For Yeltsin, Milosevic Yields a Bit on Kosovo

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Under pressure from Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic made modest concessions Tuesday toward peace in Kosovo but flatly refused to agree to a cease-fire or the withdrawal of ground forces in the separatist province.

The Russian and Yugoslav leaders signed a nine-point pact expressing Milosevic's willingness to resume talks with a moderate faction of Kosovo Albanians and to open the restive region to humanitarian groups and foreign diplomats.

But the agreement did not provide for any international mediation in the negotiations or monitoring of the situation in Kosovo, where more than 250 people have been killed this year in clashes between government forces and Albanian separatists.

"There are no grounds for the Yugoslav army not to be on the territory of Yugoslavia," Milosevic told reporters here. "Therefore, any withdrawal of units of the Yugoslav army from any part of Yugoslavia is out of the question."

Yeltsin and other officials in Moscow praised the agreement as a success for Russian foreign policy that reflected their desire to end the Kosovo conflict through diplomatic means--not Western military intervention.

"The whole world should see what we agreed upon so that there will be no retreating," Yeltsin said after his meeting with Milosevic. "We don't forget that we are Slavic states, friends. I think that today's negotiations will end well."

But in Washington, White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry said the document fell short of Western demands and created an apparent "loophole" by linking the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces to the cessation of "terrorist activities."

"There's no justification for continuation of the brutal campaign of violence by Serb security forces, and the withdrawal of Serb security forces is fundamental," he said.

Kosovo has been the scene of bloody fighting since February. Ethnic Albanians make up 90% of the Serbian province's 2 million people, and many have sought independence from the rump Yugoslavia, made up of the republics of Serbia and tiny Montenegro. The Yugoslav army and Serbian police have engaged in repeated clashes with the growing Kosovo Liberation Army, forcing tens of thousands of refugees to flee the province.

A recent offensive by the Yugoslav government prompted six foreign powers--the United States, Russia, Britain, Germany, France and Italy--to demand that Milosevic agree to a cease-fire and withdraw his forces from Kosovo.

Operating as the Contact Group, the six nations also have called for open access for international monitoring and humanitarian aid, the repatriation of displaced people and immediate peace talks by the Yugoslav regime with Kosovo's Albanian leadership.

To show the Western powers' seriousness, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization staged exercises over Albania and Macedonia near the Kosovo border Monday, sending 85 warplanes into the air.

In what was a rare appearance before the press, Milosevic said that NATO's show of air power near the Kosovo border had had no effect on his talks with Yeltsin. He also denied that his forces had engaged in "ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo and blamed the killing of civilians on Kosovo Albanian "terrorists."

"It was clear that all actions of Serbian police were only against terrorist groups, not against civilians," he said.

While Milosevic yielded on some of the lesser demands of the Contact Group, it was unclear whether he went far enough to prevent military intervention by the West. "There was some progress," said Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, but she added: "It is insufficient that the killing of civilians and depopulating of villages continues."

Earlier this year, Yeltsin and Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov scored a diplomatic coup when they helped arrange a peaceful settlement in Iraq over the issue of weapons inspections. They hope for a similar success in Yugoslavia and, after the day of meetings with Milosevic, congratulated themselves on their peaceful approach.

"The Russian side views this document as very important," Primakov said at the news conference with Milosevic. "We believe that this opens up a real opportunity to settle the situation, and in many ways the ball is now in the court of the Kosovo Albanians."

But in Kosovo, a spokesman for Albanian separatists said the offer announced in Moscow was "absolutely insufficient" for restarting the peace talks.

"No one is disputing the need to have negotiations, but they must be held under the conditions spelled out by the Contact Group," said Blerim Shala, a spokesman for the negotiating team headed by separatist leader Ibrahim Rugova. "That includes, above all, a cease-fire and withdrawal of Yugoslav army troops and special Serb police units."

In the joint presidential statement, Milosevic agreed to resume stalled negotiations with Rugova--but ruled out talks with the Kosovo Liberation Army. "I don't see reasons to conduct negotiations with terrorists," he said.

Milosevic also was unrepentant about recent military offensives that drove tens of thousands of civilians from their homes in Kosovo. He insisted that military operations were directed against "terrorists," not civilians.

"This joint statement is a logical continuation of our firm commitment to solving problems by peaceful political methods and settling all disputes through open dialogue," Milosevic said.

State-run television in Serbia claimed that President Clinton had telephoned Yeltsin and "expressed satisfaction with the results." Similarly, Interfax news agency in Russia, citing a Kremlin source, reported that Clinton told Yeltsin that he was pleased with the agreement.

In Washington, Albright said Yeltsin imposed "the correct amount of pressure" on Milosevic regarding refugees, international monitors and the resumption of talks with Rugova and the Albanian separatists. "I think there was some progress" in those three areas, she said.

But Albright lamented the failure of Yeltsin to secure a pledge from Milosevic to pull back Yugoslav army units from Kosovo and to reduce the level of violence there. She said NATO retains the option of using military force against Serbia if the military crackdown in Kosovo continues.

"We will keep pressing, because ultimately there cannot be a solution here unless the level of violence is cut down," Albright said at a brief news conference before meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

At the same time, Albright sought to minimize friction between Washington and Moscow over the Kosovo issue. "The bottom line is we are united in the fact that what is going on there is unacceptable and that action needs to be taken," she said.

Earlier, answering questions from a Senate subcommittee, Albright said, "All options are on the table in terms of the use of military force." But she stopped short of reaffirming a warning made by the Bush administration just before it left office to use U.S. military force if necessary to prevent the "ethnic cleansing" of Kosovo.

"The Bush letter said, 'In the event of conflict in Kosovo caused by Serbian action, the United States will be prepared to employ military force against the Serbians in Kosovo and in Serbia proper,' " Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said. "Is the warning still valid?"

Albright declined to confirm McConnell's version of the Bush warning, explaining that it "has never been made public specifically. . . . It is a private diplomatic conversation."

Meanwhile, in Kosovo, the fighting was subdued Tuesday; in the only incident reported by either side, a 24-year-old Albanian man was wounded in his courtyard in Stimlje, apparently by long-range police fire.

Times staff writers Richard Boudreaux in Pristina, Yugoslavia, and Norman Kempster in Washington contributed to this report.

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