War In The Balkans: Cook: We won't fight our way in

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KOSOVAR ALBANIANS yesterday begged the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, not to allow their people to face the marauding Serbs empty handed.

The Foreign Secretary later ruled out the possibility of Nato arming the Kosovo Liberation Army, but he did appear yesterday on the same platform as the KLA's external representative, Barhyl Mahmutias.

In an emotional appeal for more help from Nato a former journalist in Kosovo, Hamide Latifi, said after meeting Mr Cook: "I want to send a message to British mothers and sisters. I hear voices - why should my son go and fight there?

"We don't ask British mothers to send their sons, we are ready to fight," she said. "We are old people, we are young people - we have people but we have empty hands. With hands in pockets you cannot fight military which is so sophisticated."

Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader, wrote to the Prime Minister last night calling on Britain and the Nato allies to start preparing plans to use ground forces.

"I believe that Nato leaders seriously underestimate the public will in this matter. Even if you are not prepared at present to commit yourself to the use of ground troops, I beg you not to exclude the possibility," Mr Ashdown told Tony Blair.

Mr Cook insisted there had been no change of policy in favour of sending in troops, but he appeared to leave the possibility open. "We will commit ground forces to guarantee a ceasefire but not to fight their way in," Mr Cook said.

But he added that in the Gulf war, there was a seven week air campaign before ground troops were sent in. "It is not our intention to put in ground troops. Even if it was, we would be doing exactly what we are doing from the air now."