US envoy warns crisis is far from resolved

 

As NATO insisted that Yugoslavia must live up to its promises, Serbia's Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Vojislav Seselj, said yesterday that Belgrade made only "minimal concessions" to the West in agreeing a deal on Kosovo.

The ultra-nationalist Mr Seselj congratulated the Yugoslav President, Mr Slobodan Milosevic, saying that Belgrade had resisted pressures from the West and managed to defend its territorial integrity and sovereignty, according to the official state news agency Tanjug.

However, the US envoy, Mr Richard Holbrooke, warned Belgrade that the situation was far from resolved as he emphasised Washington's determination to ensure that Mr Milosevic lived up to an agreement that brought NATO "to the brink of war".

"If it doesn't work, we'll be back at the brink again," he told CNN television amid scepticism that Mr Milosevic would live up to the accord. "Our war planes are still standing by on the runways in Italy and other places in Europe."

Mr Milosevic has until 0500 GMT on Saturday to comply with international demands, a NATO spokesman in Brussels said. If he fails, NATO can from that time launch air strikes against Serb forces in Kosovo or other parts of Serbia.

"The heat is still on," a NATO official said during a break in a meeting of the NATO Council of Ambassadors in Brussels. "Friday evening we will be looking at what Milosevic has done. "We will be looking for clear indications of actions, dismantling checkpoints, moving forces back to their barracks, lifting the heavy-handed repression from the backs of the civilian population."

Under the Holbrooke-Milosevic deal, Belgrade will allow 2,000 observers into Kosovo to monitor troop withdrawals and let unarmed aircraft fly over its territory to verify that Serbia is abiding by UN Security Council resolutions. Resolution 1199 of September 23rd calls on Belgrade to establish an immediate ceasefire, withdraw its special forces from the province, allow refugees to return and establish a political dialogue with Kosovo's ethnic Albanian separatists.

For Kosovo's Albanian-language daily Koha Ditore, the agreement means the southern Serbian province "remains a Serb camp under land and aerial surveillance".

The US mediator, Mr Christopher Hill, said yesterday there was a huge amount of work to be done to secure a peaceful solution to the crisis and he would return to Pristina tomorrow. Mr Hill, the US ambassador to Macedonia who laid the groundwork for this week's deal, said he would be holding meetings in the capital of Kosovo with ethnic Albanian leaders "to push ahead with a political agreement".

The Albanian Foreign Minister, Mr Paskal Milo, proposed while on a visit to Oslo that Kosovo be made a third partner in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, alongside Serbia and Montenegro.

Russia has offered to participate in the NATO air surveillance operation, Mr Holbrooke said yesterday.

Moscow has said it will take part in the 2,000-member OSCE mission that will verify Serb compliance on the ground in Kosovo, but Mr Holbrooke's remark was the first suggestion that Russian reconnaissance aircraft might fly alongside those of NATO.

"I might add, say out here for the first time, that the Russians have said they would like to fly with us, which would be pretty amazing," Mr Holbrooke said in an interview with NBC television.

The Austrian ambassador, Mr Wolfgang Petritsch, representing the EU, said he had urged the Kosovan Albanian leader, Mr Ibrahim Rugova, at a meeting in Pristina to accept the plan, although it fell short of ethnic Albanian demands for independence.

Albanian-language newspapers were hostile to the deal because of a deeply-rooted distrust of Mr Milosevic and the lack of any promise of independence.

Britain is to send up to 200 personnel to join the squad of international monitors in Kosovo.