The United Nations has cleared the way for the deployment of NATO troops into Kosovo by voting in favour of the draft peace plan agreed earlier this week by the G8 countries. Fourteen of the council's 15 members voted for the plan, while China, as expected, abstained. The resolution calls for an immediate halt to violence in Kosovo and the phased withdrawal of Yugoslav forces. It also stipulates the synchronised deployment of NATO peacekeepers.

The peace process gained a substantial fillip this afternoon when NATO said that it was suspending its air offensive; this had been one of China's key demands. The alliance's Secretary General, Javier Solana, said that he was satisfied that Yugoslav troops had begun pulling out of the province. As soon as the draft gets UN approval, the first NATO troops will move into Kosovo, probably tomorrow.

President Clinton hailed the suspension of NATO's bombing campaign, saying: "We now have a chance to replace violence with peace." In Moscow, President Boris Yeltsin has welcomed the suspension of air-strikes against Yugoslavia as a step in the right direction. The Russian President wants a complete end to the air attacks and further political steps to foster peace.

In Belgrade, the Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, again claimed victory, but he added that the international force entering Kosovo, which will eventually include Russian troops, would serve peace. President Milosevic, was on television earlier, when he called for unity in advance of the arrival of international forces in Kosovo. He said that four hundred and sixty-two Yugoslav soldiers and one hundred and fourteen police had been killed during the NATO air-strikes.

Britain's Defence Secretary has warned of the risks ahead for the NATO forces deploying into Kosovo. He said they will find hazards and horrors which nobody should have to face. In Belgrade, the Deputy Foreign Minister, Nbojsa Vujovic, said earlier that President Milosevic and the Yugoslav army had succeeded in defending Yugoslavia against, what he called, unjustifiable NATO aggression. He said that Yugoslavia had won a great moral victory in its battle with NATO.

Columns of Yugoslav Army trucks have begun leaving the province and heading back to Serbia, in line with the agreement between NATO and Yugoslavia. Under the deal, Serb troops are to withdraw from the province within 11 days. In New York, the UN Security Council is standing by ready to vote on a resolution approving the entry of a NATO-led peacekeeping force, into Kosovo, to guarantee the return of more than a million ethnic Albanian refugees.

Russia's lower House of Parliament has urged President Yeltsin to sack his Balkans envoy, Viktor Chernomyrdin, for betraying Moscow's national interests in Yugoslavia. The opposition-dominated Duma argues that the agreement on Kosovo, between Russia and the G7 nations, has defeated a strategic Russian ally, and created a serious threat to Russia's national security.

Earlier, US Deputy Secretary of State, Strobe Talbott, said that it would not be possible for Russia to have a separate sector in Kosovo when international peacekeeping forces move into the province. Mr. Talbott was speaking in Moscow, where he is to hold talks today with Russian officials.