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Last Updated: Friday, 19 March, 2004, 15:36 GMT
British troops arrive in Kosovo
Troops from the 1st Battalion Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire regiment board a plane for Kosovo
More British troops are due to leave for Pristina later on Friday
The first group of an extra 750 UK soldiers being sent by the Ministry of Defence to Kosovo for peacekeeping duties have arrived.

The Nato request for more troops came amid continuing ethnic violence in the former Yugoslav province, which has left at least 31 people dead.

Clashes between Serbs and Albanians began in the divided city of Mitrovica.

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said the extra British deployment was expected to be only for a "short period".

The first batch of about 100 soldiers from the 1st Battalion Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire regiment touched down in Kosovo's capital Pristina overnight.

'No overstretch'

Another 200 soldiers from the regiment took off from RAF Brize Norton on Friday, with more expected to follow on Friday night or Saturday morning.

Brigadier Martin Vine said the soldiers' role would be "to suppress continued violence and reassure the population".

"The task is peacekeeping and clearly there is risk involved," he said.

The troops deployed had "huge experience" from previous operations in Northern Ireland and Kosovo.

"They know the area and they know what they are going into," he said.

Germany - 22,500
Northern Ireland - 13,500
Iraq - 8,800
Cyprus - 3,200
Kuwait & Gulf countries - 1,385
Falkland Islands - 1,240
Bosnia and Kosovo - 1,130
Gibraltar - 420
Afghanistan - 350
Other UN missions - 450
Sierra Leone - 100
Source: Ministry of Defence

"This is what they trained for and this is what they joined the Army for. It's tougher for those left behind."

Mr Hoon told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he hoped no additional forces beyond those already promised would be needed from Britain.

"This particular deployment is at the request of the commander on the ground who judges that for a short period of time he needs to increase the numbers of troops available to him," he said.

He denied any suggestion of overstretch in British forces and said it was essential they were in Kosovo.

"We need to have enough troops in place in Kosovo to calm down the two communities, to ensure the very considerable progress they had apparently been making continues," he said.

Churches set alight

"That's the task of the military and we obviously, as well, have to look at a longer-term political solution."

He added reports overnight suggested the situation on the ground was improving, although still very tense.

UN staff were pulled out of the flashpoint town of Mitrovica on Thursday because of the worsening security situation, as mobs set light to Serbian Orthodox churches and homes.

The UK soldiers will join the 17,500 strong multinational Nato-led Kfor peacekeeping force in the next four days.

Among them are the 280 British troops who were already based in Kosovo before the trouble erupted.

It was sparked by the deaths of two Albanian children, blamed on members of the province's small ethnic Serbian community.

Other obligations

The violence, now in its third day, is showing little sign of letting-up.

About 500 people have been injured, including 61 United Nations police officers and 11 French peacekeeping Kfor soldiers.

The decision to send extra troops was made by the MoD's Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Michael Walker who received the request from Nato's Supreme Allied Commander Europe.

The province is under UN administration and although it is still officially part of Serbia and Montenegro, in reality Belgrade has no power there.

The upsurge in violence is the worst since the Nato-led bombing campaign against the former republic of Yugoslavia in 1999.

The BBC's Jonny Dymond
"Nato was caught out by the violence"

Defence secretary Geoff Hoon
"We anticipate this being a relatively short deployment"

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