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Monday, April 19, 1999 Published at 11:28 GMT 12:28 UK

UK Politics

Blair stresses scale of 'ethnic cleansing'

Nato insists its air strikes are working

For the most recent developments on the Kosovo crisis covered by BBC News 24 click here

Serbia intends to force all ethnic Albanians from Kosovo and will leave a massive rebuilding task, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has warned.

The BBC's Nicholas Witchell reports on the latest developments
Mr Blair again promised Serb President Slobodan Milosevic he would be made to allow the refugees to return to Kosovo.

But he stressed the enormity of the humanitarian tragedy he sees Nato fighting.

Tony Blair: The policy of racism must be defeated
"From reports overnight, it is clear that Milosevic is once again trying to empty Kosovo of all ethnic Albanians," the prime minister said.

"Each renewed act of ethnic cleansing is for me just one more reason to stand firm, to insist this policy of racism and devastation will be defeated."

[ image: Refugees must return under an international military force, Nato insists]
Refugees must return under an international military force, Nato insists
Speaking at the annual meeting of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in London, Mr Blair repeated the concessions Nato demands from President Milosevic before its offensive ends.

The prime minister said a great task of reconstruction would emerge from the debris of the conflict. Governments and organisations such as the EBRD would have a significant role to play, he said.

Ground force 'panacea' rejected

Kosovo: Special Report
Earlier, UK Defence Secretary George Robertson described sending ground troops into Kosovo as "inevitable" - but insisted they would not enter opposed.

"There is an inevitability of ground troops and that is why we've got 12,000 Nato troops in Macedonia at the present moment and why last week the prime minister announced that British troops would be augmented, because they will be required to get the evicted people of Kosovo back in safety and security," he said.

"But an opposed invasion of Kosovo at the present time still stands by the judgement we made initially - and it would not provide an overnight panacea."

George Robertson: We are making our initial strategy work
Pressed on whether Nato troops might have to enter the Serb province without the consent of President Slobodan Milosevic, Mr Robertson said the present approach would succeed.

"I was in America with my opposite number at the weekend going over the facts and figures and we are confident that we are making our initial strategy work.

[ image: Jamie Shea:
Jamie Shea: "I would never deliberately mislead a journalist"
"It is slower than we had hoped, but is going to be as long as it takes and that should continue to be the strategy we should go for."

Later, speaking at the Ministry of Defence's daily briefing, he said that President Milosevic's forces were running out of fuel and ammunition and communication lines had been cut.

The defence secretary said his opposite number in Belgrade would be "getting a cold feeling down his spine at the increasing devastation that Nato forces are inflicting on those of his country."

Confusion on refugee deaths

Brits in Balkans
The defence secretary's backing for continued air strikes came amid fresh questions over the Nato bombing of a refugee convoy.

Mr Robertson insisted there would be no cover up.

Nato has admitted the tape it released of a pilot's debriefing, describing a raid, was not an account of the actual attack, but "something to illustrate what it's like for an F-16 plane to attack a target".

Sir Michael Armitage: It was very badly handled by Nato
A report in The Express newspaper claims a British RAF Harrier GR-7 pilot warned the US bomber of civilian vehicles minutes before the strike.

The former head of defence intelligence Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Armitage said "a certain amount of ducking and weaving took place" in Nato's account of the incident.

Nato spokesman Jamie Shea denied he had deliberately misled journalists.

Jamie Shea: It has been a confusing incident
"Nato has come clean on everything and we have said we are still looking into this and we have said we will put the facts on the table and we will," he said.

"There may be some unanswered questions and that happens in conflict."

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