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Kosovo Peace Operation on Fast Track

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 9, 1999 – Contributing nations need to accelerate troop deployments to the NATO-led security mission in Kosovo, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said June 8 on his way to Europe.

"The flow of KFOR forces is on schedule, but I think more needs to be done," he said. "We have to get more forces there more quickly, if we can, so there aren't the kind of gaps that allow for violence to erupt once again."

Cohen was starting a 7-day, 7-nation trip to meet with European counterparts in Denmark and Norway and visit local officials and U.S. service members in Hungary, Albania, Greece and Turkey. Talking with reporters enroute to his first stop in Copenhagen, the secretary said the Kosovo mission was one of the topics he planned to discuss with his European counterparts.

NATO allies, Partnership for Peace members and other nations are contributing a total of 55,000 troops to secure peace in Kosovo. The United States is contributing 7,000 service members.

About 2,800 Russian forces will serve within French, Italian, German and U.S. sectors. A small contingent of about 800 will serve at the Pristina Airport in the British sector. Cohen helped worked out details with Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev during talks held in Helsinki in mid-June.

"The Russian forces are now starting to come in, and that too, is on track," Cohen said. Some questions were raised regarding command and control, but the Helsinki agreement was confirmed by the Russian Federation, and it remains in effect, he said.

Overall, the NATO-led peacekeeping operation is progressing well, Cohen said. "The Serbs have complied for the most part with their agreement. There may be some pockets of some resistance, but for the most part, it's been quite manageable."

How long the peacekeepers will remain in Kosovo will depend on how soon the United Nations can complete civil implementation, Cohen said. Local police are needed as soon as possible to help restore law and order, for example, and restoring political institutions quickly will fulfill the need for greater Kosovar Albanian autonomy.

"All countries look forward to a phased-reduction to the size of the force," Cohen said. "Much will depend on how quickly civil implementation can be put into affect."

What will happen to Milosevic? queried a reporter. Cohen replied that the Yugoslav president is now facing strong discontent evidenced by demonstrations involving as many as 20,000. These people are "reaping the whirlwind of his policies," Cohen said.

"In the short term, he will likely try to counter that either politically or even through some means of a crackdown," Cohen said. "In the long term, I think the people will see that they have been isolated internationally. They have been economically devastated. They will want a better future than Milosevic could ever provide for them."

The Serbian people can choose to become part of the international community, or they can remain isolated as they have been under Milosevic's leadership, Cohen said. "I think they'll make a choice to become integrated in the international community. How long that will take remains to be seen."

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