Kosovo reckoning: Blair flies into Pristina to tell the troops: 'This was a just conflict'

TONY BLAIR arrived in Kosovo last night for his first visit since the liberation of the province, bearing the promise of a new "Marshall Aid" plan of economic regeneration. He went to Pristina after the Balkan stability summit in Sarajevo of 40 states and 17 international organisations.

Sitting in the jump seat of an RAF Puma helicopter, the Prime Minister flew low over burned out houses and gutted buildings to see for the first time the devastation wrought across the province.

Mr Blair, casually dressed in an open neck shirt, chatted informally with soldiers as helicopters roared overhead.

"I feel a great sense of pride. I feel that the cause was just. We know that thousands of people were killed and treated with great brutality," he said.

He called for the world to rebuild Kosovo as a "symbol of how the Balkans should be" but conceded that there would be "difficulties along the way".

Asked about the recent violence towards the Serb minority, the Prime Minister replied: "We fought this conflict because we believe in justice, because we believed it was wrong to have ethnic cleansing and racial genocide here in Europe towards the end of the 20th century and we didn't fight it to have another ethnic minority repressed."

Mr Blair was met by General Sir Mike Jackson, the British commander of Nato's Kosovo force, and David Slinn, the new British representative in Pristina before joining the soliders at the K-For headquarters.

He later dined with the general and Bernard Kouchner, the United Nations administrator for Kosovo but, for security reasons, flew out to spend the night in Macedonia.

He is to return to Kosovo today when he will announce that 60 Royal Ulster Constabulary officers are to be sent out to help keep order in the area. They have been chosen because, unlike mainland police, they are accustomed to carrying weapons and working with divided communities.

Mr Blair will also hold talks with Hashim Thaci, leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army, his political rival, Ibrahim Rugova, and leaders of the Serbian community. Mr Blair is also expected to meet the people during a walkabout in the centre of Pristina and at a ceremonial tree-planting.

He can be certain of a rapturous reception from the Kosovo Albanians, who regard him as being responsible, more than any other Western leader, for delivering them from the regime of Slobodan Milosevic. Among the Kosovar intelligentsia Mr Blair is also seen as someone who can resolve an increasingly tense and violent situation in the province.

Mr Rugova, vilified by the KLA for his relative moderation in dealing with the Serbs, stayed away for six weeks in self-imposed exile after the Nato entry into Kosovo because, it is said, he feared for his safety.

His return is seen as a British diplomatic triumph and provides an alternative focus for those Kosovars who are increasingly apprehensive about the activities of the KLA and their supporters. Yesterday afternoon Mr Rugova was said to be still worried about his safety and was in talks with British diplomats.

The KLA, which has signed a demilitarisation agreement with Nato, has been accused of intimidating not only Serbs but also, on occasions, Albanian political opponents.

There is a perception in Pristina that Mr Thaci and his party had been "adopted" by the US as heir apparents in Kosovo. His relationship with the American Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, who was in Kosovo on Thursday, is said to be particularly close.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there