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Yugoslavia: Mediators Try To Promote Kosovo Peace

Prague, 17 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- As the Kosovo crisis deepens, would-be peace mediators increasingly are crossing each others' trails, creating a seeming tangle of diplomatic initiatives.

The long trail of diplomats and statesmen involved in peace efforts includes U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and two special envoys he has named, former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt and Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan; Cornelio Sommaruga, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross; and the Russian special Balkans envoy, Viktor Chernomyrdin.

Others active in pursuing a solution include U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, French President Jacques Chirac, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson and Sergio Vieira de Mello, U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs; and Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou and Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan.

The latest -- and some say the most significant -- prominent figure to join the list is Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari. Ahtisaari recently emerged as a potential honest broker acceptable both to Russia, which traditionally sides with Yugoslavia and the Serbs, and to the West.

His country assumes the rotating presidency of the European Union this summer, is not a member of NATO, and maintains good relations with both the West and Russia. Ahtisaari himself is a former foreign minister and chaired the Bosnia working group of the International Conference on the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.

He has discussed the Kosovo crisis in recent days with French President Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and the United States' Strobe Talbott.

He met Thursday night with Russia's Chernomyrdin, who announced afterward that he and Ahtisaari would travel together to Belgrade soon. Ahtisaari talked Friday with UN Secretary General Annan and his office announced he will meet again tomorrow (Tuesday) in Helsinki with Chernomyrdin and Talbott.

Germany's Schroeder, at a meeting in Helsinki today, told Ahtisaari he has the European Union's full backing as a mediator in the Kosovo conflict. Germany currently holds the EU's rotating presidency.

U.S. officials both on and off the record welcome Ahtisaari's appearance, allowing for the possibility that he might even contact Yugoslav President Milosevic directly.

His reception contrasts with the reaction to Kofi Annan's announcement of two special Kosovo advisors. U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin said that the United States wouldn't support any independent efforts by Sweden's Bildt and Slovakia's Kukan to broker an agreement.

A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, has raised the possibility that Ahtisaari might be the person to deliver to Milosevic a proposed U.N. Security Council resolution now being discussed by Western leaders and Russia.

But that could still be problematical. Foreign ministers early this month at a meeting of the G-7 industrialized nations plus Russia agreed to a plan that would introduce an international security force into Kosovo under U.N. auspices. However, the plan did not describe the force in detail or discuss a role for NATO troops. The West insists NATO must be at the "core" of the force -- something which Russia and China, as well as Belgrade, reject.

This month's accidental NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade has further complicated the odds that the West can reach agreement with Russia and China on a peacekeeping force at the U.N. Security Council, where both Moscow and Beijing have vetoes. NATO and the United States insist that the embassy bombing was a wartime accident, have apologized and are negotiating reparations.

China and Russia have also proclaimed they will block any Kosovo peace discussions in the Security Council unless NATO first halts its bombing. NATO says that is unacceptable.

Late last week, Russian President Boris Yeltsin told Chirac that Moscow was losing patience with NATO's refusal to stop bombing to facilitate a peace effort.

Also last week, U.N. human rights envoy Mary Robinson visited Belgrade. She condemned the ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians and also spoke critically of the NATO bombings which, she said, have caused too many civilian casualties. Despite her requests, Milosevic refused to meet with her.

The United Nations has dispatched a 15-member mission to Belgrade, where it is due to meet with Milosevic later today. The group hopes to win his permission to visit Kosovo to check on the condition of what are believed to be hundreds of thousands of displaced ethnic-Albanian civilians.

In a lower-profile effort, the Greek and Czech foreign ministers have developed their own peace proposal. Kavan, the Czech foreign minister, says the proposal could serve as a supplements to the G-7 plus Russia plan.

Other efforts include a recent proposal by a group of U.S. and Russian legislators for a draft peace. They were roundly denounced by the U.S. State Department as an inappropriate intervention by a legislative body in U.S. foreign policy. U.S. Congressional leaders also denounced it.

And then there was the intervention of the American civil rights activist, the Reverend Jesse Jackson. Jackson traveled to Belgrade and on May 2 persuaded Milosevic to release three captured U.S. soldiers into his custody. U.S. officials, while publicly welcoming the soldiers' release, have spoken out against private efforts by U.S. citizens to intervene in the crisis.

Also shaping the diplomatic discussions are a number of figures from inside Yugoslavia. Kosovar Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova, who was recently released from apparent house arrest by Serbian authorities, now resides in the West and is seeking to re-establish himself as the leading voice of Kosovo. Various opposition figures in Serbia itself also have taken issue in public with Milosevic's policies.

Perhaps the key player remains Milosevic himself. Despite regular speculation in the Western press that he may be ready for a diplomatic resolution, it is still far from clear what terms he might ultimately agree to.