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Friday, October 2, 1998 Published at 09:31 GMT 10:31 UK

Halt the killings, UK tells Serbia

British warplanes could soon be in action over Serbia or Kosovo

Defence Secretary George Robertson has issued a stark warning to Serbia over the Kosovo killings: "Pull your troops out or face air strikes."

"Stop the violence, the cold-blooded murders of innocent civilians, return your sinister troops to barracks, let the people return to their homes in safety and start negotiating a political settlement," he told President Slobodan Milosevic.

[ image: Warning to Serbia: George Robertson]
Warning to Serbia: George Robertson
In a tough-talking address to Labour's annual party conference, Mr Robertson said military planning for strikes was almost complete.

He hailed the benefits of the wide-ranging Strategic Defence Review announced in the summer.

And he said the modernised British armed forces would be playing an invaluable role in backing up the threat to Serbia as well as other troubled areas.

Bully-boys face blitz

The defence secretary said there had been only one question put to him in Blackpool this week: what was he doing to stop the violence in Kosovo?

He told delegates: "Of course - and we would be wise to keep it in mind - the answer is complicated by the terrain of the country, the ferocity of the fighting of both sides, the Serbian air defences, and the need for clear political objectives.

"But the bully boys in Serbia should not make the serious mistake of ignoring the UN.

"If you [President Milosevic] don't, and if you won't, and if you defy the will of the UN, then Nato, with Britain playing its full part, will act decisively in the only way that you ... seem to respect."

"We're ready to act, so if you're listening in Belgrade, listen now and realize the clock is ticking for you."

New centre for peacekeeping expertise

Mr Robertson's speech also encompassed the creation of a new peacekeeping centre in the planned Joint Defence Centre for British forces.

This would act as a centre of excellence for peacekeeping operations, drawing on experts from the military, government organisations and outside agencies.

It would be "recognised internationally" and help the world community react quicker to crises, he said.

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