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Wednesday, May 19, 1999 Published at 00:10 GMT 01:10 UK

World: Europe

Nato strains over ground troops

UK insists ground forces could go in without Milosevic's agreement

Fresh strains have appeared within Nato on the possible use of ground troops in Kosovo, as the alliance restated its commitment to its campaign against Yugoslavia and ordered more warplanes to enter the conflict.

Kosovo: Special Report
US President Bill Clinton said Nato should stay with its current air strategy, after provoking speculation earlier by saying no option should be discarded.

"I don't think that we or our allies should take any options off the table and that has been my position from the beginning, that we ought to stay with the strategy that we have and work it through to the end," he said.

But a State Department spokesman said later that the US position remained unchanged, and dismissed suggestions that the US may join the UK in pushing for troops to enter Kosovo before a formal agreement has been reached.

The BBC's Paul Reynolds: "American officials played down any suggestion of a rift with Britain"
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said it would be "unthinkable" to launch a ground offensive to try to end the conflict, now in its eighth week.

France and Canada were also unenthusiastic about British suggestions that a ground force might be needed to bring an end to the crisis.

French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine, and his Canadian counterpart, Lloyd Axworthy, said after a meeting in Paris that Nato partners had chosen a strategy of air strikes combined with diplomacy, and that policy remained in force.

On the debate over British comments on ground troops, Mr Védrine said: "This is a discussion of a possible future decision that has not been taken at this stage."

The BBC's Barnaby Mason: Mr Chernomyrdin said he believed the positions of Russia and Nato were now quite close
Mr Axworthy said he believed the present strategy to be successful, adding "we are on the right track".

For its part, the UK denied on Tuesday that it had become isolated within the Nato alliance over its stance on ground troops.

Defence Secretary George Robertson insisted that ground forces could in certain circumstances go into Yugoslavia without the agreement of its President, Slobodan Milosevic.

He said it was "always part of the endgame" in Nato's strategy, but reiterated the UK's position that troops would not be used for an invasion.

Nato 'unshakeable'

The BBC's George Eykyn reports on Tony Blair's trip to Europe's poorest country
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, on a visit to Albania, told western troops stationed at Plepa that Nato's commitment to Kosovo was "unshakeable", and said the alliance would not rest until the campaign was successful.

He also visited a refugee camp in central Albania, where he was given a warm welcome.

He told the refugees: "Our promise is that you should return in peace to the land that is yours."

[ image: Tony Blair told the refugees they would be able to return in safety]
Tony Blair told the refugees they would be able to return in safety
A BBC correspondent in Albania said Mr Blair did not specifically mention ground troops, but that the tone of his address was hardline.

As Mr Blair underlined Nato's commitment to a continued offensive against Yugoslavia, the alliance said a further 90 warplanes would be deployed to put more pressure on Belgrade.

Nato spokesman Jamie Shea said: "Eighteen A-10s will be deployed in Italy, due to be there by 20 May, and 72 F-15s and F-16s will be deployed to Turkey, due to be operational on the last day of this month."

Despite the signs of Nato preparing to boost its firepower against Yugoslavia, Russian envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin was expected in Belgrade on Wednesday for talks with President Milosevic, according to the independent Beta news agency.

[ image: Mr Chernomyrdin is reportedly scheduled to meet President Milosevic]
Mr Chernomyrdin is reportedly scheduled to meet President Milosevic
Mr Chernomyrdin was in Helsinki on Tuesday for talks with US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari in an attempt to draw up a common position on a political solution to the Kosovo crisis.

BBC Diplomatic Correspondent Barnaby Mason says the two sides agree that Serb forces should withdraw from Kosovo, but not on the composition of an international military force and the role of Nato within it.

UN resolution

On the other side of the present diplomatic initiative is the effort to embody the principles for a peace settlement in a United Nations Security Council resolution.

Diplomats from the G8 nations, including Russia, will meet in Bonn on Wednesday to work on a draft text for the resolution.

After talks in Italy with Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema, Germany's Chancellor Schröder said: "I hope there will be a UN resolution ... after that we will have to discuss whether or not a suspension of the bombing can be considered."

The BBC's Nick Thorpe: "The return of the two Serbs had been widely expected"
Mr D'Alema, who like Greek government leaders has called for a temporary halt to the bombing, said the Security Council had to play a central role.

In what the US described as a humanitarian gesture, it handed back two Serb prisoners of war to Yugoslavia.

The men, who were being held in Germany, were flown to the Hungarian capital, Budapest, before being transferred to the Yugoslav border.

Other top stories
  • Refugee train allowed out of Kosovo
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