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Parliament: Kosovo: Camps would aid Serbs, says Short

CLARE SHORT yesterday rejected accusations that the Government failed to prepare for the masses of refugees fleeing Kosovo. She stressed it would have been an "appalling act of complicity in ethnic cleansing" if camps had been set up to await the Kosovo Albanians in advance of Nato air strikes.

In a statement on the refugee crisis, the Secretary of State for International Development insisted such actions would "only have assisted" the objectives of the Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.

She said: "What is now happening is a reflection of unimaginably outrageous behaviour on the part of the Serbian forces. People's outrage must be directed at the Serbian aggression and not the UN agencies struggling to cope with the crisis."

She told MPs the Government would "do all in its power to support the international effort to provide as quickly as possible shelter and food for those who have been driven over the borders". There were more than 250,000 internally displaced people within Kosovo, and a further 100,000 in neighbouring countries before Nato intervened. In recent days the situation has deteriorated. Ms Short said: "More than 100,000 people, mostly women, children and elderly people, have been driven from their homes. They are very, very frightened. They are bringing with them stories of gross brutality and killing, which forced them to leave and often forced their men folk to stay."

Earlier, during question time, Tony Blair renewed his warning that Nato forces would continue and increase the air strikes until "the job is finished". Dismissing President Milosevic's offer to start withdrawing troops from the region, the Prime Minister said: "What we have to do is intensify these attacks and that is what is happening now today. These attacks being carried out today on the actual troops repressing the people in Kosovo will inflict real damage to Milosevic's tanks, artillery and the thugs carrying out this killing and repression in Kosovo."

The Prime Minister also agreed to consider a suggestion from the Tory leader, William Hague, that the Government should at least match pound for pound money donated to help refugees fleeing Kosovo.

But he made clear the Government had already made a "massive commitment" and had promised an extra pounds 10m to the relief effort.

Mr Hague said: "This proposal for matching funds would have the advantage of encouraging many additional donations and channelling more money directly through the aid agencies and charities concerned."

In later exchanges, Mr Blair went on to attack Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, for speaking out against air strikes on Yugoslavia, saying he was "appalled" by the comments. "The claim made by the SNP that economic sanctions would work in this situation is palpably ridiculous. Nobody believes that to be the case. The only alternative is either to take the action we are taking or leave these poor, defenceless Kosovar Albanian people to the mercy of the Serb killing machine," he said.

Eric Forth, the Tory MP for Bromley and Chislehurst, was jeered by Labour MPs when he asked the Prime Minister: "How do you reconcile bombing murderers in Kosovo with releasing murderers in Northern Ireland?"

Amid uproar, Mr Blair replied: "The idea that we can compare the situation where we are sitting down trying to get the Good Friday Agreement implemented with the killing of innocent civilians in Kosovo is something that could only come from today's right-wing Conservative Party."