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Yugoslavia: NATO Intends Kosovo Mission's Limited Duration

Washington, 9 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson says the alliance's peacekeeping mission in Kosovo is not an endless commitment but one that NATO intends to bring to a successful conclusion.

Robertson spoke to reporters on 8 March after meeting U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The two discussed a wide range of alliance issues, including the Balkans.

The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has said it is reviewing the issue of American troop commitment to the Kosovo peacekeeping force, KFOR. This has raised concern by U.S. allies that Washington might pull its troops out of KFOR.

But Robertson said he is confident that the United States would continue to participate in the peacekeeping mission. He quoted a recent statement by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell that said the alliance went into Kosovo together and will leave together. And Robertson said he believes this will occur after NATO accomplished its mission.

"This is not an endless commitment, but it's a commitment we intend to see through."

The Robertson-Rumsfeld meeting at the U.S. Defense Department came a day after peacekeepers in the U.S. sector in Kosovo wounded two ethnic Albanians fighters in a clash near the Macedonian border and as U.S. troops secured a border village that had been the scene of fighting.

Asked about the clashes and the possibility of a shooting war between American troops and ethnic Albanians, Rumsfeld had this to say:

"Shooting is shooting, and it has been going on throughout the period that troops have been there on one level or another. And it's been relatively minor and it remains relatively modest."

Rumsfeld said U.S. troops have the right to protect themselves.

Both U.S. and NATO officials denied that American troops entered Macedonia on 8 March in securing a border village.

"The KFOR troops operate within Kosovo. That is where the agreement is, that is where the mandate is. It doesn't go beyond that."

In a related development, NATO agreed to allow Yugoslav troops to begin entering a five-kilometer buffer zone along Kosovo's border with Serbia. Ethnic Albanians have used the zone to launch attacks inside Serbia and as a corridor to supply rebels in northern Macedonia.

The Yugoslav forces will be allowed to enter a narrow segment of territory where the buffer zone intersects the Macedonian border.

Robertson said the move was taken to restore calm to the area.

Javier Solana, the European Union's security and foreign policy coordinator, hailed the decision. He said it is important to start reducing the buffer zone and added NATO is prepared to continue on reducing the buffer zone progressively.