Belgrade complies with its promise to withdraw its forces in Kosovo.

Today's pact was signed by the Chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Bronislaw Geremek, and Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic.

Geremek told reporters today in Belgrade that a technical mission would be sent to Kosovo tomorrow, but the full force is expected to take weeks to organize. He said the accord, agreed to earlier this week in talks between Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke, is only the first step toward peace in Kosovo.

Under terms of the agreement, the team will verify Belgrade's compliance with international demands that it end a crackdown on ethnic Albanians in the province.

An air-surveillance accord was signed late yesterday by NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Wesley Clark and Yugoslav Army Chief of Staff General Momcilo Perisic. It enables spy planes to start flying over Yugoslavia as early as today.

Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov told reporters in St. Petersburg that the size of Russia's participation in the ground verification mission still needs to be defined.

In Moscow, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev said the peace process has become irreversible in Kosovo.

Sergeyev spoke after meeting with Belarus' Defense Minister Alexander Chumakov over Kosovo and their shared opposition to NATO's expansion.

Sergeyev also said the two officials had worked out concrete steps to counter NATO's move to include the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary, but he did not elaborate.

Interfax quoted Chumakov as saying Belarus will be the first echelon of joint defenses against NATO.

And in Bonn today, the German parliament approved the participation of German forces in possible NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia. The outgoing lower house of Parliament, the Bundestag, endorsed the decision with 503 votes in favor, 63 against and 18 abstentions.

Bonn has offered NATO 500 soldiers and 14 fighter jets for any possible Balkan mission.

Meanwhile, latest reports quote unnamed diplomatic sources as saying NATO ambassadors, meeting later today in Brussels, are expected to extend by 10 days a deadline for Milosevic to comply with international demands concerning Kosovo. The existing NATO ultimatum for Yugoslavia's full compliance expires early Saturday.