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Monday, March 29, 1999 Published at 17:21 GMT 18:21 UK

UK Politics

Nato strategy a 'mistake' - Owen

Air strikes alone was the West's "single greatest mistake"

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The former European Community's peace mediator Lord Owen has said air strikes alone on Serb forces were Nato's "greatest single mistake".

Lord Owen on Panorama: "Milosovic has judged he can withstand air strikes"
He tells BBC's Panorama on Monday night the threat of ground action in conjunction with air attacks would have forced Serb President Slobodan Milosevic to sign a peace deal.

"The greatest single mistake over Kosovo was to threaten him only with action," said the former foreign secretary and EC peace envoy to the region between 1992 and 1995.

"He has judged events will turn out - whether he is correct or not - that he can withstand air action.

Kosovo: Special Report
"But if we had amassed troops in Macedonia and built up troops in Bosnia, perhaps brought them into a few other countries and looked as if we were ready to move in on the wake of air strikes on the ground into Kosovo, he'd have taken that seriously. He'd have known that was a serious strategy, he'd have known he would have been defeated and he'd have sued for peace."

He said that western leaders like US President Bill Clinton had misjudged Milosevic.

[ image: Lord Owen: '
Lord Owen: '"Ethnic cleansing" was "predictable"
"They don't seem to understand that you cannot deal with a terrorist brigand paramilitary force type ground operation from the air and they keep on believing that you can avoid the consequences - which are of course damaging - of putting ground forces in," he said.

He added that the recent policy of so-called ethnic cleansing imposed on Kosovo Albanians was a "predictable and predicted outcome of air strikes".

The only way to stop the systematic purge of thousands of people from their homes was for Nato to send in ground troops. "They show, unfortunately, no signs of doing that," he said.

'More harm than good'

Looking back, Lord Owen said believed that Western intervention in the wars that plagued the Balkans this decade has done "more harm than good".

"I think really now seeing what's happened in Kosovo and all-out war between Nato and Yugoslavia , you've got to ask yourself - has this really been a failure?"

His comments came as Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond become the first leading politician to voice serious doubts about military action in Serbia.

In a televised address to the Scottish people, Mr Salmond attacked the Nato offensive as counter-productive.

He said: "It is an act of dubious legality, but above all one of unpardonable folly."

The Prime Minister Tony Blair strongly defended Nato's action and, in a statement to the House of Commons, denied it had lead to atrocities against Kosovo Albanians.

Lord Owen's interview is broadcast on Panorama at 22.00 BST on BBC1 on Monday 29 March.

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