Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 91

In a parallel move yesterday, Russia also welcomed an announcement out of Belgrade indicating that Yugoslavia was preparing to withdraw some of its forces from Kosovo. The withdrawal order was said to have gone into effect on the night of May 9. According to the announcement, the number of Yugoslav troops in Kosovo could be reduced to the levels they were at prior to the beginning of NATO air strikes on March 24. That would also depend, however, on the conclusion of an agreement sending a UN mission to Kosovo, the statement said. An aide to Viktor Chernomyrdin, Russia’s special envoy for the Balkans, yesterday took credit for the announcement out of Belgrade. He said that the offer to withdraw troops was largely the result of Russia’s efforts to mediate the conflict (Reuters, May 10).

In general, however, NATO leaders yesterday promptly rejected the Yugoslav force withdrawal announcement as both insufficient and not compatible with NATO demands. Western leaders have demanded a full withdrawal of Yugoslav forces from Kosovo, and yesterday a U.S. State Department spokesman said that NATO would not halt the air strikes until the alliance could verify that Belgrade had started a total withdrawal from Kosovo. The same message came from Brussels, where NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said that any Yugoslav troop withdrawal would have to be “credible and “verifiable” (Reuters, May 10; International Herald Tribune, May 11).

Alliance leaders appeared also to be unmoved yesterday by news that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is prepared to negotiate an end to the Kosovo conflict on the basis of last week’s G-7 statement. That announcement came from Yasushi Akashi, a former UN envoy to the former Yugoslavia who met yesterday with the Yugoslav leader in Belgrade. However, according to Akashi, Milosevic continues to oppose the deployment in Kosovo of a heavily military force with a strong NATO contingent at its core. That has been the prime sticking point in negotiations between the West and Belgrade on a Kosovo settlement, and is an issue on which Chernomyrdin has devoted considerable time. The joint Russia-NATO statement issued at last week’s G-7 meeting was notably vague on the question of the make-up of the international security force for Kosovo.

Milosevic yesterday did apparently leave open the possibility that NATO forces could take part in an international security force in the Balkans, but those troops would reportedly have to come from alliance countries not taking part in the current air campaign against Yugoslavia (Reuters, May 10). To date, NATO leaders have rejected that condition, arguing that ethnic Albanian refugees would return to Kosovo only if troops from the core NATO countries were present. NATO has also proposed deploying more than 25,000 heavily armed troops in Kosovo. Milosevic yesterday reportedly suggested that he preferred a lightly armed force of about 1,500–similar in size to the earlier Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Kosovo Verification Mission (Reuters, May 10).