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Tuesday, May 11, 1999 Published at 08:23 GMT 09:23 UK

UK Politics

Tories criticise air strikes

Air strikes are continuing against Serbia

The government is coming under increasing criticism for the campaign of air strikes against Serbia.

Kosovo: Special Report
The cross-party consensus on Nato's action against President Slobodan Milosevic's regime appeared to be weakening during a statement by Foreign Secretary Robin Cook in the House of Commons on Monday.

And Shadow Foreign Secretary Michael Howard has since continued to reflect the growing unease felt by both Tory and Labour backbenchers about the conflict.

Mr Howard told the BBC on Tuesday that seven weeks into the offensive a humanitarian disaster in Kosovo had not been averted.

He said: "I am criticising the conduct of the war.

[ image: Michael Howard:
Michael Howard: "An astonishing state of affairs"
"The bombing of the Chinese embassy was an act of gross incompetence. To use out of date street maps on an operation of this kind beggars belief.

"And when, for example, it takes five weeks into the bombing before Nato's politicians ask their staffers to tell them whether an oil embargo would be legal and if so how can they can impose one - that is an astonishing state of affairs."

Michael Howard: To use out of date street maps beggars belief
Mr Howard said his party supported Nato's decision to intervene and its original objectives but it was the opposition's duty to scrutinise the government.

"It is our duty as an opposition to take up those criticisms, to examine them and to ask the government to respond to them.

"The trouble is the government wants a blank cheque. It takes any reasoned criticism as a personal affront and that simply won't do."

[ image: Robin Cook: Military campaign must continue]
Robin Cook: Military campaign must continue
Earlier, Mr Cook said the military campaign was having an impact but it had never been going to be an "overnight success".

"What is very important is to demonstrate the resolve and the determination to complete the task, and that task will never be completed until we secure the return of the refugees under our protection.

Robin Cook: We must keep up the military pressure
"It's terribly important that we don't say 'ok, it's been seven weeks that's too long, now we give up, now we stop'.

"Nobody would want to hear that more than President Milosevic."

Mr Cook said the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, had written to his Chinese counterpart to apologise for the bombing of the embassy in Belgrade.

Brits in Balkans
Three people died in the attack during Friday's air strikes.

The foreign secretary said: "There's no disguising that the destruction of the Chinese embassy was a tragic error and Nato has expressed deep regret and Prime Minister Tony Blair has sent our sincere condolences to the Chinese government of the Chinese people for what happened.

"But we have to be honest about this, there has never been a war without mistakes. To insist there should be a war without mistakes is an impossible demand to make."

Air strikes have continued despite Yugoslavia announcing a partial withdrawal of forces from Kosovo.

Mr Cook said: "I would like to see a settlement now, I would like to see a diplomatic solution.

"But I can tell the best way of assuring that we can't get that solution is for us now to ease the pressure on President Milosevic.

"If you want a diplomatic settlement then we must keep up also the military pressure, it's the only basis on which President Milosevic will recognise the need to allow the refugees back and international protection."

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