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Saturday, March 27, 1999 Published at 22:01 GMT


UK

Kosovo violence 'not Nato's fault'

Serbian repression began months ago, says Mr Blair

Tony Blair has insisted that air strikes are the only way to end the "brutality" in Kosovo, denying that Nato action has increased Serb violence against Kosovo Albanians.

Kosovo: Special Report

In a television interview, the UK prime minister said Nato's three-day operation was not to blame for the reported fresh massacres of the Albanian population in the province.

Mr Blair won the backing of Conservative leader William Hague, but he said that continued support for the prime minister hung on the promise that Nato ground troops would not be committed.


William Hague: "Deepest, darkest hours for Kosovo Albanians"
In a televised address on Saturday afternoon, Mr Hague said: "We owe [service personnel] and their families ... a clear sense of where this war begins and ends.

"We owe them ... an honest reassurance that we do not intend to commit them to an open-ended ground war."

Earlier, UK Defence Secretary George Robertson announced that Yugoslavia had launched an all-out offensive against Kosovo Albanians.

"Violence is widespread," Mr Robertson said during a Ministry of Defence briefing.


[ image: Refugees are fleeing
Refugees are fleeing "appalling violence"
"The Serbs are bombarding villages to the point of obliteration. We have heard that some villages do not exist," he said.

But Serbian repression of the Kosovar Albanians had begun months before the Allied operation began, Mr Blair said.

"A quarter of a million people were homeless before this began," he said.

"Not because of the Nato action but because of Milosevic's continuing programme of harassment, repression, and ethnic cleansing that he's been carrying out for months and years."

He added: "Indeed, in the few before the Nato air strikes started there were thousands of people displaced from their homes and whole villages torched."

Operation to continue

Mr Blair said the Nato operation would continue until its objectives - which he described as curbing the ability of President Milosevic to carry out the repression of Kosovo Albanians - were achieved.

"We have to see it through," he said. "The Kosovars want this action to continue.

"For these poor defenceless people, we are the only chance they've got."

He also insisted that there is unity among Nato nations, despite protests in Greece.

"If anything, the reports of repression and brutality should strengthen our unity and resolve", he said.

He insisted that Nato action must continue until the Serb leader agrees to the peace deal in Kosovo already accepted by the province's ethnic Albanian majority.

"This man is a brutal dictator," he said. "It is our job in the name of humanity and stability in the region to carry on until we have stopped him."

He added a direct warning to Mr Milosevic.

War crimes trial

"If he seeks to take action in any shape or form against the Nato forces in the region, then the retaliation will be swift and very, very severe. He need have no doubt about that at all," he said.

The UK defence secretary also accused Mr Milosevic of being a "serial ethnic cleanser", and warned the Yugoslav military that anyone found to be involved in ethnic cleansing or war crimes would be brought before a war crimes trial.

"We are meticulously collecting evidence on what is going on in Kosovo, which Serbian units are involved and which individuals are taking part," Mr Robertson said.

"That information will be passed to the international war crimes tribunal and when the time comes, these people will face justice in The Hague."

After the third and heaviest night of air strikes, Mr Robertson said the Nato campaign was making good progress.

"Make no mistake, these attacks are extremely damaging to Milosevic's war machine," he said.



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