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Thursday, March 25, 1999 Published at 14:46 GMT

World: Europe

Troops ready for Serb reprisals

Nato troops are on stand-by for Serb revenge attacks

Nato troops in Macedonia are preparing for Serb attacks from neighbouring Kosovo in the wake of air strikes.

Kosovo: Special Report
The Serbs have repeatedly threatened to respond with force if attacked, and the troops in Macedonia are considered the most vulnerable.

There are more than 10,000 Nato troops in the region, including 4,800 British troops.

There is an increasing fear that a reported build-up of Serb troops close to the border could lead to attacks.

The troops, under Britain's Lieutenant-General Sir Mike Jackson, Commander of Nato's allied rapid reaction force, were sent to Macedonia to go into Kosovo in the event of a peace deal being struck.

Nato commanders insist the role of the force, which includes troops from France, Germany and Italy, has not changed.

[ image: Italian troops have been sent to patrol the border with Kosovo]
Italian troops have been sent to patrol the border with Kosovo
But Italian troops have been sent to defend the border with Kosovo, as fear of Serb reprisals spreads through the border communities.

A British Army spokesman said: "Essentially we are taking a series of defensive measures and redeploying around the area.

"It's the sort of prudent measures you would expect from professional soldiers faced with this sort of scenario."

The main British base in Macedonia is at Veles, but there are also units around the capital Skopje and Kumanovo, which are close to the border with Kosovo.

The spokesman said: "We will wait and see if there is any peace agreement, and if there is our forces will enter Kosovo with agreement to make sure it is implemented.

"The air strikes have not altered our role, but it is fair to say it has concentrated minds."

[ image: Troops' role remains unchanged]
Troops' role remains unchanged
Soldiers were keeping up-to-date with events by watching satellite television news broadcasts, he said.

"Soldiers are used to waiting around. It's probably harder for the families back home, although they are able to keep in touch.

"There are telephones at various locations, they receive mail, and the 'blueys' they write home are collected regularly."

The British contingent includes Challenger tanks from the King's Royal Hussars, a company of Irish Guards equipped with Warrior armoured fighting vehicles, a company of the King's Own Royal Border Regiment, and a battery from 4 Regiment Royal Artillery.

There are also units from 21 Engineer Regiment, 28 Engineer Regiment, 27 Regiment Royal Logistical Corps, 29 Regiment Royal Logistical Corps, 23 Parachute Regiment Field Ambulance, 17 Port and Maritime Regiment, 5 Regiment Royal Artillery, 30 Signals Regiment and the Royal Mechanical and Electrical Engineers.

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