Yugoslavia agrees to withdraw forces from Kosovo - Pullout to begin Thursday
June 9, 1999 - Yugoslav and NATO generals signed an agreement late Wednesday on the withdrawal of Yugoslav troops from Kosovo, following a marathon session of intense talks near the Yugoslav-Macedonian border.
"The war has ended," Yugoslav Col. Gen. Svetozar Marjanovic told reporters after emerging from the talks.
Senior NATO commander Lt. Gen. Michael Jackson said Yugoslavia had agreed to a "phased, verifiable and orderly withdrawal from Kosovo" that would allow for a NATO peacekeeping force to enter the province and provide a "secure environment" there.
Jackson said once NATO can confirm Yugoslav forces have begun to pull out of Kosovo, the alliance would suspend its bombardment of Yugoslavia.
However, "I have made it clear that if subsequently the withdrawal timetable is breached, the agreement requires the air operation to resume," Jackson said.
Yugoslav Foreign Ministry spokesman Nebojsa Vujovic said army troops and police would start pulling out on Thursday.
Moves towards a cessation of hostilities came as U.S. Marines deployed from vessels anchored off the Greek coast.
The 2,200 Marines went ashore in amphibious craft shortly after dawn and will travel the 175 miles (280 kilometers) by land to Macedonia for deployment in and around Kosovo.
CNN's Jeff Flock reported from the landing zone at Litohoro that the full force was expected take up to eight hours to come ashore.
The amphibious force will fall under NATO command, Flock reported.
Greek authorities dispersed a small number of protesters.
Meanwhile, Pentagon sources report some NATO bombing continued overnight in Kosovo, but NATO was closely monitoring Yugoslav troop activity to try to verify a withdrawal of forces from Kosovo.
U.S. sources told CNN that Yugoslavia had 11 days to withdraw. Once the pullout is completed, "several hundred" Yugoslav troops would be allowed to return to Kosovo to protect religious shrines and border locations, CNN's Wolf Blitzer reported from Washington.
As Yugoslav forces leave, British forces would enter from Macedonia to serve as the vanguard of a 50,000-strong NATO-led force in Kosovo, known as KFOR.
The peacekeeping force will "establish a robust military presence that will provide a secure environment for the safe return of the refugees, both inside and outside Kosovo, to their homes," Jackson said.
Among other requirements outlined by the agreement, Yugoslav forces must:
End all military flights over Kosovo and end all use of air defenses, radar and surface-to-air missile systems within 24 hours.
Remove all anti-aircraft artillery, surface-to-air missiles and military aircraft from Kosovo within three days.
Hand over all records indicating the placement of land mines, explosive devices, unexploded ordnance and other booby traps in Kosovo within 48 hours.
NATO endorses withdrawal plan
NATO ambassadors threw their support behind the military agreement in a late-night session of the North Atlantic Council in Brussels, Belgium.
NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said the alliance's supreme commander, Gen. Wesley Clark, would be watching the situation in Kosovo closely to verify that Yugoslav forces have begun to leave.
"As soon as Gen. Clark has confirmed this withdrawal has begun, I intend to instruct him to suspend NATO air operations," Solana said.
NATO will suspend its bombardment of Yugoslavia once a Yugoslav pullout is confirmed, Jackson said
At the United Nations, the U.N. Security Council was preparing to vote on a resolution, drafted by the foreign ministers of the world's top seven industrialized nations and Russia, that endorses a Kosovo peace plan. The vote will occur once the Yugoslav withdrawal begins and NATO pauses its bombing campaign.
Bursts of gunfire and anti-aircraft artillery ripped into the skies over Belgrade and the Kosovo provincial capital, Pristina, as residents and troops celebrated the news that the bombing campaign could be at an end.
In the northern Albanian town of Kukes, a group of male Kosovo refugees hugged each other in the town square when they heard about the peace deal. But some remained skeptical.
"It's not easy to believe it," said Delnie Vehopi, who left part of his family in Kosovo. "But as soon as we can go back we will. We left everything behind us. We have no problem with the Serb people who lived in Kosovo. It was only the Serb military and police."
NATO: Evidence of withdrawal plans
G-8 roadmap to peace in Kosovo:
- Yugoslav and NATO officials sign military/technical agreement for withdrawal of Yugoslav forces
- Yugoslav forces begin withdrawal with NATO verification
- NATO suspends airstrikes
- U.N. Security Council passes resolution endorsing G-8 peace plan
- As Yugoslav forces leave, KFOR peacekeeping force enters Kosovo
NATO officials said Wednesday they had seen some signs that Yugoslavia was at least preparing for a troop withdrawal.
"We know that some transporters have been heading from southern Serbia to northern Kosovo -- that's the primary equipment you would send if you were planning to withdraw," said NATO spokesman Jamie Shea.
"We know that certain forces ... have started to regroup and we've seen evidence of military vehicles being gathered, but as I said earlier, one truck doesn't make for a withdrawal any more than one swallow makes for a summer. So obviously we're going to be vigilant," he said.
Shea stressed that once a Yugoslav withdrawal is verified, NATO would suspend -- not terminate -- its bombing campaign.
"Obviously we're going to keep the military operation going, even if the strikes are suspended, as a sort of Sword of Damocles over the head of Milosevic until such time as we are certain of a complete withdrawal," he said. "Then we'll halt the air operation."
In Washington, President Bill Clinton welcomed the agreement and said NATO will "watch carefully" to make sure the forces leave Kosovo peacefully.
The president said the agreement "is another important step toward achieving our objectives in Kosovo."