Assault On The Serbs: British say: `We're right behind action'

The View on the Street
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The Independent Online
A YEAR ago many Britons had never heard of Kosovo. Even now few can locate it on a map with ease. Yet members of the public not only back the military action against Serbia but are well-informed about the issues.

Reporters on The Independent asked figures from a variety of fields - including science, technology, medicine and criminal justice - for their views on the bombing offensive, which entered its third day yesterday. People on the streets were also questioned at random. The results show a unexpected level of support for the air strikes, albeit qualified support in many cases.

Typical were the views of Cliff Dixon, an Automobile Association patrol manager based at Thatcham, Berkshire. "We have exhausted all other avenues, so I agree with the bombing." Miles Hayes, who works for a computer software company in London, said he believed Britain was duty-bound to protect the Albanian victims of Serb aggression in Kosovo.

"As a civilised nation and Nato member, we have a responsibility to safeguard the health and welfare of others," said Mr Hayes, 31.

"You can't just sit back and do nothing. But I'm not a militarist or a politician, so I don't know whether these actions are the correct or the best means."

Mick Roe, a prison officer at Bulwood Hall, Essex, said that avoidance of military action would have sent the wrong signals. "I feel that if Nato didn't act, it would give a green light for any larger country to invade and take over a smaller one," he said. Despite the long and complex history of ethnic conflict in the former Yugoslavia, many people appear to have at least a broad grasp of the background to the bombing raids.

Some of those questioned frankly admitted their ignorance. Colin Pillinger, professor of astronomy at the Open University, said: "I understand a certain amount, but I don't pretend to make head or tail of the whole issue. It's a complete muddle."

Others drew the obvious comparison with the most recent military target of the Western allies: Iraq. Brian Kingsman, a taxi-driver, said: "Slobodan Milosevic is another Saddam Hussein. He's an evil man who is putting two fingers up to everyone else." But most people identified the aim of the military action as protecting the Albanians, even if their understanding of the status of Kosovo - a Serb province - was not entirely clear.

Mr Dixon, the AA patrol manager, said: "The Serbs won't leave a smaller nation alone, a country that can't defend itself. We are there to protect the people that are being bullied."

Jonathan Gill, a helicopter pilot, described the Nato offensive as "a humanitarian action against genocide and discrimination against the Albanians in Kosovo."

Mr Kingsman, the taxi-driver said: "It's about `ethnic cleansing' and people being made homeless."

James Eldred, a psychiatrist, outlined the scenario as he sees it: "The Serbs, led by Milosevic, are determined to hang on to Kosovo. The world community is saying Kosovo should be allowed to decide its own future without any military threat. Now the talks have broken down, we are going to remove his military power in an attempt to bring him back to the negotiating table."

Some people questioned did express reservations about the Nato action, and the decision by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament to stage an anti- war demonstration today suggests there is a substantial body of opposition. Bob Leonard, a cancer specialist at the Western General Hospital, Edinburgh, said: "Morally it may be the right thing, but pragmatically it may be a bad thing. My heart goes one way and my head the other."

Lewis Wolpert, professor of biology at University College London, expressed doubts about the likely success of the action. "Whether it will stop the `ethnic cleansing' or not I don't know. It may get worse."

Barry O'Doherty, a probation officer in Merseyside, said: "I don't support the action because I don't believe that simply bombing that country is going to resolve any of the complex issues.

"This is gunboat diplomacy. The war in Iraq did not resolve any of the issues, ultimately. It didn't remove Saddam and it didn't help the Kurds.

"This action in Serbia will come back to haunt them in a different guise."