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Wednesday, May 26, 1999 Published at 16:49 GMT 17:49 UK

UK Politics

12,000 more UK troops for Kosovo

British troops hope to help get refugees home before winter

The UK is to prepare to send up to about 12,000 more troops to help swell the ranks of Nato's ground force in Macedonia, Defence Secretary George Robertson has announced.

The BBC's John Sergeant: This will be a very serious force indeed
The move is in response to Nato's decision on Tuesday to increase the projected size of the ground force that is readying to enter Kosovo from 28,000 to about 60,000.

Nato military commanders have yet to fix the precise numbers of additional troops that will actually be sent to Macedonia.

The extra UK forces made available to Nato are in addition to 5,400 already deployed in Macedonia and the 1,600 others committed to Kosovo operations.

George Robertson: The cruelty and brutality we have seen in Kosovo will not be tolerated
Mr Robertson said the increase was necessary as it had become apparent that the task of returning refugees to their homes, plus clearing mines and distributing aid, was larger than had been originally thought.

'Not an invasion force'

[ image: George Robertson: Extra troops reflect
George Robertson: Extra troops reflect "seriousness of situation"
Mr Robertson denied the expansion was intended to prepare the way for Nato to fight its way into Kosovo against Serb armed opposition.

It was still the alliance's wish that the troops would go in as part of an agreement with Belgrade to allow the refugees to return home, he said.

"This is not an invasion force. It is a peace implementation force," he said.

Earlier Prime Minister Tony Blair had told the Commons that Nato's decision to increase the size of the Kosovo force was "significant and right".

'No credible strategy'

Mr Robertson's announcement was met with a blistering attack by the Tories on the government's handling of the Kosovo conflict.

Shadow Defence Secretary John Maples said Mr Robertson's statement did nothing to end the "confusion at the heart of government policy" on Kosovo.

Mr Maples said his party was as committed as the government to achieving Nato's aim of ending ethnic cleansing.

[ image: John Maples says Labour's strategy is not working]
John Maples says Labour's strategy is not working
But Labour's policy appeared in disarray, he said.

Mr Maples claimed the government had been portraying the forces in Macedonia to the media as the basis of a possible invasion force.

Other Nato allies, most notably the US saw things entirely differently, he said.

"Whatever happened to rapid reaction? It is nine weeks since the bombing started and only 14,000 of the troops are in place in Macedonia.

"The government clearly still believes we can only achieve our aims by the use of land troops. None of our allies appear to share that view," he said.

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook has spent Tuesday on a whistle-stop diplomatic tour of Italy, France and Germany to try to smooth over these disagreements on strategy.

But Mr Maples said that the divisions meant that for now all of Nato's hopes appeared to be being pinned on the air campaign.

"We must all hope it works. But I don't think that there is an independent military expert who believes that it will," he said.

"We cannot go on as we have for the past eight weeks. The government must develop a strategy that is credible. But I see no sign that it is and I hope that there is time for it to do so."

'From peace-keeping to peace-making'

Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown, who has called for ground troops to enter Kosovo as soon as possible, welcomed the commitment of extra forces.

He said it would give Nato the resources to make good on its pledge to end ethnic cleansing and to get the refugees home - by force if necessary.

"We have invested what until now has been declaration with the means to make it a reality," he said.

The role of Nato's forces could now go "from peace-keeping to peace-making".

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