London, 13 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook today outlined "a Balkan regeneration plan," offering financial aid to help regional countries cope with the Kosovo crisis.
Cook spoke at a news conference in London together with visiting Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova, who is due to discuss the British initiative in talks this afternoon.
Cook said the proposals will be circulated to all the EU countries for discussion by their foreign ministers on Monday.
He said Britain is proposing building on a stability pact already put forward by Germany by providing a Balkan regeneration plan, offering both financial and technical aid to countries of the region.
"We are proposing we should build on that stability pact by providing for first a Balkan regeneration plan, providing both the financial help and the technical assistance that the countries of the region will need to overcome the effects of conflict, but also to undertake long-term construction. Second, we want to see a European open trading area, setting up a network of trade agreements between the countries of the region and ourselves. We propose strengthened, enhanced trade preferences, and closer economic cooperation with all the countries of the region. And third, we want special agreements for political dialogue between ministers of the European Union members and ministers of all the countries of southeastern Europe."
He said the aim is to bring lasting peace, encourage economic development, and to build a closer partnership for the longer-term with the Balkans on "core democratic Europe values."
Cook said the EU recognized the burden that Bulgaria and other regional countries are bearing as a result of "Milosevic's politics of ethnic hatred." He added: "We pledge ourselves to work with all countries of the region to restore economic development and investor confidence once we achieve our objectives in Kosovo."
He said the EU would seek the cooperation in this endeavor with other nations, including Russia, and would work with bodies such as the OSCE and through international financial institutions.
He said the strategy provided a message to the people of Serbia "that they are increasingly being left behind by their neighbors who are accelerating their integration with the modern Europe."
Mihailova told the news conference Bulgaria sees it as in its national interest to maintain the stability of the region, and to ensure that existing Balkans borders are unchanged.
"We are very much concerned about the situation in Albania and Macedonia because what (Yugoslav President) Slobodan Milosevic is doing is real aggression. These refugee streams are a real refugee bomb which fall on the economies of Albania and Macedonia."
"If the ethnic cleansing continues, I am sure this will affect Bulgaria and the stability of the whole region."
She said: "The main question for us is how the peace is going to look like. And we are interested in this peace, to be a long-term peace, and each one of the Balkan states to find its own place in this peace. We've been isolated and disconnected from the central and western part of Europe for ten years. The Bulgarian economy was affected by the UN embargos and by the conflicts in Yugoslavia. Now we are committed to fulfill all the requirements and to cover all the conditions for becoming a member of the European Union and we do not want these efforts to fail because of a policy of non-tolerance and violence against human rights."
On the military front, Cook said the past two days of air strikes "have been the most successful in Kosovo in the campaign to date."
He said NATO pilots have inflicted heavy damage on Serb military, police and paramilitary forces, hitting their armor, artillery, vehicles, and command posts throughout Kosovo.
"[Milosevic] cannot afford to let that damage be shown to the world, or be known to his own people, but the fact is that NATO's pilots are making a big impact, and he knows it. Even Milosevic has now been forced to admit for the first time that NATO has inflicted casualties on his Serb forces."
Military spokesman Admiral Ian Garnett said the Serb military and police are continuing to engage the secessionist Kosovo Liberation Army who are "tenaciously holding out in small pockets throughout Kosovo." He said the KLA have retaken some ground.
He said: "Milosevic's troops are showing an increasing tendency to loot and burn their way around the country."
NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said today that the Alliance's air strikes overnight focused on Yugoslav ground forces in Kosovo. He said the air strikes concentrated on the western part of Kosovo, attacking troops, armor and artillery west of Djakovica and south towards Prizren.
Shea said that the NATO attacks are now focusing with success on those who are responsible for carrying out ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. He added that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has acknowledged that his forces have suffered heavy casualties in the seven-week-long NATO air strikes.
In his statement, Milosevic gave no figures but said that many members of the police and security forces had "died courageously."
NATO's military spokesman Major General Walter Jertz told the news briefing in Brussels that Alliance officials have not detected any evidence that Serb ground forces are leaving Kosovo.
The Yugoslav military claims that a large number of Serb troops have been leaving Kosovo on buses and trucks.
But Jertz said the Alliance believes the success of recent NATO air attacks against ground forces in Kosovo has "caused some tactical redeployment in the forward areas." He said Serb forces appear to be seeking better refuges, and seeking to regroup.
Jertz also said the NATO air strikes have so far destroyed 432 items of heavy equipment in Kosovo, striking over 20 percent of the Serb military inventory there and destroying two-thirds of Serb ammunition production facilities.