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Wednesday, September 30, 1998 Published at 09:02 GMT 10:02 UK

World: Europe

Ashdown accuses Serbs of ''medieval barbarity''

Villages have been burnt to the ground

The leader of Britain's Liberal Democrat party, Paddy Ashdown, has warned Serbia that air strikes are imminent unless it stops attacks in Kosovo.

David Loyn: "Village after village burns"
The Liberal Democrat, an ex-Royal Marine, met Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic on Tuesday after witnessing Serb attacks in Kosovo the previous day.

He said he saw Serbs flout UN peace calls by using "weapons of total war against defenceless villagers" and he accused Serbia of involvement in acts of "medieval barbarity".

Mr Ashdown said the Serbian action was a scorched earth policy that might legally be considered genocide.

He said he had assurances from Mr Milosevic that the campaign was over.

"Systematic looting"

Mr Ashdown warned that air strikes could follow within two weeks if the fighting did continue.

Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo are fighting for independence but have been met with the full might of the Yugoslav armed forces.

[ image: Paddy Ashdown finds shrapnel in Suva Reka]
Paddy Ashdown finds shrapnel in Suva Reka
Mr Ashdown said: "The activities I witnessed in the Suva Reka area are not a response to terrorism which a civilised nation should be allowed to, or should wish to take.

"Villagers are required to move, then there is heavy shelling and a very systematic looting of the valuables from each house.

"The booty is then driven away before the villages are set on fire."

The UN Security Council last week ordered Mr Milosevic to seek a ceasefire and open talks with the ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo. Nato has stepped up plans for air strikes.

Mr Milosevic said the campaign against Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas was over.

But Mr Ashdown said he saw continued action in Kosovo at the same time as a Serbian announcement on withdrawing forces was being made in the Yugoslav parliament.

Mr Ashdown said it was important not only that the offensive had finished but that refugees should be allowed to return to their homes.

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