Parliament: Kosovo - `Don't give Arkan TV-star billing'

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The Independent Online
AN APPEAL to television broadcasters not to give "star billing" to Arkan, the Serbian paramilitary indicted for war crimes, was issued last night by George Robertson.

In a statement to the Commons, the Secretary of State for Defence said: "Arkan is somebody who should be returned to the Hague, not given star billing in TV interviews." He also warned Serb commanders that Nato would report them to the war crimes commission in the Hague for the atrocities. "We know who they are, and we know where they live," he said.

Mr Robertson said public opinion in Serbia was being misled about Nato's action byPresident Slobodan Milosevic's propaganda machine. There were 1,400 "hits" on the British Ministry of Defence web site by people yesterday trying to find out the truth, he said.

Mr Milosevic's troop withdrawal offer to Nato, carried by the Russian Prime Minister, Yevgeny Primakov, showed the Yugoslav leader "is clearly rattled", said Mr Robertson. He told MPs before the Commons rose for the Easter recess that Nato had shot down four MiG29s, one MiG21, and would increase the intensity of the bombing.

Signs of strains in the bilateral support for the bombing were shown by John Maples, the Tory defence spokesman, who said there had been no success in stopping the atrocities on the ground. Martin Bell, the Independent MP for Tatton, called for troops to be sent in to provide a safe corridor for the refugees. Mr Robertson said he had considered deploying troops inside Kosovo to provide safe corridors but said such measures would "take time". He added: "We have to keep going on what is a difficult road."

There would be no increase from 14,000 troops to Nato's target of 28,000 troops until Nato moved towards the implementation stage of a peace plan. Clare Short, the Secretary of State for International Development, 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, Ms Short insisted such actions would "only have assisted" Mr Milosevic's objectives. "What is happening is a reflection of unimaginably outrageous behaviour on the part of the Serbian forces," she said. "People's outrage must be directed at the Serbian aggression and not the UN agencies struggling to cope with the crisis."

She told MPs that 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."