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Crisis in Yugoslavia

Milosevic OKs Peacekeepers, Russian Says

Kosovo: Leader tells Chernomyrdin he would accept U.N. force, but U.S. and Britain consider deal 'well short' of demands. Offer to be a key topic at NATO summit.

April 23, 1999|NORMAN KEMPSTER and RICHARD C. PADDOCK | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic on Thursday agreed to accept an international peacekeeping force in Kosovo as part of a plan to end the conflict, a Russian official reported.

President Clinton said the offer might be "some step forward" if it assured the safe return of refugees. A British spokesman said later that Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair agreed in a telephone conversation that the deal fell "well short" of NATO demands, according to Reuters news agency.

After an eight-hour meeting in Belgrade with Milosevic, Russian peace envoy Viktor S. Chernomyrdin said the Yugoslav president agreed to welcome a United Nations-authorized force including Russian troops to provide postwar security in the Serbian province. It was initially unclear whether the force would be armed.

Although the plan seems to fall far short of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's conditions for stopping its monthlong bombing campaign, it is sure to be a topic of debate when the leaders of the alliance's 19 member nations open their summit in Washington today.

The White House said all it knows of the Chernomyrdin-Milosevic meeting is what it has read and heard in news accounts, although officials said they expect the former Russian prime minister to give Washington a fuller account through diplomatic channels.

"I hope we shall find understanding in settling this problem with NATO leadership as well," Chernomyrdin told reporters at the airport in Belgrade, Yugoslavia's capital, as he prepared to board a flight back to Moscow.

Asked about the development during a joint news conference with NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana, Clinton said, "If there is an offer for a genuine security force, that's the first time that Mr. Milosevic has ever done that, and that represents, I suppose, some step forward."

But Clinton and Solana said NATO continues to insist on a package deal that includes an end to the Serbian campaign of "ethnic cleansing," withdrawal of all Yugoslav army and special police forces from Kosovo, broad self-government for residents of the rebellious province and a return of refugees under the protection of a well-armed and effective international military force.

In London, British officials were scornful of Milosevic's talks with Chernomyrdin. "President Milosevic knows exactly what he has to do, and this comes nowhere near it," said a government spokesman.

At the United Nations, however, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the reports of an agreement between Milosevic and Chernomyrdin for a peacekeeping force under the aegis of the U.N. were "encouraging."

"Next week I will be in Moscow myself discussing this with officials at the highest level," Annan said.

In other developments:

* The House International Relations Committee put off until Tuesday a vote on a proposal to force Clinton to withdraw U.S. warplanes from the NATO force bombing Yugoslavia. The committee decided that its previous intention to approve the measure Thursday but not schedule a floor vote on it until next week would signal weakness to Milosevic. The measure, proposed by Rep. Tom Campbell (R-San Jose) under the 1973 War Powers Act, is designed to force lawmakers to choose between withdrawal and a formal declaration of war--a decision that Campbell says the Constitution requires.

* NATO planes blasted one of Milosevic's Belgrade residences. The Yugoslav president was not home at the time, but the attack produced a spate of questions about whether the alliance was specifically targeting Milosevic. Pentagon spokesman Kenneth H. Bacon said that Milosevic was not the target but that his home included military facilities like command, control and communications centers. "We have always said from the beginning that the price is going to be high in terms of degradation and damage to the military and security structure, and this is one example of that," Bacon said.

* Bacon also said Thursday that NATO warplanes flew 324 sorties during the preceding 24 hours despite some of the worst flying weather in the conflict. "That brings the total number of sorties to 9,300 since Operation Allied Force began, and of those, 2,750 were strike sorties," Bacon said. A strike sortie is a flight for the purpose of delivering a bomb or rocket, regardless of whether the ordnance is actually dropped. The rest of the sorties were support flights by refueling planes, radar suppression aircraft, reconnaissance planes and the like.

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