Tuesday, March 23, 1999 Published at 18:51 GMT
UK 'prepared to act' over Kosovo
A Serbian policeman in action in Kosovo
Prime Minister Tony Blair has told MPs that the UK is prepared to take strong action over the Kosovo crisis.
Mr Blair said: "Britain stands ready with our Nato allies to take military action," which he said would be directed to "avert a humanitarian disaster" for the people of Kosovo.
Speaking in the Commons Mr Blair spelt out the human dimension to the crisis in Kosovo.
More than 25,000 people have been forced from their homes since the withdrawal of OSCE observers last week, he said.
Mr Blair said: "To walk away now would destroy Nato's credibility. It would be a breach of faith with thousands of civilians who took us at our word."
Mr Blair added: "We have no alternative but to act and act we will, unless Milosevic even now chooses the path of peace."
Leader of the opposition William Hague supported the government's readiness to act but asked the prime minister for assurances that the UK was not preparing to involve itself in a ground war in the region.
He added: "May I express our wholehearted support for the British forces who may have to take part in this Nato action ... and the families of those who may have to risk their lives."
For the Liberal Democrats, Menzies Campbell said air strikes were being made necessary by the "sickening and uninhibited violence" used by Serbian forces against civilians.
And although the Lib Dems backed the prime minister's statement Mr Campbell hoped the political aim of any air strikes would be to bring President Milosevic back to the negotiating table.
But veteran Labour left-winger Tony Benn led criticisms of the statement saying similar polices had already failed in Iraq. He warned MPs that air strikes were bound to cause casualties.
Mr Benn also accused the prime minister of not giving the Commons sufficient time to examine the government's policy on Kosovo.
Mr Blair, he said, had treated the House, "as if it was just an audience for Newsnight".
After his Kosovo statement Mr Blair is due to fly to Berlin for a three-day EU summit.
The prime minister's official spokesman has said there is no reason why UK forces could not go into action while Mr Blair was out of the country.
Any decision to begin air strikes would be taken by Nato Secretary-General Javier Solana, after consultation with national leaders.
UK Politics Contents
A-Z of Parliament