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Wednesday, March 31, 1999 Published at 17:22 GMT 18:22 UK

UK Politics

Blair slaps down Milosevic's 'ploy'

Blair: Pledge to help Kosovo refugees

By Political Correspondent Nick Assinder

Tony Blair has slapped down Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's latest offer of talks, warning him that Nato is determined to "finish the job" in the Balkans.

In another robust defence of the Nato assault on Serbia, the prime minister dismissed Mr Milosevic's offer to pull troops out of Kosovo.

"I believe the attempt, the ploy, that was made by Milosevic yesterday doesn't impress this country, it won't impress other countries.

Kosovo: Special Report
"What we have to do is intensify these attacks and that is what is happening now, today.

"These attacks being carried out today on the actual troops repressing the people in Kosovo will inflict real damage to Milosevic's tanks, artillery and the thugs carrying out this killing and repression in Kosovo," he continued.

"It will keep on until he agrees to come back into line with the agreements he made last October, ensures that people are treated in a civilised way and agrees to the terms that Nato has set," Mr Blair told the Commons.

'Finish the job'

He also read out messages from Albanian Kosovars urging Nato not to back down. "Finishing the job is what we intend to do," he insisted.

The prime minister also stepped up the government's attacks on Scottish Nationalist leader Alex Salmond, who used a party political broadcast to denounce the action against Serbia.

Accusing the SNP leader of "the most muddle-headed type of thinking imaginable", he declared: "The claim made by the SNP that economic sanctions would work in this situation is palpably ridiculous.

"Nobody believes that to be the case. The only alternative is either to take the action we are taking or leave these poor, defenceless Kosovar Albanian people to the mercy of the Serb killing machine.

"I find it appalling that the SNP should have chosen that course," he said.

For the second time in a week, he faced criticism from all sides of the House of Commons over the Nato attacks. And he once again put up a strong defence of the action.

Labour's Malcolm Savidge said the tragedies of the Second World War and the horror of the holocaust should have taught people the "terrible cost of appeasing tyranny and genocide.

"Do you share my sadness that that lesson does not appear to have been learned by Mr Salmond?," he asked.

Shameless remark

Branding Mr Salmond's remarks as "shameless" Mr Blair said the Serbs had prepared 40,000 troops and 300 tanks in preparation for action against Kosovo before the air strikes began.

"They were not there for a picnic. They were there to begin the process of ethnic cleansing. It actually began, we now know, days before the Nato attacks began.

"The only right course for us to take is to learn the lessons of the past. It is not to appease this dictator but to carry on until we have brought about the proper terms of settlement," he said.

The prime minister's Commons performance was the second time he has defended the Nato action in a week.

Over this period, criticism of the action has intensified with real fears it could lose public support.

The sight of thousands of refugees being forced from their homes has added to the criticisms as much as boosting the voices supporting Nato.

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