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House Backs a Kosovo Deployment

TIMES STAFF WRITER

By a margin of just 28 votes, the House endorsed the deployment of U.S. peacekeeping troops to Kosovo late Thursday, avoiding a decision that President Clinton said would have torpedoed efforts to end a year of conflict in the rebellious region.

The House approved a nonbinding resolution expressing congressional support for sending U.S. troops to Kosovo provided Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s government reaches a peace settlement with the ethnic Albanian community that makes up 90% of the population in the southern province of Serbia, Yugoslavia’s dominant republic.

On the final vote, 44 Republicans joined 174 Democrats and one independent in supporting U.S. participation in a NATO-led peacekeeping force. Eighteen Democrats joined 173 Republicans in opposing the measure.

A few minutes earlier, the House had rejected an amendment that would have reversed the thrust of the legislation and expressed congressional opposition to participation of U.S. troops.

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In a statement issued by the White House press office, Clinton said, “I am pleased with the House vote, which demonstrates the broad bipartisan support for our efforts to bring peace to Kosovo.”

He said the House action sends a clear message to the Serbs and ethnic Albanians “that it is time now to sign an agreement that stops the fighting in Kosovo and creates real self-government for the Kosovar population.”

At a news conference hours earlier in Antigua, Guatemala, Clinton said a vote against the peacekeeping plan would undermine the Kosovo peace talks, which began last month and are scheduled to resume Monday in France.

The Clinton administration has promised to provide about 4,000 members of a 28,000-strong NATO force to police the agreement if Milosevic’s government and the ethnic Albanians accept the plan to give substantial autonomy to the ethnic Albanian population. So far, neither side has approved the plan in its entirety.

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In negotiations that ended late last month in Rambouillet, France, the Serbian and ethnic Albanian delegations reached substantial agreement on the political elements of the peace plan.

But they deadlocked on the issue of peacekeepers, with the ethnic Albanians saying they would accept the draft agreement only if a North Atlantic Treaty Organization force was included, and the Serbs saying that peacekeepers would infringe on their sovereignty.

Administration officials said a congressional vote against U.S. peacekeepers would be a deal-wrecker as far as the ethnic Albanians are concerned. Administration strategy calls for securing ethnic Albanian approval first, then applying strong pressure on Milosevic to go along.

NATO ambassadors last month authorized bombing attacks against the Serbs if Milosevic blocks the agreement, but U.S. officials acknowledge that military action against the Serbs will be possible only if the ethnic Albanians fully accept the agreement.

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House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) scheduled the debate to give the House a voice in deliberations over Kosovo policy. He rejected the administration’s plea to postpone consideration of the issue until the peace talks end.

Although Clinton has said NATO peacekeepers will be sent to Kosovo only if both sides agree and if all fighting has stopped, many House opponents of the deployment said the administration is blundering into an open-ended commitment that could draw Americans into combat.

“We’re about to get ourselves in the middle of a civil war,” said House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas).

But several key Republicans opposed tying Clinton’s hands. For instance, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon) said it would destroy NATO if the United States refused to participate in the Kosovo force.

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