BELGRADE (Reuters)–Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic on Thursday accepted an international peace plan for Kosovo which appeared to clear the way for an end to the conflict with NATO–but the bombs continued to fall.
A text accepted by the Serbian parliament specified an international security presence in Kosovo under united command with a "fundamental" role for NATO.
Prior to its deployment–all Yugoslav security forces would withdraw from Kosovo. Some would be allowed back in but their numbers would be limited to "hundreds–and not thousands," said the document–obtained by Reuters.
The official Yugoslav news agency Tanjug said Milosevic had agreed to the plan brought to Belgrade on Wednesday by EU envoy Martti Ahtisaari and Russia’s Balkans envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin.
But NATO pressed on regardless with its 10-week-old bombing campaign–intended to end Serbia’s clampdown against the majority ethnic Albanians of Kosovo and allow hundreds of thousands of refugees to return.
In what appeared to be a piece of psychological warfare–NATO for the first time gave an estimate of Yugoslav military casualties–saying it believed 5,000 members of the armed forces had been killed and more than 10,000 wounded.
The United States and Britain–the leading "hawks" in the campaign–insisted that the bombing would continue until Milosevic was seen to be complying.
"This is not over yet," one alliance diplomatic source in Brussels cautioned–stressing Milosevic’s gift for appearing to make concessions while already planning to renege on them.
KLA spokesman Sabri Kicmari agreed–telling German MDR radio: "This is a new trick to try and divide the international community."
And there was still room for discord between Russia and NATO. A footnote to the peace plan showed they still did not agree about who should control the peacekeeping force in Kosovo.
Ahtisaari–the Finnish president–arrived in Cologne on Thursday evening to brief an EU summit and then US Assistant Secretary of State Strobe Talbott on the deal done in Belgrade–based on a proposal which he had hammered out with Chernomyrdin and Talbott.
Tanjug said Milosevic had met Ahtisaari and Chernomyrdin after parliament accepted the peace plan.
"The three sides unanimously agreed that commitment to peace was of vital importance–not only for Yugoslavia–but for the whole region and the entire Europe," Tanjug said.
The document agreed by Milosevic allows an international security presence in Kosovo including NATO but makes no mention of cooperation with the Hague War Crimes Tribunal which has indicted Milosevic for alleged crimes committed in Kosovo.
This appeared to meet NATO’s key deman’s.
Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Valentin Sergeyev–Chernomyrdin’s spokesman–as saying that a NATO military mission would go to Belgrade "in the next few days" to discuss implementation and that the bombing would stop then.
NATO said there was no such plan.
Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon told reporters: "We are going to be waiting for actions and not just words or votes.
"We can’t stop our campaign until we actually see that he (Milosevic) is measuring up to the five NATO standards–the most central standard right now is to stop the fighting in Kosovo and start pulling out the Serb troops."
NATO’s key deman’s have been the deployment of a NATO-led peace force in Kosovo–a withdrawal of Yugoslav security forces–the return of refugees and substantial autonomy for the province–whose population was 90 percent ethnic Albanian before hundreds of thousands were forced out in recent weeks.
State Department spokesman James Rubin said it would be a "major step forward" if reports that Yugoslavia had accepted a Kosovo peace agreement were true but added: "The question now is the details."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in Cologne:
"There is acceptance of the terms that we have laid down by Milosevic and by the Serbian parliament…But we do need to have it tied down–we do need to have it implemented. Until that happens–let us exercise some caution."
But French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine hailed Serbia’s endorsement of the Kosovo plan as "the outcome that we wanted."
The prospect of peace briefly sent the fragile euro over $1.04 cents for the first time in days but it later gave up its gains–falling back to around $1.0320.
Meanwhile the bombing continued. Tanjug said NATO aircraft had struck a transmitter on Mount Kopaonik during the afternoon.
Earlier–at 1 p.m.–almost exactly as parliament was approving the peace plan–alliance jets fired missiles near the town of Bor and in the city of Nis–Yugoslav agencies said.
Russia appeared to have accepted that NATO would require more than verbal assurances before stopping the bombing.
But top general Leonid Ivashov–an outspoken critic of NATO–who was traveling with Chernomyrdin–said on his return to Moscow that the Russian military had other concerns.
"We are not quite satisfied with the role of NATO that is being imposed and the diminished role of Russia…Everything depends on the goodwill of NATO."
A footnote to the proposals–obtained by Reuters at the EU summit in Cologne–stipulates: "It is understood that Russia’s position is that the Russian contingent will not be under NATO command and its relationship to the international presence will be governed by relevant additional agreemen’s."
The footnote was appended to the plan taken to Belgrade by Ahtisaari and Chernomyrdin but not included in the document submitted to the Serbian parliament–western diplomats said.
The UN refugee agency said it was now bracing itself for the awesome task of supervising movement of almost two million refugees in the Balkans after the Kosovo conflict ends.
United Nations special envoy Carl Bildt–who helped to negotiate and implement the peace deal which ended the 1992-95 ethnic conflict in neighboring Bosnia–said the hard work was just starting.
"What’s required now is to clarify these principles and make them reality as soon as possible," he said. "Peace will be infinitely harder than the war."