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Wednesday, May 12, 1999 Published at 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK

UK Politics

Blair defends Nato's war

Chinese troops march past the British embassy in Beijing

Tony Blair has defended Nato from charges of bungling, as the Ministry of Defence says no signs exist of a Serb withdrawal from Kosovo.

The prime minister has seen parliamentary concern over the air offensive grow markedly since the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.

Mr Blair hit back on Wednesday, insisting no war had could be fought without mistakes and civilian casualties.

[ image: Tony Blair:
Tony Blair: "The error-free war does not exist"
"If people want a war, without any mistakes, any civilian casualties, any errors that are made, then that is not a very realistic assessment of war," he said, in a GMTV interview.

At the daily Ministry of Defence briefing the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence, John Spellar, said people should not lose sight of Nato's objectives.

"The one thing we must never forget is that the Kosovo people and their plight are the reason for our campaign.

"Milosevic has offered a partial withdrawal of his troops, but would refugees return to an area where there are tens of thousand of his troops?"

Kosovo: Special Report
Military staff added that their intelligence provided no indication that President Slobodan Milosevic had actually began to remove any of his forces from Kosovo.

On the 49th night of the air campaign, more than 600 sorties were flown by Nato, the briefing heard.

Targets hit included six road bridges, a railway bridge, tanks, trucks, artillery, armoured personnel, command posts and anti-aircraft positions.

Mr Spellar maintained the air campaign was making progress towards forcing President Milosevic to accept Nato's demands.

[ image: The air offensive is working, the Ministry of Defence insists]
The air offensive is working, the Ministry of Defence insists
The allies insist Serbia must withdraw all its forces from Kosovo and allow the return of the displaced refugees under an international military force led by Nato before it calls a ceasefire.

"The air campaign is making a significant and increasing impact on the military ability of the Serb forces," Mr Spellar said.

"There should be a realisation in Belgrade that they cannot win in this conflict.

"We believe that realisation is coming home to the Yugoslav leadership and we looking to them to accept the demands of the international community."

Conservative leader William Hague later hit back at the accusation his party's criticism of the government would undermine troop morale.

"We think that it is legitimate and indeed important, that it is the duty of the opposition, to ask certain questions about it [the conflict], because we want to see it successfully prosecuted, because we want to see it brought to a successful conclusion," he said.

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