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Friday, May 14, 1999 Published at 12:59 GMT 13:59 UK

UK Politics

Blair: My pledge to the refugees

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair writes for BBC News Online

It is no exaggeration to say what is happening in Kosovo is racial genocide. No exaggeration to brand the behaviour of Milosevic's forces as evil.

It is something we had hoped we would never experience again in Europe. Thousands murdered. One hundred thousand men missing. Hundreds of thousands of people forced to flee their homes and their country, robbed of anything of value at gun-point.

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There will be no apologies from Milosevic for this campaign of ethnic cleansing, no efforts made to avoid civilian casualties.

There will be no apologies simply because the terrible atrocities happening in Kosovo are not accidents but the results of a deliberate policy. They are designed to force the majority population out of Kosovo.

These atrocities cannot be seen, of course, because the Serbs will not allow journalists or TV crews to report what is happening behind Kosovo's closed borders for themselves. But that does not make the atrocities any less real or terrible or newsworthy.

Never forget the refugees

Kosovo: Special Report
It is why it is vital we never tire of hearing the refugees' stories. There has been some powerful reporting of their suffering, not least on the BBC. Fergal Keane and his colleagues in the region have used all their skills to convey the horror these innocent people have experienced.

But these exceptional journalists would be the first to accept that they cannot tell the whole story, that they can only touch the surface. For nothing can prepare you for the camps and the plight of these people - their fear, the horrors they have lived through as I found myself when I visited Macedonia last week.

I heard first-hand of women raped, of children watching their fathers dragged away to be shot. I was told of whole villages, their villages, torched as they were forced to flee. These refugees are the reason we are engaged in this conflict. We have pledged they will return. It is a pledge I repeat today.

Nato remains united

There are no half measures to Milosevic's brutality. There can be no half measures about how we deal with it.

He is determined to wipe a people from the face of his country. Nato is determined to stop him. And we will. We are united in our determination to right this wrong and reverse the ethnic cleansing.

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The whole of the Nato alliance is clear about our aims. They are not excessive but they must be met. We want his troops out, the refugees back home, and international military force allowed in to keep the peace so they can rebuilt their lives in safety. Until then, the air campaign goes on.

And, as Milosevic knows, the air campaign is working. The last few days have been the most successful so far. Day by day, night by night, his war machine is being destroyed.

He has suffered huge damage to his air defences. We are destroying his capacity to re-fuel, re-arm and direct the forces carrying out his vile policies on the ground in Kosovo. And increasingly, Nato is targeting these forces themselves. The equivalent of a whole brigade has already been destroyed. As the summer weather settles, these losses will grow.

We will prevail

Brits in Balkans
I take no pleasure from this campaign. Nor do the other Nato leaders. We tried hard to avoid this war. We made every effort over months of negotiations to find a peaceful solution.

But even when Milosevic was talking peace, he was planning war. He used the cover of the peace talks, entered into sincerely by others, to build up his forces so he could intensify the ethnic cleansing.

Such conduct is nothing new from him. He has been responsible for starting five wars. The consequences have been terrible. He must be stopped - and he will be.

We will keep working on the diplomatic track for a solution. But there can be no compromise on our minimum demands. There will be no fudge, no half-baked deals.

We owe it to the refugees to ensure they can return to their homes in safety. And when they do, every other would-be dictator in the world will know that the international community will not stand by and let them kill at will, destabilise a region, destroy a people. It is a just cause - and we will succeed.

Click here to read responses from BBC News Online users to the prime minister's article

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