British soldier killed by mob in Macedonia

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The Independent Online

A British soldier died in Macedonia on Monday after he was attacked by youths, casting fresh doubt over Nato's mission to collect arms from Albanian rebels and prevent civil war.

Ian Collins, a sapper in the 9th Parachute Squadron of the Royal Engineers, was Nato's first casualty in Macedonia, and his death came on the first day of Nato's operation to gather weapons.

Mr Collins, 22, died in hospital early yesterday morning, after he was attacked while driving in a marked Nato jeep in a previously peaceful area. According to Nato officers, he was hit in the head by a lump of concrete thrown through the windscreen of the vehicle.

His father, Kevin, described the death as a "terrible waste". He told newspapers: "I don't think our soldiers should be there. This is a civil conflict with two factions fighting amongst themselves."

There was no official word as to the identity of the soldier's attackers on Monday, but the national television reported that they were ethnic Macedonians.

Questions were being asked after the death as to whether Nato has taken sufficient precautions to protect its troops. Tony Blair, on holiday in France, spoke to the Macedonian President, Boris Trajkovski, about the incident and insisted on a full investigation. "President Trajkovski expressed deep condolences and stressed his commitment to a full investigation, and bringing those responsible to justice," Downing Street said.

"The two leaders agreed on the importance of completing the weapons collection operation and making a success of the political process."

But the Tory leadership candidates Ian Duncan Smith and Kenneth Clarke called for more information on the involvement of British troops in Macedonia.

Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, the Nato secretary general, said that Sapper Collins "died serving a just cause as a member of a peace mission aimed at restoring stability in this country". He insisted the alliance would not be deterred from going ahead with its mission.

Rebels have handed over about 400 weapons so far, including heavy arms, to a French-led team in Otlja, 12 miles north of the capital.