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Monday, 27 August, 2001, 16:40 GMT 17:40 UK
Soldier's killers 'must be found'
Collecting weapons
British troops catalogue weapons handed in by ethnic Albanian rebels
Prime Minister Tony Blair has said the youths who stoned an Army vehicle in Macedonia, killing a British soldier, must be brought to justice.

Mr Blair held a 15-minute phone conversation with Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski on Monday, who apologised personally and promised a full investigation.

Such appalling incidents are simply unacceptable

Brigadier Barney White-Spunner

Sapper Ian Collins, 22, from Sheffield, died when a lump of concrete thrown by youths shattered the windscreen of his vehicle and hit him on the head.

The soldier, a member of the 9th Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers, was one of 1,500 British troops taking part in the Nato mission to collect weapons from ethnic Albanian rebels.

Nato condemned the attack as "disgraceful", but insisted it would not deter the 30-day arms mission, which began on Monday.

Rocket launchers, heavy machine guns and anti-tank mines were among an arsenal of weapons handed in to Nato troops.

Major Alexander Dick, who said his soldiers had "cracked on with the job" after the tragic death of Mr Collins, added he was "extremely satisfied" with the first day's haul.

'Disgraceful attack'

The attack on Sapper Collins took place at 1915 local time on Sunday, as he drove with a colleague along the main road towards Skopje from the airport.

The projectile caused the vehicle to crash, and Sapper Collins was taken first to a US military hospital in nearby Kosovo, and then to the university hospital in Skopje.
Sapper Ian Collins, 9 Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers
Sapper Collins was based at Aldershot

The soldier underwent surgery but died early on Monday from his injuries.

The passenger in the vehicle was uninjured.

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon described the attack as "mindless hooliganism", but said Britain remained committed to Operation Essential Harvest.

Investigation

Nato spokesman Major Neal Peckham revealed the attack was one of a number of incidents in which Nato vehicles had been attacked by youths.

A statement issued by Nato earlier Monday said that the army's Special Investigations Branch was co-operating with local Macedonian police to investigate Sapper Collins' death.
Tony Blair on holiday in France
Mr Blair phoned the Macedonian president from his holiday in France

An MoD spokesman said it was not yet known if the youths involved were Macedonian or Albanian.

Sapper Collins, from Sheffield, was single and had been based at Aldershot in Hampshire, the MoD said.

The soldier's grandfather Francis Collins, speaking from the family's home in Kiveton, near Sheffield, said: "We don't feel we can talk about it at the moment.

"It's a troublesome time, we just want to be left alone."
Monday's weapons handover included:
300 AK-47 Kalashnikov-type assault rifles
80 light machine guns
10 heavy machine guns
15 rocket launchers
20 mortars
56 anti-tank mines

Brigadier Barney White-Spunner, the task force commander, sent his condolences to the family.

"Sapper Collins came to this country as part of a Nato force to help in a mission of peace and such appalling incidents are simply unacceptable," he said.

More troops

Some 1,500 British troops are already on the ground on Macedonia, and a further 400 could be deployed, according to the MoD.

Nato commanders insist the mission will result in a meaningful reduction in weapons and is an important step towards disbanding the guerrillas.

However, nationalist elements within the Macedonian Government have dismissed Nato's planned collection of 3,300 weapons, alleging that the rebels possess an arsenal of at least 70,000 arms.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Paul Adams
"This could not have come at a worse time"
Major Neal Peckham of the British army
"Such appalling incidents are simply unacceptable"
Former Defence Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind
"The Balkans are a dangerous place"

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See also:

27 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Government urged to clarify mission
17 Aug 01 | Europe
UK troops head for Macedonia
22 Aug 01 | Europe
Is Nato's mission impossible?
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