Helsinki/Belgrade, 18 May 1999 (RFE/RL) - Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari is scheduled today to host talks aimed at finding a political solution to the Kosovo crisis. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and Russia's special envoy for Yugoslavia, Viktor Chernomyrdin, will take part in the meeting in Helsinki. Yesterday, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder called the talks "the start of an important project." Schroeder, who met with Ahtisaari yesterday in Helsinki, said Ahtisaari has the European Union's full backing as its mediator in the Kosovo conflict.
Finland is not a NATO member and has close ties to Russia. Analysts say these are qualities the Europeans hope will make Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic more willing to negotiate a Kosovo peace plan that could end up in the United Nations.
Germany currently holds the rotating presidencies of the EU and the G-7 industrialized countries plus Russia (the G-8). Schroeder is seen as using those posts to intensify efforts to finding a peaceful settlement. Schroeder also met with Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema in Bari, Italy, to discuss new proposals to end the crisis. Talks are expected to resume today with a joint document due at the end of the meeting. Kosovar Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova is also set to meet today with NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana in Brussels.
Meanwhile, Serbian media reported NATO air strikes against industrial targets in Nis late last night. The media also reported strikes against the Batajnica military airport, northwest of Belgrade, a bridge in Vladicin Han and a factory in Vranje. The Pentagon said two Yugoslav MIG fighters were destroyed in NATO air strikes yesterday.
U.S. military authorities today announced that two Yugoslav soldiers held as prisoners at a U.S. installation in Germany are to be released today. Sgt. Beth Alber, spokeswoman for the U.S. European Command, said the process of release is "under way."
The two soldiers were taken to Frankfurt/Main airport where they are to be turned over to a representative of the International Red Cross during the day.
The release of the Yugoslav soldiers follows Yugoslavia's release earlier this month of three U.S. soldiers captured March 31 along the Kosovo-Macedonia border.