Helsinki, 18 June 1999 (RFE/RL) - U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen and Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev have restarted meetings in Helsinki to discuss Russia's role in NATO's peacekeeping force in Kosovo. U.S. and Russian defense experts met in the Finnish capital through the night in a bid to reach an agreement. Their proposals are due to be put forward to Cohen and Sergeyev at today's meeting. Also today, the first team of investigators from the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal is set to arrive in Kosovo to begin gathering evidence of widespread atrocities in the province.
Reports say NATO and the U.S. continue to reject Russia's demand for its own sector in the peacekeeping operation. Kosovo has already been split into five zones run by U.S., British, French, German and Italian forces. NATO and the U.S. say that a Russian zone would lead to the partition of Kosovo along ethnic lines. Cohen said late last night that a lot of issues have been resolved and expressed optimism a deal would be reached.
Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said the U.S. would welcome Russia's participation in KFOR, the NATO peacekeeping force that began moving into Kosovo last weekend, but that NATO can do the job even without Russia.
NATO's defense ministers are due today to meet in Brussels to assess the international peacekeeping effort in Kosovo. They also are expected to discuss NATO's long-term program of post-war reconstruction in Kosovo and the implementation of the stability plan for the Balkans. Some of NATO's 19 foreign ministers also may attend.
In the coming days, the investigators from the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal will focus on mapping and photographing alleged war crimes sites, looking for evidence of rape, plundering, murder, and torture committed by Serb forces. The investigations had been delayed this week until KFOR troops secured the war crimes sites and established a headquarters in the region.
Yesterday, British forces said they found a basement torture chamber for the interrogation of prisoners in a Serb-run police station in Kosovo's provincial capital of Pristina.
The British forces say they cordoned off the station and that investigators from the U.N. war crimes tribunal in the Hague have been called to investigate the Pristina site.
A British military spokesman said he believes the documents and instruments found in the cellar room chamber will provide strong evidence of the systematic torture of prisoners by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's police.
Meanwhile, NATO's supreme commander in Europe, General Wesley Clark, said yesterday it is unclear if all Serb paramilitaries were pulling out of Kosovo. Clark told the BBC that disarmament in the Balkans of both the Serbs and the Kosovo Albanians would never be complete and was filled with problems. NATO said Serb forces are on track to meet a Sunday midnight deadline for their total withdrawal from Kosovo. KFOR spokesman Robin Clifford put the number of Serb security forces that had withdrawn at about 35,000.