War in Europe: The View from Downing Street - What kind of Europe do we want for our children?

The Prime Minister answers those who have criticised his handling of the conflict
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The Independent Online
The Kosovo conflict is a struggle for values. It is a battle between the democratic principles of free societies and the evil dictatorship of the Milosevic regime.

Public opinion is very strongly behind what we are doing. I am well aware that there are critics too, not least this newspaper. This merely underlines my point that this is a battle of values. We defend free speech. We believe in a free press. People are entitled to criticise and question. But it is worth remembering that no such right is given to the people living under Milosevic's regime.

Equally, in the small number of incidents when Nato bombs have caused damage to civilian life and property, we regret that. These expressions of regret are genuine. The efforts we go to to avoid these incidents are huge. Again compare that with a regime which kills people as an act of policy, which separates sons from their families and rapes women in front of their loved ones as an act of policy.

That is what lies at the root of this conflict. Its outcome will also help to shape the future of Europe.

What kind of a Europe do we want for our children? I want a stable region based on justice, democracy and freedom. Nato had a responsibility to act to defend these values for the future. Milosevic's policies - based on ethnic hatred, lies and brutal oppression - belong to the past. It is worth reflecting on some of the differences between the open societies of today and the medieval world of Milosevic.

The United Kingdom is a vibrant democracy. Our press is free. Our political debate is open.

Nato itself is a free association of 19 sovereign states. Each has its own history; its own interests; its own relationship with the Balkans. But all are united behind a clear set of aims, and that unity is all the stronger because it is based on a free choice.

We are open with our media. We explain our mistakes. At every minute of the day someone somewhere in the Alliance is explaining Nato policy. We are accountable. Milosevic is not: he does not explain his actions nor feel any obligation to the demands of public scrutiny and media enquiry. His is a freedom born of a reckless disregard for democratic values. That is the selfish luxury of dictatorship.

Milosevic lies to his people: his policy of wholesale slaughter and deportation of an entire ethnic race is being carried out away from the eyes of the Serbs.

Milosevic lies to the rest of the world: dozens of officials in the Ministry of Information spend all day censoring news reports - nothing comes out of Belgrade unless Milosevic wants us to see or hear it.

And inconvenient facts are explained away: Milosevic's regime has claimed that the Kosovar refugees are paid actors, for example. His state-controlled media plays out lies about the nature and effect of Nato's campaign. Milosevic's dictatorship stifles all public debate. Political rivals are sacked, independent- minded journalists are silenced - at least one has been shot.

We respect international law. Milosevic is now an indicted war criminal, charged with crimes against humanity.

The indictment by the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague is not a political act. It is an indictment from an independent court set up under the authority of the United Nations.

It tells Milosevic that he must either face justice or forever be a fugitive. It shows the victims of his terror in Kosovo that justice will be done. It is not revenge: it is the rule of law.

The indictment is a hideous catalogue of Milosevic's offensive in Kosovo. Six massacres in Racak, Bela Crkva, Velika Krusa, Djakovica, Crkolez, and Izbica. The deportation of around 740,000 Kosovo Albanians, their persecution on political, racial and religious grounds. The murder of 385 identified people.

It describes how people were ordered to leave their homes under threat of death. They were forced into convoys herded in thousands by the Serb forces towards the borders. They were beaten and starved. Men were separated from their families and taken away to be killed. At the border, their remaining property - the little they had been able to take with them: money, jewellery, cars, even their identification documents - was stolen.

Milosevic is charged with the planning, instigation and execution of these crimes. And for failing to prevent his forces from carrying out crimes that he knew they were about to commit.

But the indictment covers only a fraction of Milosevic's brutality. Hundreds of thousands of refugees - the expelled, the raped, the widowed, the orphaned and the dispossessed - stand witness to his crimes against humanity. And we should be in no doubt that we will find new horrors when we enter Kosovo.

It is the values he has disregarded which are the basis for Nato's actions and which have united and strengthened the resolve of the international community. It is these values which underpin the International Tribunal. It is these values which will form the basis for an end to the violence and the beginning of a lasting peace.

Milosevic has no values. In Judge Arbour's indictment he is revealed for what he really is - not a statesman, not a hero, not a master tactician - but a thief and a murderer.

Judge Arbour has told many of us in the international community what Milosevic has been trying to hide from us and his people for many years. But the truth will out, and the Serb people are also discovering it. Mothers are protesting, they do not want to let their sons go back to the front nor do their sons. Desertions are running rife. Dissent is increasing. Milosevic's regime is starting to crumble.

Our campaign is succeeding. We must now hold steady and follow it through to its conclusion. Our victory in Kosovo will be a tribute to the principles that we went to war to defend.

Milosevic will not carry forward the horrors of the past into our future. The future will be built on the values Nato has defended for the last 50 years. They will endure and Europe will prosper, while Milosevic makes his date with justice.

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