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Monday, April 5, 1999 Published at 01:56 GMT 02:56 UK


Blair: No ground troops in Kosovo

UK troops are helping with refugees' accommodation

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has rejected public pressure to send ground troops in to fight Serbian forces in Kosovo.

In two opinion polls in Sunday newspapers, people supported action by Nato ground forces.

Kosovo: Special Report
Nato is persistently being asked whether it is getting close to sending in ground forces.

The speculation increased on Sunday when it announced that it would be sending 24 US Apache helicopters to Albania together with 2,000 support troops.

The helicopters can operate in all weathers, and are specifically designed to target ground troops and tanks.

Michael Williams: "Yugoslavia has been counting the cost of its continuing defiance of Nato"
However, Mr Blair reiterated his stance on keeping troops away from action.

He said in Monday's Sun newspaper: "There is no question of Nato ground forces being sent in unless it is to police an agreed political settlement.

[ image: Tony Blair:
Tony Blair: "It is a battle we must not, and will not lose"
"What Nato is doing is making Milosevic pay a higher and higher price until he calls off his brutal commanders."

But his renewed stance on troops is not echoed in opinion polls in two Sunday newspapers.

Of those polled by Marplan for The Sunday Times, 66% of people would back the use of a Nato ground force in Kosovo, while 27% objected.

A Mori poll for the Mail on Sunday found 47% were in favour of sending in ground troops, with 43% against. Last week, 26% supported the move, with 62% against.

British troops are currently occupied with more peaceful matters in Macedonia. They are helping the Kosovo Albanian refugees with accommodation, putting up tents and making new facilities.

'Win war from the air'

Nato has insisted that given time, it can win the war from the air. A spokesman said it has already broken the back of Serb defences, and that in a few days' time things may look very different.

The increase in Nato's firepower with the deployment of the Apaches has led to Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon saying the increase in firepower is "pure and simple an expansion of the air operation".

UK to take more refugees

Meanwhile, UK Home Secretary Jack Straw has pledged to take in more refugees and the search for suitable accommodation for them had already started.

He told BBC One's evening news: "We've already taken almost 10,000 refugees from Kosovo, the second-highest number of any of our EU partners, and we stand ready to take some thousands more."

Doug Henderson: "The refugee situation is a problem which seems certain to get worse"
Supplies for the refugees are being flown out from the UK in RAF Hercules cargo planes. Macedonia has apparently agreed to a British proposal to create a sanctuary for refugees within its borders.

But Armed Forces Minister Doug Henderson has said the humanitarian challenge it immense, and does not look much like it will improve in the near future.

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