Extra troops to be sent to Kosovo

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Britain is to send 170 troops and two helicopters to Kosovo to engage in surveillance and intelligence work, amid growing concerns over the stability of the former Yugoslav province.

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon announced the deployment of two Gazelles and personnel from the Phoenix battalion of the Royal Artillery.

The announcement follows weeks in which extremists in Kosovo have been suspected of using tension between ethnic Albanians and Serbs to spark violence in towns like Mitrovica.

There have also been suspicions that Kosovan independence fighters have been launching raids across the border into Serbia.

Mr Hoon told Breakfast with Frost: "I will be sending two Gazelle helicopters with surveillance equipment, together with 170 personnel of the Phoenix battalion, whose job it will be to provide information and intelligence to KFOR troops.

"A number of countries are looking at how they can increase their commitment. Our contribution will be in this specialist role. Getting more information and intelligence about what is going on is vital to our job there."

Mr Hoon said he was unable to predict how long British troops would be involved in Kosovo, saying that they would have to stay "as long as it takes" to stabilise the security situation.

He acknowledged that there had been problems with Allied cluster bombs left over from last year's campaign being triggered by Kosovans as they return to their homes, but was unable to confirm numbers of dead and injured.

The MoD was investigating the use of alternative weapons, such as the Harrier-launched Maverick anti-tank missile, in order to minimise the need to use the indiscriminate cluster-bomb technology, he said.