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Yugoslavia Yields to NATO’s Demands in Kosovo Conflict

By Daniel Williams
THE WASHINGTON POST -- BELGRADE

Yugoslavia on Thursday accepted an international peace plan for ending the conflict in Kosovo, bowing to NATO demands for the withdrawal of all army and police forces and the deployment of a NATO-dominated peacekeeping force in an apparent capitulation that could halt 10 weeks of allied bombing.

President Clinton and other NATO leaders reacted cautiously to the agreement, saying it represented the beginning of a peace process, not the end. Clinton vowed the NATO air strikes would continue until NATO has a clear confirmation that the Serb-led government in Belgrade is fully carrying out the terms of the accord.

“Until then, and until Serb forces begin a verifiable withdrawal from Kosovo, we will continue to pursue diplomacy, but we will also continue the military effort that has brought us to this point,” Clinton said in a Rose Garden statement.

The agreement followed a second day of talks here between Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, who represented the European Union, and Viktor Chernomyrdin, Russia’s special Balkans envoy.

The two envoys on Wednesday presented to Milosevic the proposed peace settlement, which they had agreed to in talks in Germany this week with Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott. The plan was accepted without objections Thursday by the Yugoslav federal government and the Serbian parliament, which approved it by a vote of 136 to 74. Kosovo is a province of Serbia, the dominant republic in the Yugoslav federation.

“We have been informed that the federal government and the parliament of Serbia accept the peace offer we have made,” Ahtisaari said.

Despite the agreement, NATO warplanes continued to attack Yugoslav forces. Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles Wald said allied planes had hit 19 Yugoslav artillery and mortar sites in Kosovo by early evening and were going after other targets throughout Yugoslavia.

Following a meeting with Clinton and the Pentagon’s military chiefs, Defense Secretary William Cohen said there would have to be further evidence of Belgrade’s commitment to peace before NATO would stop its air campaign.

“NATO intends to continue the air strikes until Milosevic and the government of Yugoslavia convincingly demonstrate that the fighting is over, that Serb forces are withdrawing, and that a NATO-led force can enter Kosovo to provide the security that the refugees need to return to their homes,” Cohen said. “At this point, not a single Serb soldier has withdrawn from Kosovo, and we have to keep that in mind as we view the workings of today.”

Cohen said a “military-to-military understanding, an agreement” between Yugoslav and NATO officers still would have to be worked out “within the next several days.”

If borne out, the accord will represent a notable achievement for NATO, which in the past 10 weeks has flown more than 31,000 sorties and dropped nearly 20,000 bombs.

At war’s beginning, Milosevic pledged that no foreign troops would set foot in Kosovo, which Serbs regard as the cradle of their civilization. He is now faced with the task of explaining not only his turnabout, but the deployment of American and British troops and forces from other countries that bombed Serbia.