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France's Role in the Kosovo Crisis

France's Role in the Kosovo Crisis

Source: French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Paris, August 18, 1999.

From the very beginning of the Kosovo crisis, France has consistently pursued:

  • a basic objective: the political settlement of the Kosovo issue, through the establishment of a status of substantial autonomy inside the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia,
  • and, equally steadfastly, insisted on a method of achieving it: unity of the Contact Group, particularly including Russia, legitimization of all action by the United Nations Security Council and use of every form of pressure, including military pressure by NATO.

At every stage of the crisis, France has adhered to its objectives and method.

1. Our efforts to forestall the crisis by settling the Kosovo issue diplomatically

In 1989, the Belgrade regime abolished the status of broad autonomy which this province had previously enjoyed within Yugoslavia and Serbia. Subsequently, tension between the very large Albanian-speaking majority of the Kosovo population and the Belgrade regime intensified.

In 1997, the unrest in Albania led to an increase in the illicit supply of weapons to the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) which had been formed in 1996. The growing number of acts of terrorism and increased Serb repression triggered the cycle of violence.

It was to defuse this explosive situation that M. Védrine and Mr Kinkel wrote to President Milosevic on 19 November 1997 asking him to establish a special status for Kosovo. No reply was received to this letter, of which M. Védrine gave a copy to Ibrahim Rugova, the Kosovars' moderate leader, the following day.

2. France played a decisive role in ensuring a united reaction on the part of the Contact Group to the first wave of violence

As soon as the first wave of violence erupted in Kosovo in late February and early March 1998, the Contact Group took up the issue. A ministerial meeting in London on 9 March decided on the first sanctions against Belgrade and issued an ultimatum to President Milosevic. The weapons embargo was confirmed by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1160 (31 March). On 19 March, Hubert Védrine and Klaus Kinkel went to Belgrade to get the Yugoslav President's views and obtained unrestricted access to Kosovo for humanitarian organizations and the appointment of a federal representative for talks with the Kosovo Albanians.

Despite some positive developments (such as an implementing agreement on the 1996 education agreement, which allowed the restitution of three university faculties to the Albanians), the number of incidents increased and S. Milosevic got his rejection of all international mediation in Kosovo ratified by a referendum on 24 April. Consequently, the Contact Group decided to freeze the funds of the Serb and Yugoslav governments (29 April).

An initial Milosevic-Rugova meeting (15 May) raised hopes of the initiation of a political dialogue, but these were jeopardized by the launch of a vast Serb offensive in Kosovo at the end of May. New sanctions (freeze on investments in Serbia, flight ban) were decided on by the General Affairs Council on 8 June, London ministerial Contact Group (12 June) and Cardiff European Council (15 June).

3. France proposes using the threat of a recourse to force to back up the diplomatic effort

The French authorities resigned themselves to using military pressure to compel the Belgrade authorities to accept a political settlement of the crisis. The French position was then very much the same as that of the US, except for France's insistence, as regards military planning, both on the need for progressiveness (to make the threat credible) and political control and on integrating NATO action into the international community's strategy. The NATO foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels on 28 May, and then the NATO defence ministers, meeting on 11-12 June, launched studies to this end.

At the same time, France was determined to safeguard the prerogatives of the UN Security Council. In July, it presented a draft Security Council resolution which led to the adoption on 24 September in New York of SCR 1199 under chapter VII of the Charter. A Contact Group ministerial meeting, chaired by M. Védrine in New York, decided to step up the pressure on Belgrade.

The Serb forces' offensive in Kosovo which began at the end of July confirmed our fears and analysis. Soon, there were several hundred thousand displaced people in the province. France was in the vanguard of the humanitarian action, presenting, for example, in cooperation with Germany, a plan for the return of refugees to Orahovac.

On 13 October, Mr Holbrooke, the American envoy, mandated by the 8 October Contact Group ministerial meeting in London and supported by the North Atlantic Council's decision to authorize the Secretary-General to launch airstrikes against Yugoslavia, persuaded Milosevic to agree to limit the numbers of Yugoslav troops and allow the deployment of a OSCE Verification Mission in Kosovo. These agreements were endorsed by the Contact Group at a ministerial meeting chaired by M. Védrine in Paris and by the Security Council (SCR 1203, passed on 24 October under chapter VII). France obtained the post of number two in the KVM, taken up by M. Keller.

Work on a draft status for Kosovo, begun at the level of Contact Group experts in July, intensified. Mr Hill, the American envoy, Mr Petritsch, the European envoy and M. Huntzinger, appointed M. Védrine's special envoy in August, shuttled several times between Belgrade and Pristina. The Contact Group, meeting in Paris at political director level on 10 December, approved a draft status, which it envisaged getting the parties to discuss directly.

4. Rambouillet: final effort to exert strong diplomatic pressure

The situation on the ground deteriorated swiftly during the winter, with Serb repressive operations in retaliation for KLA provocation and vice versa. On 15 January, the bodies of 30 Kosovo Albanians were found in Racak.

