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UK insists Nato bombing over Kosovo justified

LONDON, Mar 16, 2000 -- (Reuters) British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said on Wednesday that critics of last year's NATO bombing of Yugoslav targets were trying to rewrite history.

Cook, defending NATO's record one year after it unleashed its aerial assault, said he was proud of its action after a wave of massacres and expulsions of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

Yugoslav troops in the province carried out appalling humanitarian crimes, Cook said, and Western governments found themselves under huge pressure to respond.

"If we had we not acted, that Serb offensive of the spring would have carried on, would have accumulated daily tolls," he told reporters.

Cook said he was prompted to set out his justifications for NATO's 11-week-long campaign, launched on March 24 last year, "because there is...a rewriting of history in which the Serb offensive starts after the NATO bombing.

"Both at the time and now I am absolutely clear that we were right to intervene. We were right to act," he said.

Critics of the NATO campaign have questioned its legality without specific U.N. backing. Others said that by sticking to high-level bombing, NATO failed to halt ethnic cleansing and may have prompted Serbs to accelerate their actions.

European Union states have also come under fire for not giving more aid to help Kosovo rebuild after Serb forces withdrew in June last year.

WEST MUST AVOID "CANTONISED" KOSOVO

Cook said Kosovo had seen the fastest and most successful programme of refugee returns in Europe since World War Two, with 800,000 people returning from camps and getting assistance to deal with devastated homes and crops.

Cook said a priority for the international administration in Kosovo was to avoid "cantonisation", pointing to the divided city of Mitrovica where violent clashes broke out on Wednesday.

Mitrovica, an industrial city, has suffered de facto partition since the international community assumed control of the Yugoslav province of Kosovo last June.

Cook said it was important that NATO-led KFOR troops succeeded in opening up Mitrovica so that Kosovar Albanians evicted by Serbs now living in the north of the city were free to return to their old homes.



Original article