Tuesday, March 23, 1999 Published at 23:07 GMT
Blair: We must act
A Serbian policeman in action in Kosovo
Prime Minister Tony Blair has said Nato has been left with no alternative but to begin air strikes against Yugoslavia over the Kosovo crisis.
But as the first US B-52 bombers flew out of RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire shortly before 10.45GMT, Mr Milosevic was told he could still avert military action by pulling back from the brink.
"We must now act," he said.
Mr Blair acknowledged that British lives might be lost in the raids. But he warned that if nothing was done it was "an absolute certainty" that Mr Milosevic would continue to attack the people of Kosovo.
Defence Secretary George Robertson is expected to make a Commons statement later on Wednesday about possible Nato air raids on Serbia.
The British embassy in the Serbian capital Belgrade has been closed as the threat of airstrikes in Kosovo moves closer.
Mr Robertson revealed that eight RAF Harriers equipped with laser-guided bombs and one mid-air refueling tanker plane are poised to join aircraft from other Nato countries in the event of any air strikes.
Mr Robertson said he believed the aims of air strikes would be "inside international law and achievable".
He stressed that President Milosevic could stop the raids at any time by reducing his forces in Kosovo and signing up to the Western-brokered peace deal.
Ground troops ready
He also expressed confidence that Nato ground forces in Macedonia and Bosnia could defend themeselves if they were attacked by Yugoslavia.
But he reiterated that ground forces would not cross the border into Kosovo until there was a political settlement in place for them to police.
"We will not fight our way into Kosovo," he said.
Before departing for Berlin Mr Blair spelt out to MPs the extent of the human cost of the crisis in Kosovo.
He said the 15-month conflict had already seen 250,000 Albanians made homeless while another 170,000 had fled abroad.
More than 25,000 people have been forced from their homes since the withdrawal of OSCE observers last week, he said.
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