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Tuesday, March 23, 1999 Published at 22:17 GMT

World: Europe

Nato poised to strike

Waiting to strike: US planes in Italy prepare for Nato's order

Kosovo Section
The US special envoy on Kosovo has acknowledged that his peace mission has failed and has formally handed the matter to Nato for military action.

Speaking after briefing Nato members in Brussels, US special envoy Richard Holbrooke said that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and the Serb assembly had once again rejected the presence on the ground of Nato-led peacekeeping forces.

The BBC's Bridget Kendall: The British embassy is one of several now closed for business
He told Nato Secretary-General Javier Solana: "The process now is handed both symbolically and formally back to you. It's Nato's issue."

Mr Solana said it was now down to his organisation to seek a peace deal: "The ball is now in Nato's camp."

Nato's top policymaking body on Monday authorised the secretary-general to order air strikes against Yugoslav military targets if Mr Milosevic refused to sign a peace deal and continued military operations in Kosovo.

Ben Brown in Kosovo: "People are desperate to flee"
Mr Holbrooke stressed that diplomatic channels would always remain open but "our mission ... was not in our view likely to produce any further movement even if we stayed".

The US envoy said "we attempted without notable success to make clear that a Nato-led force is the best way to keep Albanians and Serbs from killing each other".


His announcement came just hours after Yugoslavia declared a state of emergency, citing an "imminent threat of war, the danger of aggression against Yugoslavia by Nato".

John Simpson in Belgrade: "The air strikes will get worse and worse"
The declaration, read out on state television by Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic, called for massive mobilisation of troops and resources and puts the army on a high state of alert.

On Tuesday President Milosevic, rebuffed last-ditch diplomatic efforts by Mr Holbrooke, rejecting an autonomy plan for Kosovo's Albanians secured by Nato troops.

Ready to take action

President Bill Clinton warned Belgrade that the international community was prepared to act.

"If Mr Milosevic is not willing to make peace we are willing to limit his ability to make war."

[ image:  ]
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair added his weight to the threat of Nato action and said Britain was prepared to strike alongside its military allies.

Mr Blair told the UK Parliament: "The potential consequences of military action are serious. The consequences of not acting are more serious."

He said military action would be "to save thousands of innocent men, women and children from humanitarian catastrophe, from death and ethnic cleansing by a brutal dictatorship".

However, there were signs of disagreement from Russia. Its Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov had been due to visit Washington on Tuesday, but he cancelled his visit when already in mid-flight and returned home.

Mr Primakov said that the Russians did not think that all the political possibilities to solve the crisis in Kosovo had been used up.

With Nato strikes looming, most foreign governments, including those of the US and UK, ordered the closure of their embassies in Belgrade and instructed staff to leave.

No foreign troops

The peace plan, drawn up by the six-nation Contact Group on Yugoslavia, demands that a Nato force is deployed in Kosovo as peacekeepers.

President Milosevic has consistently refused to accept such a force and is supported by high-powered colleagues.

The peace plan would also give extensive autonomy to Kosovo.

Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanians, who are seeking self-rule for the province, have already accepted the peace proposals.

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