Milosevic 'Cease-Fire' Turns Up the Heat

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Politically, the Operation Allied Force just got harder. While NATO was unmoved by the Serbs' declaration of a unilateral cease-fire in Kosovo Tuesday, President Slobodan Milosevic has clearly opened the endgame. Belgrade announced it will suspend its offensive in Kosovo for the Eastern Orthodox Easter weekend, beginning 3 p.m. (EDT) Tuesday. A statement also pledged to allow the return of ethnic Albanian refugees, and offered to forge a "temporary agreement" on the region's future with moderate Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova. "There's no surprise here," says TIME correspondent Douglas Waller. "The State Department was predicting Milosevic would sue for peace sometime this week, because he believes he's achieved most of his 'ethnic cleansing' objectives."

While President Clinton dismissed the offer as a "half measure" and vowed to continue bombing, Milosevic's initiative forces NATO to define its own negotiating position. "It's easier to fight Milosevic when his troops are on the rampage," says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell. "By suing for peace he raises the political pressure on NATO to settle -- and make a bad deal. And the way this has gone for the Kosovars may make it harder for the allies to maintain their bombing campaign." Monday night's "collateral damage" civilian casualties in NATO's bombing of the town of Aleksinac may also amplify the peace-seeking urges of the doubters within the Western alliance. But with the refugee crisis spiraling out of control, cease-fire offers are unlikely to prompt NATO to accept Milosevic's "ethnic cleansing" as a fait accompli.

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