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Saturday, August 21, 1999 Published at 18:36 GMT 19:36 UK


UK Politics

Labour attacks Kosovo 'slur'

A woman faints during the reburial of 54 Kosovo Albanians on Friday

The government has rejected Conservative claims that the lives of UK soldiers serving in Kosovo are being put at risk because the Nato peacekeeping force is under-strength.

Kosovo: Special Report
The Tories had said violence in Kosovo was "spiralling out of control", with 130 murders already reported in the area patrolled by British troops.

Shadow Defence Secretary Iain Duncan-Smith said the situation has been exacerbated by a shortfall in Nato's peacekeeping forces, and called on the government to make an urgent statement.


The BBC's Eve Conway: "The government is dismissing the claims"
But the Armed Forces Minister, John Spellar, said the comments were a "disgraceful slur" on the job being done by British troops.

Mr Spellar said he had been to Kosovo to find out the facts for himself.

"I have seen for myself the situation in Kosovo," he said. "I have talked to senior commanders and our troops on the streets."


[ image: Mr Spellar visited UK troops in Kosovo last week]
Mr Spellar visited UK troops in Kosovo last week
He said the Tory comments were a slur on the "effective job that our forces are doing in difficult circumstances to help restore stability and normality to Kosovo".

"Our armed forces have the government's full support in their vital task," he added.

He also said that although conditions for the troops were tough a few weeks ago, the level of intimidation and murders had been reduced.


[ image: Iain Duncan-Smith:
Iain Duncan-Smith: "We need action not platitudes"
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said K-For had always planned for the force to be about 50,000 strong, and that was the number of troops currently serving in the region.

Mr Duncan-Smith argued that the shortfall in Nato peacekeeping forces was between 15,000 and 25,000.

He said: "If ethnic cleansing continues apace, the British troops could be facing a Northern Ireland-type situation."


Iain Duncan-Smith MP talks to BBC Radio 5 Live
Russia has threatened to withdraw its peacekeepers if conditions in Kosovo deteriorate.

Later this month recruiting will begin for a 4,000-strong multi-ethnic Kosovo police force with officers from Europe and the US providing training and support.



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