WAR IN THE BALKANS:Labour MPs are split on strategy

Political Reaction
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The Independent Online
MANY LABOUR MPs have growing doubts about Nato's strategy in the Kosovo conflict, according to a survey carried out by The Independent.

It suggests that Labour backbenchers are split down the middle on whether the military action against President Milosevic is "on track" to achieve Nato's aims. Twenty-six of the 69 MPs questioned admitted they were worried or dismayed by the lack of progress so far.

Although almost half of those who took part (33 MPs) insisted that Nato's strategy was "on track", a further 10 MPs said they did not know whether it was, or refused to answer.

The 69 Labour MPs answered questions on the war on Wednesday and Thursday, anonymously if they wished.

The poll suggests that concern about the strategy being enthusiastically pursued by Tony Blair extends to mainstream Labour MPs and is not confined to the anti-war campaigners and left-wingers who have spoken out publicly against the Government.

John Marek, a Labour moderate and MP for Wrexham, said: "I think we were fooled by Blair and Clinton into thinking that the bombing would work and that they had a strategic endgame, when they clearly hadn't... Nato is being very belligerent and hawkish, Blair and Clinton in particular."

Kerry Pollard, MP for St Albans, said: "I am bothered. Once we started, and I don't think we should have, we should have gone in short and sharp at the beginning."

Kevin McNamara, MP for Hull North, said: "I'm dismayed at the progress of the war - we should have gone in right at the start." Ian Gibson, MP for Norwich North, said: "I am disquieted and nobody can be satisfied with how the war is going. I thought it would be over by now."

A moderate MP with a North-West constituency said: "I think Tony Blair is being completely honest about wanting to do something. His integrity is intact. But at the moment the strategy is dishonest because the stated objectives are not achievable with the strategy that is being followed."

But Clive Soley, chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, insisted: "The action in Kosovo is fully justified. It is very important that we see it through. We cannot let ethnic cleansing happen in Europe at the end of the 20th century."

The Labour MPs questioned were evenly divided over whether ground troops should now be deployed in Kosovo; 31 agreed that they should but 28 opposed such a move ("don't knows" excluded).

Twenty-five MPs believed that Britain should be taking a bigger share of the Kosovo refugees finding a safe haven in European countries, but 33 MPs disagreed, believing the Government had now done enough. Twenty- three MPs said Nato should suspend its bombing if that would permit genuine peace negotiations, but almost twice as many (41) opposed the idea.

By a wide margin the MPs rejected suggestions that the Nato bombing allowed Mr Milosevic to speed up his ethnic cleansing campaign; 47 MPs disagreed, while 15 agreed.

Research by Andrew Mullins, Stephen Foley, Sherna Noah, Katherine Griffiths, Michelle Stanistreet, Estelle Shirbon and Jon Clements.

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