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Tuesday, 28 August, 2001, 08:39 GMT 09:39 UK
Dead soldier's father questions mission
British soldier
British troops are involved in the Nato mission
The father of the British soldier killed in Macedonia has said his son should never have been sent to the country.

Sapper Ian Collins, 22, died from his injuries a day after being struck on the head by a concrete slab dropped on his vehicle by youths.

Despite the death, Nato's 30-day mission to gather weapons from ethnic Albanian rebels began as scheduled with the first collections on Monday.

But Kevin Collins, 44, told newspapers that Nato troops should not have been involved in a "civil conflict".


This is a civil conflict with two factions fighting amongst themselves

Kevin Collins
Soldier's father
Mr Collins, who stressed to the BBC that he was not criticising the British Army in any way, told The Times he was "immensely proud" of his son, who had also served in Northern Ireland and Kosovo.

But he added: "I don't think our soldiers should be there. Kosovo was different. A lot of innocent people were getting hurt.

"This is a civil conflict with two factions fighting amongst themselves."

Mr Collins said his son, who joined the Army aged 16, had not been too concerned about the mission.

"They were just there to collect the arms, not to stop people fighting," he told The Times.

"He was doing what he is paid to do and he had no objection to that."

'Premeditated murder'

Mr Collins also believes the attack on his son was deliberate and premeditated.

"They keep saying on television that he was killed," he said. "He wasn't. He was murdered.

"Whoever threw that concrete block knew what he was doing. It was premeditated and that is murder in my eyes."

But he added he did not expect his son's killers to be brought to justice.

An Army spokesman said it was not yet known whether the youths responsible were Macedonian or Albanian.

Sapper Ian Collins, 9 Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers
Sapper Collins was based at Aldershot
A Downing Street spokesman said Prime Minister Tony Blair had interrupted his family holiday in France to telephone Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski about the incident.

Mr Blair insisted the death should be thoroughly investigated and wanted those responsible caught, it is reported.

Mr Collins, who runs a manufacturing business and lives in Kiveton Park, near Sheffield, said Ian was "an action man who lived for the Army".

He told the Daily Mail: "Every course that was going he wanted to do - diving, parachuting, anything exciting. He was such a sporty person."

He said his son's death had caused indescribable pain to him and his wife Susan, 42.

"We're devastated. Words can't express how we feel," he said.

"You don't expect to receive such a call. We're not used to dealing with anything like this."

The couple have a younger son Lee, 21, and a daughter, Tracey, 15.

Sapper Collins, who was unmarried, was based at Aldershot in Hampshire with 9 Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers.

Arrangements are being made to bring his body back to Britain.

Collecting the harvest

The death came as Nato's weapons collection mission, Operation Essential Harvest, began in earnest.

Hundreds of weapons were surrendered to Nato troops, including a 1,500-strong British force, at mobile collection sites on Monday.

The rebel ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army agreed to the handover in return for political reforms by the Macedonian Government giving ethnic Albanians more rights.

But critics claim the mission - which is limited to 30 days and is intended to collect some 3,300 weapons - does not go far enough.

Hardliners in the Macedonian Government say it will leave more than 80,000 guns in rebel hands.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Major Alexander Dick, Spksmn for Op. Harvest
"We are here on the invitation of the Macedonian Government"
Dr Lewis Moonie, Defence Minister
"Our soldiers dont like any sort of restrictions"

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See also:

28 Aug 01 | Europe
Nato continues arms collection
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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