Rose warns of Kosovo risks

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BRITISH TROOPS could end up being dragged into a war in Kosovo if they were sent in to separate Serbs and ethnic Albanians, the former head of the UN peace-keeping force in Bosnia told MPs yesterday.

General Sir Michael Rose told the Commons Defence Select Committee that air strikes were the best means of preventing further ethnic cleansing and atrocities in the province. Nato ground forces, he said, should be used instead to police the border between Kosovo and Albania to prevent the conflict from escalating.

However, if the Serbs continued to attack the ethnic Albanians in the region, Nato should seriously consider training and arming the Kosovo Liberation Army, he said.

Sir Michael, who was an SAS commander before he led the UN peace-keeping work in Bosnia, said there was a danger that any Nato force going into the region would end up being dragged into a war and acting as an army of occupation.

"The difficulty I see with Nato over Kosovo is that they are confusing what can be done by a war-fighting force with what can be done by a peace- keeping force," he said. "If war does break out again or if there is more ethnic cleansing, then the next option should be to deploy Nato in a preventative role along the border."

The border between Kosovo and Albania is only 100 miles long, Sir Michael said, and the deployment of troops would send a strong signal to the Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, to abide by political agreements. Failing that, Nato could start a "train and equip programme" for the KLA so it could take on the superior might of the Serb forces.

Air strikes should also be used before Nato ground forces were sent in, Sir Michael said.

"I would not stick them straight in straight away. That would be a hostage to fortune. Peace-keepers always end up being shot at by both sides."

Sir Michael added that politicians needed to be aware of the dangers of sending ground troops into Kosovo. "You are talking about an army of occupation and a war," he said.

His remarks were made to the select committee as part of its investigation into the future role of Nato and whether it should become involved in peace-keeping missions on behalf of the UN.