- MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's defence minister raised the spectre on
Tuesday of a Vietnam-style war in the heart of Europe if NATO launched
strikes to punish Yugoslavia for any failure to reach a peace deal at
Kosovo peace talks.
- As the 1400 GMT deadline approached for
a deal at the Rambouillet talks in France, Marshal Igor Sergeyev told
Russia's ORT television that violence should be avoided at all costs and
that the Serbs and Kosovo Albanians should not be allowed to leave the
negotiations until an agreement was reached.
- Diplomats in Rambouillet were pessimistic
about the chances of success, noting both sides are reluctant to sign up.
- NATO has said it will launch air strikes
on Serbia if the Serbian side is deemed to have turned down a deal, although
no action would be taken if both protagonists rejected an accord.
- "I hope there will be no armed punishment,
so to speak, for disobeying," Sergeyev said. "God forbid. In
my view, we will then have another Vietnam in the most densely populated
region of Europe. That should be prevented."
- "The situation there is very difficult,"
he said. "However, there is confidence that more and more people are
in favor of settling the conflict by peaceful means."
- "We have achieved a situation when
the sides have actually sat down at the negotiating table and are engaged
in talks. Neither side should be allowed to leave the talks under any
circumstances before concrete results are achieved."
- Russia has spoken out repeatedly against
NATO military action against Serbia -- a traditional fellow Slav ally.
- But Sergeyev's comparison with Vietnam
-- a painful chapter in U.S. military history -- was clearly calculated
to add rhetorical pressure and underscore Moscow's strong views.
- Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov said
in Russia's second city of St Petersburg on Monday that Moscow opposed
the use of force in Kosovo, but suggested it might back sending foreign
troops to Serbia's rebel region if Belgrade requested them.
- Russian Defense Ministry officials, notably
outspoken head of international relations Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov,
have said embryonic ties with NATO would suffer if the alliance attacked
- Russia is one of the six Contact Group
nations -- along with France, Britain, Germany, Italy and the United States
-- working to close the gap between Belgrade and Kosovo's Albanians, who
form a majority of the restive province's population. One of the senior
negotiators, Boris Mayorsky, is Russian.
- U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright
is in Rambouillet seeking to cajole the two sides into an agreement. Russian
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov is in Mongolia on a long-arranged trip after
talks in Japan. He is scheduled to visit Tajikistan before returning to
Moscow on Wednesday. ( (c) 1999 Reuters)