Milosevic Floats a Peace Proposal

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The opening bets for a Kosovo solution are on the table, and President Slobodan Milosevic's remains the hand to beat. After meeting with Russia's Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov Tuesday, Milosevic told Serb TV he would withdraw some of his forces from Kosovo and allow refugees to return if NATO stops its bombing. With Serb forces reportedly attacking an estimated 50,000 refugees in central Kosovo, Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told Primakov that Milosevic's initial proposal was unacceptable. While the Western alliance won't back down until the Serb offensive is halted and the refugees are guaranteed the right to return, NATO's unwillingness to send in ground troops will ultimately leave it no option but to negotiate with Milosevic. "There's no question Milosevic has won the first round," says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell. "Air strikes have failed to force him to accept the Rambouillet peace deal or to stop him from depopulating whole swaths of Kosovo. Domestically, the NATO attack has actually strengthened his position."

The Western-authored peace deal at the center of the standoff with Belgrade may be among the casualties of the past week's fighting. "NATO doesn't expect Milosevic to sign the Rambouillet deal now and the Kosovars also are unlikely to stick by it," says TIME correspondent Douglas Waller. "A new agreement will have to be negotiated." By launching a vicious bout of "ethnic cleansing" and withstanding six days of NATO bombing, the Butcher of Belgrade looks set to force the world's most powerful military alliance back to the drawing board on Kosovo.

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