Monday, March 22, 1999 Published at 10:35 GMT
Ashdown warns of wider Balkans war
The refugee crisis is growing in Kosovo
Failing to take proper action in Kosovo could lead to a wider conflict, Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown has warned.
Concern is growing that the latest Serbian offensive aims to destroy the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army before Nato can attack Serbia.
The United States special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, is flying to Belgrade on Monday, where he will deliver a final warning to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
At least 20,000 ethnic Albanians are believed to have fled their homes in north-western Kosovo.
Mr Ashdown said air strikes could not be used in a vacuum and must have a further political aim.
Mr Ashdown said he believed the chances of that were very slim but it was a "perfectly fair military aim".
The next step was to establish an international protectorate in Kosovo through the use of ground troops to expel Serbs.
That could not be done with air strikes alone, said Mr Ashdown.
Without following up air strikes with ground troops, Nato would become an air force for the Kosovo Liberation Army, he said.
"Unless you do [send in ground troops] then what you will see on your television screens is President Milosevic using weapons of total war to achieve a final solution on ethnic grounds in Kosovo ... then you'll see a widening Balkan war."
Mr Ashdown has visited Kosovo several times, meeting with President Milosevic on one occasion.
He told Today: "It is my view that if we get this wrong, we are now on the threshold of a major ground conflict, or at least a major conflict, on the mainland of Europe.
"We're closer to that than we have been at any time in the second half of this century."
The Serbian army was the probably the fourth most powerful army in the former Warsaw Pact and the consequences of casualties had to be faced, he said.
Mr Ashdown added: "If we get that wider war in the Balkans, and Kosovo has always been the detonator to that, I can't easily see where that stops."
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