Moscow, 13 May 1999 (RFE/RL) - Russia's lower house today began a debate on whether to launch impeachment proceedings against President Boris Yeltsin. A number of regional leaders -- who make up Russia's Federation Council -- today urged the Duma to drop impeachment moves against Yeltsin. Also in Moscow today, French President Jacques Chirac said his talks with Russian leaders on the Yugoslav crisis have brought some progress. Speaking after meeting with Yeltsin, Chirac gave no details of the talks, but said he did not believe Moscow intends to drop its efforts to mediate between NATO and Belgrade.
But Russian news agencies report that Yeltsin reiterated Moscow's position that Russia would reconsider its mediation efforts if its voice went unheeded and NATO air raids continue.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, who is also in Moscow for talks with Russia's Balkans envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin, said Moscow and Washington now better understood each others positions.
In Brussels, NATO expressed skepticism over Yugoslav claims that Serb forces are withdrawing from Kosovo, despite a Serb report 250 soldiers had left the province.
NATO military spokesman General Walter Jertz said that the alliance has not detected any evidence that Serb forces are leaving Kosovo.
Earlier, a Serb army officer, General Vladimir Lazarevic, told reporters in Kosovo's capital of Pristina today that Serb forces had begun to leave Kosovo on buses and trucks.
The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) says the flow of refugees from Kosovo is rising again. It says over 4,500 refugees have left the province in the last 48 hours.
Concerning the Yeltsin impeachment debate, the opposition-dominated State Duma wants Yeltsin impeached on five counts, including instigating the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union and starting the 1994-1996 war in Chechnya.
Duma deputies heard the case against the president and a response from his envoy and later in the day are expected to begin debating the impeachment motions.
The impeachment debate is expected to continue through Saturday. If the Duma approves one of the charges, impeachement proceedings will be launched automatically. But the impeachment process is complicated, with the upper house -- the Federation Council -- having the final say on the issue.
The Federation Council announced it will meet on Monday, two days earlier than planned. But it was not clear if it will be meeting to discuss the impeachment moves or Yeltsin's decision yesterday to dismiss prime minister Yevgeny Primakov. Primakov's dismissal was largely seen as a pre-emptive strike by Yeltsin against the Duma on the eve of the impeachment debate.