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Monday, 27 August, 2001, 15:00 GMT 16:00 UK
Government urged to clarify mission
Soldiers from 16th Air Assault Brigade, Ghurkha Regiment, soldiers leave Skopje airport
Already 1,500 British soldiers have arrived in Macedonia
The Conservatives have criticised the government for failing to make a clear statement on the role of UK troops in Macedonia, after a British soldier was killed in the Balkan state.

As an investigation begins into the death of Sapper Ian Collins, the Tories raised concerns the limits of British involvement in Macedonia were changing.

Ian Collins went to Macedonia in the cause of peace

Geoff Hoon
Defence Secretary
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tony Blair has spoken by telephone to Macedonia's President Trajkoski to stress the importance of investigating the death and bringing those responsible to justice.

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said the soldier's death was the result of "mindless hooliganism", as the government insisted the Macedonian mission had been carefully planned.

Conservative concerns

Sapper Collins died after a lump of concrete was thrown at his vehicle by youths near Skopje on Sunday evening, before the start of Operation Essential Harvest's collection of weapons from ethnic Albanian rebels.

Shadow defence secretary Iain Duncan Smith joined politicians from all parties in sending condolences to the dead soldier's family.

But he was worried no cabinet minister had broken off their holiday to make a formal statement about the British operation, with announcements instead left to junior ministers.

"There are concerns about the way in which this operation seems to have just sort of grown and slid through without any real clear statement from the government on exactly what the limits are of the operation," he said.

Paul Keetch, Lib Dem defence spokesman
Keetch: Rules of engagement must be reviewed
Mr Duncan Smith said the parameters of the mission, including the number of British troops sent to Macedonia, appeared to have changed.

He also stressed the need for clear rules of engagement to allow Nato troops to defend themselves - a point echoed by Lib Dem defence spokesman Paul Keetch.

Mr Keetch called for those rules, and British deployment generally, to be kept under constant review.

Catching those responsible for the death was another key priority, said Mr Keetch.

"Finally, we must make it clear to both sides in Macedonia that any repeat of such an incident will put British participation in the Nato operation in doubt," he continued.

The UK government suggests the attack may have been unconnected to the peace process in Macedonia and it insists everything possible has been done to minimise the risk to British soldiers.

'Mission goes on'

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said: "Ian Collins went to Macedonia in the cause of peace.

"We have never pretended that this development was free from risk, but it would appear that his death resulted from mindless hooliganism, rather than a concerted attack on Nato troops."

Geoff Hoon, Defence Secretary
Hoon: Solider's death result of hooliganism
Britain's military police were helping in the investigation into the death, said Mr Hoon.

"We remain committed to helping the people of Macedonia seize the opportunity for peace, and will not allow this tragedy to divert Task Force Harvest from completing its mission."

Downing Street spokesman said Mr Blair, who is on holiday in France, emphasised to President Trajkoski the need to bring those responsible for Sapper Collins's death to justice.

The president committed his government to achieving that end and expressed his deep condolences.

Both leaders also reiterated the importance of completing the weapons operation and of developing the political situation in Macedonia, the spokesman said.

Balkan dangers

Former Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind warned of the risks of military operations in the Balkans.

"The British Government may feel these men and women are there purely in a peaceable role but they are in what is effectively a war zone.

"The Balkans is a very dangerous place. Whenever troops arrive they change the dynamics of the local combat situation.

"They are seen as helping either one side or the other, and one side is going to be upset."

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See also:

22 Aug 01 | Europe
Q&A: Macedonia conflict explained
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