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Saturday, July 31, 1999 Published at 10:55 GMT 11:55 UK


Blair: End ethnic hatred

A hero's welcome for Tony Blair

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has made a strong appeal to the people of Kosovo to put their ethnic conflicts behind them.

The BBC's Orla Guerin: "One old man hugged the prime minister like a brother."
Mr Blair told an enthusiastic crowd in the provincial capital, Pristina, Nato had fought for justice, adding that this must apply to all people, whatever their race or religion.

"I am so proud to be here in Kosovo and proud to see you back in your homeland where you belong," he said.

"We fought in this conflict for a cause and that cause was justice. We fought for an end to ethnic cleansing. We fought for peace and security for all people in Kosovo.

Rebuilding the Balkans
"We know and we can see the evidence all around us of the terrible events of the last few months and the conflict here.

"But now I believe we can see the chance for hope and confidence and prosperity for the future."

His address was repeatedly interrupted by the crowd chanting "Tony, Tony."

Visibly moved

[ image: Blair visibly moved]
Blair visibly moved
Mr Blair was visibly moved as he told them he was especially pleased to see the children there, describing them as the future of Kosovo.

The prime minister's hardline stand against the Serbs during the recent Nato bombing campaign had earnt him the applause from the Kosovo Albanians.

Several thousand onlookers clapped as he went on a walkabout.

He stopped frequently to chat and shake hands with the crowd, some of whom showered him with flowers while others held up British flags.

Mr Blair also had talks with the political leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army, Hashim Thaci, and the moderate ethnic Albanian leader, Ibrahim Rugova, as well as with Serb representatives.

Packed schedule

Ahead of his visit to Pristina, Mr Blair held breakfast talks with Macedonian Prime Minister Lubjco Georgievski in Skopje.

He was keen to reassure the Macedonians that the massive burden they have shouldered in playing host to thousands of Allied troops, will be repaid.

"As far as I'm concerned the promises that we made during the conflict when we urgently needed your help, are the promises we now must deliver with your help as required by people here in the region.

"I will work with you in partnership to achieve these goals." he said.

'A just cause'

On Friday night, Mr Blair met with British troops and praised their contribution to the peacekeeping force.

After talks with K-For's British commander, General Sir Mike Jackson, the prime minister told them: "It's a fantastic thing to be here, and to see what our troops here have achieved.

The BBC's Paul Wood: Mr Blair was given a hero's welcome
"I feel a great sense of pride. I feel that the cause was just. We now know that thousands of people were killed and treated with great brutality."

On Friday, Mr Blair also told crowds that the rest of the world should now "try to build a Kosovo which, in the end, will be a symbol of how the Balkans should be".

But he conceded: "There's an immense amount still to do. There will be difficulties along the way."

[ image: Paras ending their tour of duty in Kosovo]
Paras ending their tour of duty in Kosovo
Asked whether he was concerned about violence towards the Serb minority in Kosovo, 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."

He reinforced Britain's pledge to send 100 police to Kosovo later this year to help restore an impartial civilian security presence.

Mr Blair said 60 officers would come from the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The RUC is the only UK police force to be routinely armed and has long experience of policing a divided community.

'No aid for Serbia'

Mr Blair's dramatic dash into Kosovo followed a visit earlier to the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo for a Balkan stability pact summit.

The summit adopted a declaration that set out guidelines to promote peace and stability in the region and called on the Yugoslav authorities to "embrace democratic change" or remain an outcast.

Mr Blair stressed that Serbia could expect no aid while President Milosevic remains in charge as an indicted war criminal.

Britain is to spend millions aiding democratic opposition parties in Serbia and encouraging an independent media there in a bid to hasten his departure.

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