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Heartening indicators on Kosovo
Envoys agree to peace plan and fly to Belgrade

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- A Kosovo peace plan was agreed to Wednesday by negotiators in Germany that could bring a halt to more than two months of NATO airstrikes. Russian and European envoys flew to Belgrade right away with the plan.

The plan includes the deployment of separate NATO-led and Russian forces in Kosovo and for an end to allied bombings once the West verifies Slobodan Milosevic has begun pulling his security forces out of Kosovo, Russian envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin said."At the moment, there is a realistic chance that the war will end," Chernomyrdin told reporters before leaving for Belgrade.

State Department spokesman James Rubin said the ball now is in Yugoslavia's court to end the Kosovo violence and the NATO bombing campaign.

The fact that the Finnish leader and Chernomyrdin are going together to see Milosevic is "a significant development," Rubin added.

The envoys put together a "very far-reaching measure of agreement," Michael Steiner, foreign policy adviser to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, said after all-night talks at a hotel outside Bonn.

The envoys meeting for a second day with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott made "very considerable progress," Steiner said. "Now we'll have to see how Belgrade reacts."

While Talbott had no public comment on the plan, Chernomyrdin and Finland's president headed to the Yugoslav capital Wednesday afternoon to present the draft to Milosevic.

"We've reached a largely com- mon position," said Finland's Martti Ahtisaari, who is backed by the European Union. Ahtisaari will report back to EU leaders at their summit Thursday in Cologne, Germany.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer called the development "very good news" but said he did not want to overrate its importance.

The news came just hours after the talks on Kosovo had apparently broken down.

Military officials from NATO's 19 nations and a dozen partner countries, meanwhile, Wednesday committed 47,900 troops to be part of an international force to bring Kosovar refugees back home once Yugoslavia agrees to a negotiated settlement.

Another key obstacle to a settlement has been disagreement over the makeup of a peacekeeping force after the fighting ends. NATO wants to lead the force and insists on a complete Yugoslav military withdrawal -- a plan Milosevic adamantly opposes.

Chernomyrdin said the problem has been resolved by introducing two forces.

"There will be two separate presences in Kosovo, a NATO presence and a Russian presence," he said, stressing that the Russian troops would not be under NATO command.

But Britain immediately rejected the notion of putting part of a peacekeeping force in Kosovo under Russian command.

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, speaking in London, said deploying Russian forces in northern Kosovo, closest to the rest of Serbia, while NATO forces policed southern Kosovo would effectively partition the Serbian province.

"We are not willing to enter into a partition of Kosovo, either by agreement or by the back door," Cook said.

NATO pursued its bombing campaign for the 11th week, with daytime attacks reported Wednesday across Serbia.

NATO struck military targets across Kosovo and hit power lines, fuel depots and TV relay stations in and around Belgrade late Tuesday.

Officials at alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, said the heaviest strikes were in southwestern Kosovo near the Albanian border, where heavy fighting continues between Serb forces and the Kosovo Liberation Army.

An aid official said Wednesday that the fighting and an accidental NATO bombing on the Albanian side of the border were crippling efforts to provide safe passage to refugees still trying to flee Kosovo.

Clashes between Serb and Kosovo Albanian guerrillas persisted Wednesday around the key frontier crossing at Morini.

Alliance jets accidentally fired across the border into Albania on Tuesday, hitting government bunkers, injuring a refugee and narrowly missing a group of foreign journalists.