Washington Post - Russian official upbraids Nato

By Dusan Stojanovic

Friday, Dec. 24, 1999

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia –– Russia's defense minister is lashing out against the international officials governing Kosovo, charging that NATO troops and U.N. officials have failed to make progress in securing peace and stability in the southern Yugoslav province.

Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev was to travel to Kosovo today for talks with U.N. and NATO officials. But he didn't wait until arriving in Kosovo to criticize NATO's peacekeeping force, telling the Itar-Tass news agency that so far, NATO's results "cannot be called positive."

Arriving in Belgrade, Sergeyev said Russia might reconsider its role in the Kosovo peacekeeping mission if "serious violations" of the settlement agreements by the U.N. and NATO-led peacekeepers continue, the Russian Interfax news agency reported.

Sergeyev said the NATO-led Kosovo Force, or KFOR, "is taking a waiting position and exerts virtually no influence on the situation."

The Itar-Tass news agency said Sergeyev planned to "put bluntly the question of failure by the KFOR leadership to fulfill the U.N. mandate," during his talks with international officials in Kosovo.

He also planned to meet German Defense Minister Rudolf Sharping to discuss military relations between the two countries.

Alliance peacekeepers deployed in the province in June after a 78-day air war against Yugoslavia. The bombardment was meant to force Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to halt a crackdown on ethnic Albanian militants and accept a peace deal. Russia also has troops in the peacekeeping force, which now controls Kosovo, though the territory remains a Yugoslav province.

"Events over the past few months prove that what is happening in Kosovo is not peace," Sergeyev said. Milosevic has criticized the international Kosovo mission for its failure to protect minority Serbs in the province from retaliatory ethnic Albanian attacks.

"Murders, robberies and arson continue," Sergeyev said, accusing the ethnic Albanian rebel Kosovo Liberation Army of stocking "sufficient weaponry in secret storage facilities, although the deadline for its disarmament has expired."

After Milosevic met with Sergeyev, the Yugoslav president's office issued a statement in which Russia and Yugoslavia demanded urgent action in Kosovo, describing the present situation there as "unsustainable."

Sergeyev also met with Milosevic's army commanders, who are looking for help in repairing damage caused to the military by NATO airstrikes.

Milosevic lavished attention on Sergeyev during the first day of his two-day visit to the Balkans, decorating him with medals during a ceremony at the White Palace, Milosevic's residence in Belgrade. The awards were for promoting cooperation between the two countries and their armies.

At his own reception, Sergeyev reciprocated by bestowing awards on Yugoslav army chiefs for their "heroic defense of the country," the state-run Tanjug news agency reported.

Among those decorated by Sergeyev was Yugoslav army chief of staff, Gen. Dragoljub Ojdanic, indicted along with Milosevic by the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.

"The NATO aggressor did not dare undertake a land operation, fully aware of the strength and determination of your army," Sergeyev was quoted by Tanjug as saying while handing out the medals.


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