UK troops could be sent to Kosovo

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR today seeks to emphasise Britain's role on the international stage by saying he is prepared to send troops to Kosovo because "our responsibilities do not end at the English Channel".

In an article for The Independent on Sunday, the Prime Minister justifies his willingness to deploy British soldiers in the province by stressing the importance of the country being outward-looking.

"I will not ignore war and instability in Europe," he writes, as the peace talks hang in the balance. "If we can prevent war, we should strive to do so."

Mr Blair's clear sign of determination to deploy troops if necessary comes as ministers from the six-nation Contact Group on Kosovo meet today to decide if the talks should continue. The Group originally set a deadline of a week for the warring factions to reach agreement, but the ministers are likely to extend this in the hope of a settlement.

Britain has 8,000 troops on standby ready to fly to Kosovo as peace- keepers, and military equipment will leave for Greece tomorrow. Yesterday, President Clinton announced that 4,000 American troops would be committed to a Nato peacekeeping force in Kosovo if Serbs and ethnic Albanians reach a settlement.

If the international force is deployed it will be based on Nato's UK- led Rapid Reaction Force, led by a British Army officer General Sir Mike Jackson.

In his article, Mr Blair emphasises that the Government will only send British troops to Kosovo to police a truce. "I will not agree to deploy British troops into Kosovo itself without a clear mission and objectives based on a political settlement agreed by both sides," he writes.

Tony Blair; Leading article, page 28