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Tuesday, April 6, 1999 Published at 08:15 GMT 09:15 UK

UK Politics

Kosovo strategy questioned

John Major visiting troops in Bosnia in 1992

Kosovo: Special Report
Nato should have prepared for Kosovan refugees before it began bombing Serb forces, former UK Prime Minister John Major has said.

Ruling out sending in ground forces was also a tactical error, he insisted.

Mr Major, who was prime minister during the Bosnian and Croatian wars, said it was "self-evident the bombing would create refugees".

John Major on BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We could have foreseen the crisis"
His comments came after the 13th night of aerial bombardment aimed at forcing Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to stop his actions in the Kosovo province.

During the same period, a mass exodus of about 400,000 people have fled, many Kosovo Albanians alleging brutality at the hands of Serb soldiers.

[ image: A Serb woman outside her home after the 13th night of bombing]
A Serb woman outside her home after the 13th night of bombing
Mr Major said: "We could have foreseen the refugee crisis and put troops on the Albania-Macedonia border as a warning to Milosevic, even if we were not prepared to use them for good military reasons."

Camps to provide shelter and food to refugees should also have been set up in countries neighbouring Kosovo, such as Albania and Macedonia, he said.

UK International Development Secretary Clare Short has previously said it would have been "an appalling act of complicity in ethnic cleansing" to have prepared for the refugee exodus.

But Mr Major suggested Nato's actions had accelerated the conflict on the ground, while giving President Milosevic "carte blanche" to pursue his strategy safe from the prospect of a ground force.

Mark Almond and former Labour leader Michael Foot debate the response on Today
Oxford University Balkan specialist Mark Almond, the author of a book on the causes of war in Bosnia, backed this view.

"I think this is the enormous tragic blunder that the situation was not nearly so bad before we got involved," he said.

"I'm afraid it's very difficult to get away from the feeling this is a war being run by spin doctors rather than strategists.

"We're constantly told, don't blame us Milosevic is criminally responsible.

"But the point is there has been, if you like, criminal irresponsibility on the side of Nato and the western governments. They didn't think their own rhetoric through.

[ image: Nato leaders are accused of running a
Nato leaders are accused of running a "war by spin doctors"
"They said before this started they were convinced the Serb authorities were capable of the most awful ethnic cleansing and we have seen that happen. Why was there no preparation to receive refugees?"

Mr Almond went on to question whether these same people could be counted upon to plan for future obstacles.

"We have to ask ourselves, will the people who blundered into this conflict think through the necessary measures or will we see further mistakes?"

Mr Major also urged Nato leaders to look to the longer term issues.

"The belief that the moment the bombing is over they [the refugees] would all simply be able to return to Kosovo is fanciful," he said.

"Even when it is practicable for them to go back, it is very hard to see that they could go back without some sort of guarantee from Nato."

Former Labour leader Michael Foot also questioned the wisdom of the Nato strategy, though he insisted air attacks must go on.

"But there must be readiness to have ground troops," he said. "That should have been accepted before."

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