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Kosovar Albanians Agree to Accord; Serbs Still Holdouts

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 25, 1999 – The ethnic Albanian faction in Kosovo has agreed to sign a peace agreement by March 15, but Serbs have not approved any deal.

Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon told reporters during a Feb. 23 news conference that U.S. aircraft sent to Europe earlier in case NATO ordered an air campaign will remain deployed for the time being. "We will evaluate the situation and take a few days to make the decision on whether [the aircraft] stay or come home," Bacon said.

President Bill Clinton said at the White House that any vicious or aggressive Serb acts can still be met by NATO air strikes. He said NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana still has alliance authority to order air strikes -- and whether he does depends on the Serbs.

DoD also said the American component of a possible NATO peacekeeping force in Kosovo would cost $1.5 billion to $2 billion per year. Some 4,000 U.S. service members would be part of the force, about 2,200 of them members of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Camp Lejeune, N.C. The Marines are currently deployed in the Mediterranean aboard the USS Nassau, USS Pensacola and USS Nashville; Bacon said they would stage through Thessaloniki, Greece.

State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said the ethnic Albanians said they would sign an accord after consulting with residents in Kosovo. More than 2,000 people have died in the year-long conflict between Kosovar separatists and the Serbs.

Bacon said the U.S. government hopes both sides will exercise restraint. "We believe this is an opportunity for the Serbs and the Kosovar Albanians to put war behind them and live in peace," he said. "Neither side should provoke the other."

He said the next challenge in negotiations is to convince Serb President Slobodan Milosevic that the area is "better off with NATO patrolling a demilitarized Kosovo."

Bacon said any peacekeeping force in Kosovo would be mostly European. The United States would provide roughly 17 percent of the ground forces compared to 33 percent when NATO went into Bosnia.

"The United States is a leader of NATO," he said. "The NATO allies and the Kosovar Albanians want U.S. participation."

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