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Thursday, July 8, 1999 Published at 13:01 GMT 14:01 UK

World: Europe

'Refugees home by end of month'

The Defence Secretay was keeping to a hectic schedule in Kosovo

The UK Defence Secretary, George Robertson, says all Kosovo-Albanian refugees could be home by the end of the month.

Kosovo: Special Report
Mr Robertson, who is visiting the regional capital Pristina, said that more than 500,000 refugees had returned since the conflict ended last month.

This is confirmed by the latest figures from the United Nations refugee agency, which says that up to four-fifths of the Kosovo Albanians who fled to neighbouring countries during the recent conflict have now gone back. It says about 10,000 are returning to Kosovo every day.

BBC European Affairs Correspondent William Horsley on the UNHCR report
The UN agency has said it will hold an international conference next Monday to help plan the return of other refugees who were taken to safety in other countries

Mr Robertson said he felt an enormous sense of pride in having been able "to put things right".

BBC Defence Correspondent Jonathan Marcus: "Spontaneous applause for Robertson"
He had an opportunity to enjoy the admiration of the local population when he took a brief walk through the streets of Pristina.

He was briefed by K-For commander, General Sir Mike Jackson, and also visited British troops serving in the province.

[ image: George Robertson enjoys meeting the people of Kosovo]
George Robertson enjoys meeting the people of Kosovo
Addressing a news conference at the end of his visit, the defence secretary expressed his resolve to "rebuild Kosovo as a multi-ethnic community".

He urged the people of Kosovo and the wider region "not to dwell too much on the past" but to look to the future.

In a reference to the recent protests against the Yugoslav government of President Slobodan Milosevic, Mr Robertson said they were a sign that "ordinary Serbs" were starting to pinpoint the man responsible for the crimes in Kosovo.

The BBC's Lucy Atherton: "Mr Robertson said that he had been moved by what he had seen"
His removal, said the defence secretary, could "herald a new dawn in the Balkans".

That should not mean, he added, that people like Mr Milosevic should be forgotten once they had been removed from power. Every indicted war criminal had to be put on trial by the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.

(Click here to see a map of the situation in Kosovo)

Mr Robertson's visit coincides with a renewed debate about Nato's air campaign against Yugoslavia.

Listen to George Robertson's statement
Nato officials in Kosovo are beginning an assessment of the effectiveness of the alliance's bombing, trying to establish how much damage it really did, particularly to Yugoslav armoured vehicles.

Asked whether the Nato figures on the destruction of Yugoslav army hardware had been correct, Mr Robertson said there was always a problem with such analysis because of the physical distance between the theatre of war and his department in London.

But he was sure the amount of damage done to the Yugoslav army had been "enough".

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