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Thursday, May 20, 1999 Published at 10:52 GMT 11:52 UK

UK Politics

Media ground troop obsessed - Robertson

Britain insists no split exists on the use of ground troops

Defence Secretary George Robertson has blamed the UK media for apparent divisions within Nato on sending ground troops into Kosovo.

George Robertson: We have a tendency in this country to pick over the details
The day after German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder refused to "participate in the special British debate on war theory", Mr Robertson suggested the remark had been aimed at Britain's press, rather than its government.

"Perhaps he's noticing that there is this obsession in the British media with something that most people in Nato agree on and that is that we will need ground troops to get the refugees back," the defence secretary said.

[ image: Gerhard Schröder: Rules out sending in ground troops]
Gerhard Schröder: Rules out sending in ground troops
"I think we have a tendency in this country to pick over some of these details in a way other countries don't."

Chancellor Schröder - under pressure from Greens in his coalition government, who oppose Nato's intervention in Serbia - has ruled out sending a ground force into Kosovo, unless a ceasefire is first declared.

In contrast, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair last week told the House of Commons he realised Nato had to act quickly to ensure the refugees returned to their homes before winter.

Kosovo: Special Report
The apparent difference in the statements has led to speculation of a split within the alliance.

But Mr Robertson insisted on Thursday that Nato remained united and all options would be kept open.

"We are agreed in Nato there will be ground troops involved in the end game, in getting the refugees back," he said.

"There are German ground troops in Macedonia at the present moment ready to go in with what is known as K-for, the implementation force.

[ image: George Robertson: Media
George Robertson: Media "obsessed" with ground troops
"Chancellor Schröder and all of the other 18 heads of government agreed in Washington that all of the options would be looked at.

"What he's saying at the moment is that a debate about forced entry into Kosovo is not something he's going to be forced into."

Speaking the morning after Nato hit a hospital killing at least three people, the defence secretary said reports from within Serbia indicated the bombing campaign had started to achieve its goals.

"Overnight we've had independent reports of these desertions from the Yugoslav army.

"I think that's one of the things that will increasingly happen - voices will speak out of Serb nationalists who see the damage being done by Milosevic to Serbia's future.

[ image: The air strikes are wearing Serbia down, the UK says]
The air strikes are wearing Serbia down, the UK says
"Now if Milosevic wants to drag his country towards national suicide that would require the acquiescence of a lot of decent, honest, good people inside Serbia, and I cannot believe they would want to see their country going in that direction.

"He is a dictator - he is a thug and a bully and he's been involved in genocidal killing, but there are people inside Serbia who are not like that.

"As we're now beginning to see, there are people of substance willing to step out of the shadows and to speak the truth and there are troops no longer willing to fight for what is an ethnically-genocidal war, which has no hope of victory."

But former US Defence Secretary Dick Cheney said "a terrible mistake" has been made in setting Kosovo up as a long term test of NATO's ultimate survivability.

In an interview in Scotland, Mr Cheney - who now heads the oil services company Halliburton - also said it was a mistake to exclude ground forces from Kosovo from the very beginning.

[ image: Dick Cheney: Nato has embarked on false test]
Dick Cheney: Nato has embarked on false test
The man who directed Operation Desert Storm against Iraq in 1991 said once ground troops were taken off the table, it eased the pressure on Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic.

He said: "We've in effect set Kosovo up as a long term test of NATO's ultimate survivability and I think that's a terrible mistake. I don't think we would want to judge NATO based on what happens in Kosovo."

Mr Cheney said he is also worried about the long term effect of NATO intervening in the internal affairs of another country, something which has not been done previously.

He believes this is one of the reasons the Chinese are so concerned about Kosovo, because of the precedent that has been set by NATO.

Mr Cheney pointed to Chinese concerns about their country's relationships with Tibet and Taiwan - adding: "The long term ramifications of this activity in the Balkans have not been fully thought out yet."

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