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Sunday, June 6, 1999 Published at 11:00 GMT 12:00 UK

UK Politics

Blair's hopes for end to bombing

More British troops are preparing to join the peace-keeping force

The UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has said he is hopeful that Nato's bombing of the Serbs can stop within the next few days.

Kosovo: Special Report
He said the Kosovo conflict could have been expected to continue for longer than it looked set to do.

Speaking on the BBC's Breakfast With Frost programme, he said the logistics of the Serb withdrawal from Kosovo had to be tied down before the Nato strikes could stop.

But he said: "Let us hope certainly within the next few days that that can be done."

Later on Sunday, Chief of Defence Staff General Sir Charles Guthrie confirmed that the bombing would continue, with 24 sorties today and 29 tomorrow.

"We are not going to fail the people of Kosovo," he told reporters at the Ministry of Defence's daily news briefing.

Mr Blair said he would be relieved when the details of the Serb withdrawal and the peace deal had been finalised.

And he warned that Nato still had troops and weapons in place should the Serbs not comply.

Tony Blair: "Let us hope the bombing can stop within the next few days"
"I don't think we should ever underestimate the difficulties, but I think the Serbs should not underestimate our total determination to see it through."

The prime minister said he was also hopeful that the Kosovo refugees could start returning to their country within in the next few weels.

'Unified command'

But he said there was no question of them returning under the power of Serb paramilitaries and forces.

[ image: Serbia is realising it has a future without Milosevic, according to Tony Blair]
Serbia is realising it has a future without Milosevic, according to Tony Blair
He said the Balkans region now had the prospect of a new future, one not based on ethnic conflict.

"We have the chance to offer a new future now to the Balkans. We've got to make this the turning point," he said.

On the subject of a peacekeeping force in Kosovo, Mr Blair stressed that there would be no de facto partitions, and that there had to be one unified command.

But he acknowledged the "tremendous sensitivities" Russia had about operating under Nato command, and said a special arrangement could be made to take account of those feelings.

Tony Blair: "There have been remarkably few mistakes made"
He also said that despite the demands for Serb forces to withdraw from Kosovo, some Serb troops would be needed back in the country in a "limited capacity" to help with tasks such as mine clearance.

Mr Blair said it was important to remember that the Armed Forces had achieved something "quite remarkable" in the Balkans, and that "remarkably few" mistakes had been made.

There was no such thing as a pain-free way of going about war, he said, justifying Nato's action by saying: "You cannot allow, on the eve of the 21st century, racial genocide to be carried out in the middle of Europe and stand aside."

He said the medium and long-term hopes for Kosovo were for a "proper democratic administration" elected by the Kosovo people, although an interim administration would be set up in the short term.

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