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U.S. Envoy Makes Last-Ditch Effort for Kosovo Peace

Yugoslavia: Richard Holbrooke meets with President Milosevic, but there is no sign of progress. Clinton warns that NATO is moving ahead with its military plans.

March 23, 1999|DAVID HOLLEY and NORMAN KEMPSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia — Carrying the threat of imminent NATO airstrikes, U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke pressed Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic on Monday to accept a Kosovo peace deal, but there was no indication of a breakthrough, and the strife-torn province remained aflame.

After completing about four hours of talks with Milosevic, Holbrooke spent another four hours at the U.S. Embassy here in the Yugoslav and Serbian capital, much of that time in consultation with top officials in Washington. It remained unclear early today whether he would meet with Milosevic again.

"Ultimately, the decision as to what happens will be made by the decisions and the actions of the Yugoslav leadership," Holbrooke told reporters before meeting with Milosevic. "It's a serious situation, and we are not here today with any prognosis of how it is likely to end."

In Washington, President Clinton said the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will have no choice but to act unless Milosevic reverses course.

"If President Milosevic continues to choose aggression over peace, NATO's military plans must continue to move forward," Clinton said after meetings with his foreign policy advisors and telephone conversations with allied leaders.

He said that all members of NATO, joined by almost all other European powers including Russia, share the objective of ending more than a year of bloodshed in Kosovo by giving broad autonomy to the ethnic Albanians who make up 90% of the population of the southern province of Serbia, the dominant Yugoslav republic.

"I hope that can be achieved by peaceful means," Clinton said. "If not, we have to be prepared to act."

On Capitol Hill, however, the Senate began debating legislation designed to cut off funding for military action in Kosovo unless Congress specifically approves. A vote could be taken as soon as this afternoon.

On the Senate floor, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) argued that Clinton has no legal authority to commit U.S. planes to a NATO bombing squadron without specific approval from Congress.

"We are taking sides in a civil war where I think the U.S. security interest is not clear," she said. "It is incumbent for the president to come to Congress before he takes any military action in Kosovo. What if an American plane is shot down? What if there is an American POW? What then? Before we go bombing sovereign nations, we ought to have a plan."

But Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called on Congress to approve military action.

"I'm convinced [Clinton] is going to join with other NATO members to give that order" to begin bombing, Warner said. "This body has to . . . say these men and women are about to fly, and the Congress of the United States should be on record supporting them."

The Yugoslav army and Serbian military police, meanwhile, continued an offensive in Kosovo that has driven thousands of ethnic Albanians from their homes. The official Tanjug news agency carried an army statement Monday declaring: "As soon as terrorist provocations and NATO threats cease, the Yugoslav army will withdraw to barracks, it will release reservists and return to regular peaceful tasks."

Terrorists struck Kosovo's provincial capital, Pristina, on Monday for the second straight night, increasing fears that NATO airstrikes could set off a wave of revenge killings.

An explosion at a cafe and bar in central Pristina killed a 30-year-old ethnic Albanian man and wounded two other victims about 7:30 p.m. About half an hour later, a 22-year-old woman was killed, and two other people wounded, when gunmen opened fire with automatic rifles at another cafe and bar, which is popular with ethnic Albanians.

The attacks followed the killing of four well-armed Serbian police, who were sprayed with automatic weapons fire Sunday evening. The gunmen escaped, but police blamed ethnic Albanian guerrillas.

In Brussels, site of NATO headquarters, State Department spokesman James P. Rubin told reporters that Holbrooke, who has long experience negotiating with the Yugoslav president, "will be the best judge of whether Milosevic is talking turkey, or not, or whether he's stalling, and we're not going to accept stalling tactics."

Milosevic, according to Associated Press, criticized the Americans and their allies for the NATO threats and their handling of the peace negotiations.

"Your people should be ashamed, because you are getting ready to use force against a small European nation because it protects its territory against separatism and its people against terrorism," Milosevic was quoted as saying in a letter to the French and British foreign ministers.

About 400 NATO planes are in position in the region to strike Yugoslav military targets if Belgrade refuses to sign the international peace plan for Kosovo and agree to enforcement by a 28,000-member NATO-led peacekeeping force. Any NATO attack would probably begin with cruise missiles aimed to disable Yugoslavia's air defense network.

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