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Kosovar Albanians OK Peace Pact as Paris Talks Resume

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 16, 1999 – Ethnic Albanian leaders from Kosovo agreed in Paris March 15 to sign a peace proposal with Serbia, so now it's up to Serb President Slobodan Milosevic to end the violence, according to senior defense officials.

President Clinton, accompanied by NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana, welcomed the announcement during their meeting at the White House.

Clinton urged Milosevic to sign the agreement to avoid further conflict and bloodshed. "It is clearly the right thing to do," he said. "It's the best chance to preserve the integrity of Serbia and avoid economic and other adversity."

If Milosevic persists in his "intransigence and aggression," Clinton said, NATO would have little choice but to take action. "The reason we worked so hard to get NATO to take this position is to avoid the level of atrocity and death that we saw in Bosnia," he said. "We didn't want to go down that road again. We wanted to dramatically shorten the timetable from aggression and the loss of innocent life and upheaval, to action."

Solana said a catastrophe would be likely if Milosevic doesn't sign. "We have to prevent that from happening -- NATO will prevent that from happening," he said.

At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen told reporters he hoped Milosevic "will see the handwriting that is very much on the wall" and seek peace rather than more conflict. Cohen and German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping spoke with reporters following their meeting to discuss defense issues. Both leaders stressed NATO is ready to act if necessary.

"The target is to reach a political agreement and to implement it in a NATO-led operation," Scharping said.

NATO is not prepared, however, to commit troops into a nonpermissive environment, Cohen said. "We are not going to put forces on the ground in order to make a peace," he said. "There has to be an agreement before such time as NATO forces will go in for a peacekeeping or peace-implementing force."

Air strikes are another matter, he said. NATO issued an activation order last fall that gives Solana the power to start an air campaign at any time; it's still in effect. Cohen said Solana would consult with all the NATO countries involved before deciding whether to exercise the order, but "that's something we'll have to pursue on a day-by-day basis."

Ethnic Albanians and Serbs have been fighting in Kosovo since the two sides suspended peace talks more than two weeks ago in Rambouillet, France. Two marketplace bombs killed seven ethnic Albanians and injured dozens of other people in Kosovo March 14 -- the day before the Paris peace talks resumed.

If fighting continues before a settlement is reached, Cohen said, Milosevic would bear the "heavy responsibility of creating a humanitarian disaster" and would be held accountable.

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