Parliament & Politics: Kosovo - Treasury reserves forced to foot pounds 43m-plus war bill

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The Independent Online
DEFENCE SECRETARY George Robertson yesterday claimed a victory over the Treasury by forcing the Chancellor Gordon Brown to take the cost of the Kosovo war out of his reserves, avoiding it hitting the defence budget.

Mr Robertson told the Commons select committee on defence the Kosovo conflict had already cost pounds 43m and it was likely to go much higher. There were likely to be "very substantial" costs involved in securing the peace in Kosovo with a continuing military presence.

The cost of replacing Britain's arsenal of Cruise missiles fired at Serb targets was not revealed because, the Defence Secretary said, there was a continuing threat from the Serb leader Slobodan Milosovic.

Alan Milburn, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, has been in negotiations with Mr Robertson about the war and earlier announced that he would accept pounds 10m on the Treasury budget, pending further talks in Cabinet.

Mr Robertson has now won the battle, although the Treasury has a reputation of taking back with one hand what it gives with the other. The Defence Secretary made it clear there would be detailed arguments over the replacement cost of some of the weapons fired in Kosovo and Serbia.

"I can tell you that the Treasury have agreed that they will cover the net additional costs in this operation. That, I believe, is the right view that the committee would approve of," he said. "The Treasury will obviously look searchingly at the figures we put up."

The Chief of Defence Staff, Sir Charles Guthrie, told the committee the first British peacekeeping troops in Kosovo could start returning home in the autumn. General Guthrie later admitted Nato did not know how many Serb tanks had been hit by its warplanes, but rejected a report yesterday that the air campaign had failed by allegedly knocking out just 13 tanks. He believed the bombing was the "principal cause" of President Slobodan Milosevic's capitulation. "Mathematics isn't everything. I have never been fixed on figures. It isn't necessarily a case of killing or knocking out tanks," he said.

The Tories stepped up their demands for a public inquiry into Nato's conduct during the war. Shadow Defence Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said: "Only a public inquiry can help us learn the lessons about the war and to help avoid making similar mistakes in the future."

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