As he had envisaged in spring and then summer 1997, M. Védrine proposed to President Chirac and the Prime Minister the exertion of strong democratic pressure, "diplomatic forcing", by bringing the parties together in a specified place and cutting the negotiators and mediators off from the outside world: the place chosen was, at France's suggestion, the château de Rambouillet. The Contact Group endorsed this proposal at its London ministerial meeting on 29 January and decided to summon the parties within the following week, allowing them one week in which to conclude the negotiations, with the possibility of extending the deadline by a further week.

President Chirac formally opened the Rambouillet meeting on 6 February. The Serb delegation was headed by Mr Sainovic, Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister. The Kosovars were represented by four key figures, including Mr Rugova and the KLA leader, Mr Thaçi. Three mediators (the American Mr Hill, Russian Mr Mayorsky, and European Mr Petritsch) liaised between the parties who did not talk to each other directly. The conference was held under Franco-British co-chairmanship. Mr Cook and M. Védrine went regularly to Rambouillet to meet the mediators and parties.

On 14 February, the Contact Group ministers meeting in Paris decided to allow the parties a further week of negotiations. On 20 February, they extended this deadline by three days. On 23 February, they recorded the parties' agreement in principle on the political framework for the substantial autonomy of Kosovo and decided to convene a meeting to finalize the agreement including its implementation chapter.

Despite intense diplomatic pressure (many messages from Mr Cook and M. Védrine to Mr Milosevic), the Serbs were obdurate at the conference which opened in Paris on 15 March. They wanted to reopen discussion on the political chapter of the Rambouillet Accords and refused to talk about their implementation. On 18 March, the Rambouillet Accords were signed as they stood by the Kosovar delegation alone. On the 19th, the co-chairmen adjourned the Paris conference. A last-ditch mission by Mr Holbrooke to Belgrade (22-23 March) proved fruitless.

From that point on, the recourse to force became inevitable. After obtaining the Allies' agreement, the NATO Secretary-General, Mr Solana, instructed General Clark, the supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe, to launch the air strikes. These began on 24 March.

5. Diplomacy in support of the military campaign

France participated wholeheartedly in the military campaign: it carried out 10% of all the air sorties and 13% of the offensive missions and 20% of the reconnaissance missions. However, it made sure that it exercised strict political control over the choice of targets, particularly those in Montenegro and sensitive ones (bridges, power stations, symbolic government buildings). In our view, the aim of the military campaign was to weaken the Belgrade regime's repressive capacity.

France's firm resolve as regards the military campaign and the chosen strategy (air strikes) was matched by its equal determination to obtain a diplomatic settlement involving Russia and the UN Security Council. When Russia proposed the holding of a ministerial meeting of the Contact Group (25 March), then of the G8 (1 April), France responded positively to both these initiatives.

When the Yugoslav President announced a unilateral ceasefire by his forces in Kosovo (6 April), the Foreign Minister proposed to his Alliance colleagues in the Contact Group that they formalize the five conditions which we thought would permit an end to the air strikes: a halt to the repression, withdrawal of the troops, acceptance of the return of the refugees, launch of a political process based on the Rambouillet Accords and an international security guarantee. These conditions were adopted by the UN Secretary-General on 9 April and endorsed by the North Atlantic Council at its ministerial meeting in Brussels on the 12th.

While the Alliance was persevering with its air strategy (confirmed at the Washington Summit on 23-25 April), the diplomatic work with Russia continued. An initial G8 meeting at political director level took place in Dresden on 9 April. The appointment of Mr Chernomyrdin as President Yeltsin's special envoy for Kosovo (15 April) speeded things up. Prepared by a meeting of political directors, a G8 foreign ministers' meeting on 6 May in Bonn-Petersberg resulted in the definition of the seven principles of a political solution, which were in fact the same as the conditions laid down by NATO.

May saw the intensification of consultations between Mr Chernomyrdin, Mr Talbott, American Deputy Secretary of State, and Mr Ahtisaari, the Finnish President, authorized by the Fifteen on 17 May to represent the European Union. On 2 June, Mr Ahtisaari and Mr Chernomyrdin put to Mr Milosevic a plan based on the G8 principles. Yugoslavia accepted the plan after the Serb Parliament had given its agreement.

As France had consistently argued in discussions with its allies, the SCR was the linchpin for every aspect of the political settlement, in particular Milosevic's acceptance of the conditions and the suspension of the air strikes. On 7 and 8 June, the foreign ministers negotiated and finalized a final draft of the SCR, on which the G8's political directors had begun work on 21 May.

In accordance with the concept of sequencing which M. Védrine had advocated to his colleagues, the different elements of the settlement were implemented each following on immediately from the previous one, after the military technical agreement for withdrawal was signed by NATO and the Yugoslav armed forces (evening of 9 June): on 10 June the Alliance saw evidence of the beginning of Yugoslav withdrawal, which led immediately to the NATO Secretary-General's order to suspend the air strikes, the adoption of SCR 1244 and authorization by the North Atlantic Council of the deployment of KFOR. NATO troops entered Kosovo at dawn on 12 June, the Serb troops completed their withdrawal on 20 June (enabling Mr Solana formally to announce the ending of the air strikes) and on 21 June the KLA pledged to demilitarize.

The military and diplomatic objectives of France and its allies had been achieved. M. Bernard Kouchner's appointment as the UN Secretary-General's special representative for Kosovo crowned France's efforts to make the European Union play a key role in the administration and reconstruction of Kosovo./.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).