Solana warns `countdown' has started


Mr Javier Solana, Secretary-General of NATO, has joined calls for tough action against Serbia to prevent "a humanitarian catastrophe" in Kosovo.

"The countdown has started," Mr Solana said in an interview with Le Monde. "We have completed the process of planning for air operations and we are ready to act. All that remains to be done is for member-countries to activate their forces assigned to NATO, the last step before taking action."

The decision could be taken "in the coming days", Mr Solana said, adding that the alliance would not wait beyond next week. "We await the result of current efforts to obtain the Yugoslav President Milosevic's compliance with UN Security Council resolutions."

Mr Solana was referring to the meeting yesterday between the US envoy to the Balkans, Mr Richard Holbrooke, and Mr Milosevic. In the light of Mr Holbrooke's meeting, the Security Council's response to a report by the UN Secretary-General and the results of a Contact Group meeting scheduled today, NATO would decide what to do.

The head of NATO implied that a Security Council vote would not be necessary before intervention.

Russia, a member of the permanent Security Council, opposes military action against Serbia and might use its veto.

"We must maintain the principle of the United Nations as the legitimating authority," Mr Solana said. "But we also have to examine the legitimacy of action on a case-by-case basis. The UN resolutions are perfectly clear regarding the humanitarian catastrophe that threatens Kosovo and the risks for regional security."

Nor would the 1997 Founding Act on relations between NATO and Russia prevent NATO from intervening. NATO is in constant contact with the Russian authorities, who have threatened to break off relations if the organisation intervenes. Mr Solana said he wanted to continue co-operation between NATO and Russia, "but when we do not agree in a concrete situation, the Founding Act recognises NATO's right to act on its own".

Mr Milosevic must fulfil the conditions laid down in UN Security Council resolution 1199 of September 23rd "by negotiation or by force", Mr Solana said. A "verification mechanism" will be put in place as soon as a ceasefire is achieved in Kosovo.

"We know the behaviour of Mr Milosevic well. So we need a verification mechanism to be certain that Serbia respects its commitments."