N10 Downing Street - London
Thursday 10 june 1999

STATEMENT ON THE SUSPENSION OF NATO AIR STRIKES AGAINST YUGOSLAVIA BY THE PRIME MINISTER, TONY BLAIR

As you will now know, the Serb withdrawal from Kosovo is under way and NATO has suspended its air campaign. Shortly, with the backing of the United Nations, the entry of military forces into Kosovo, led by the British Army, will begin. As soon as possible afterwards, the first refugees will start their journey home.

There was no yearning on the part of NATO to commence this military action. I feel no sense of triumph now, only the knowledge that our cause was just and was rightly upheld.

We tried hard to avoid conflict. For many months of patient negotiation we strove hard for peace. But we had no serious negotiating partner in Milosevic. Instead he began the policy of ethnic cleansing. We are all familiar with this term, but do not let the familiarity with it blind us to its hideousness. What it meant in reality for hundreds of thousands of innocent people in Kosovo was systematic murder and rape, brutality and barbarism on a scale our continent of Europe thought we had seen the last of in the dark days of World War Two.

We were faced with the moral choice: to let this barbarism happen or to stop it. We chose the right course. In doing so, we knew we could not prevent death and destruction for many people. But Milosevic now knows, and the world now knows, that we will not let racial genocide go on without challenge. We will not see the values of civilisation sacrificed without raising the hand of justice in their defence.

Nothing we say or do now can compensate for the loss of loved ones killed in this conflict. But I believe we can say that they did not die in vain. War is never civilised. The innocent die as well as the guilty. But war can be necessary sometimes to uphold civilisation. And this one was. This war was not fought for Albanians against Serbs. It was not fought for territory. Still less for NATO aggrandisement. It was fought for a fundamental principle necessary for humanity's progress: that every human being, regardless of race, religion or birth, has the inalienable right to live free from persecution.

Milosevic has now given his word that he will withdraw his forces. He has started this withdrawal. But the Balkans is littered with his broken promises. He should have no doubt that NATO will remain vigilant to ensure that this time he complies and does what he says he will do.

I would like to pay tribute to those who have worked with us in this campaign. I want to pay tribute first and foremost, of course, to the courage and professionalism of our own Armed Forces. It is because of them that we have managed to defeat the evil of ethnic cleansing and that the hundreds of thousands of refugees forced to flee their own country can start planning to return home.

It is a testament to their skills that not one British serviceman or woman lost their lives in the NATO action.

But this should not lead anyone to believe that this was a risk-free operation; it was not, nor will it be in the future. There are real dangers ahead. We cannot guarantee there will be no loss of life.

They will enter a land, for instance, where hundreds of thousands of landmines have been scattered indiscriminately. They may face resistance from Serbs angry at their defeat. But I have every confidence in their ability - and that of our allies in this operation - to finish the task in front of them. I believe our forces face these dangers with the country united behind them.

I want to thank our allies in the NATO alliance. Many commentators suggested that this alliance of 19 democracies could not hold together. Indeed Milosevic was banking on this from day one. Today, on day 79, he knows he got that wrong too.

A great deal of the credit for this must go to Javier Solana for his crucial role in coordinating the NATO operation, to the superb and tireless job done by General Wesley Clark as Supreme Allied Commander Europe and his deputy, General Rupert Smith, and by General Mike Jackson in ensuring the detail of the Serb withdrawal and in insuring our forces are ready to replace them in Kosovo. We should give thanks also to President Ahtisaari and to Viktor Chernomyrdin for the role they played.

I want, as British Prime Minister, to thank Robin Cook who worked so brilliantly to build and maintain the international consensus against Milosevic; to George Robertson for his magnificent leadership; and to Clare Short for her strength and intelligence in coordinating Britain's vital contribution to the humanitarian effort.

And I also want us in Europe to say special thanks to the President of the United States of America, Bill Clinton, and to the American people. I have just spoken to Bill Clinton to thank him in person. As ever he gave leadership and vision when it was needed most, steadfast in his support of what was right and, as ever, the American people showed their foresight and imagination in knowing that though this evil of ethnic cleansing was happening far from their shores, they had a duty to help defeat it.

I want to take the opportunity also to send a message to the people of Serbia. Our quarrel was never with you but with the regime that has lied to you about the causes of this conflict, the reasons for NATO's military action, the deliberate killing and ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of your fellow citizens, a regime that, even today, continues to lie to you about their defeat.

Our quarrel is with Milosevic and with the brutal dictatorship which rules you.

Today in Germany, very important discussions are taking place between the Foreign Ministers of the G8 countries, European Union member states, Turkey, the Eastern European democracies and, most important of all, the front-line Balkan states which have suffered so much from Milosevic's destabilisation of their region.

We have pledged to help them rebuild their economies and we will. It will require real commitment and generosity. But it is more than an act of charity. We know that it is essential for the future of all of us who inhabit our shared continent that we work together to build long-term peace and prosperity across Europe.

But until Serbia embraces democracy, until Serbia has a Government which wants to live in peace with its neighbours, Serbia cannot be part of that modern Europe. You cannot expect democracies to prop up dictatorships. We want a modern, democratic Serbia to be part of a modern, democratic Europe. But the choice rests with Serbia.

We intend to start building that new Europe in Kosovo as soon as the first members of KFOR arrive there.

We have made a pledge to the refugees that they will go home to live in peace and security alongside their Serbian neighbours. We intend to deliver that pledge and we want a Kosovo where all people, whether Albanian or Serb, have the same rights and do live together in peace.

As well as helping the Kosovar people rebuild their shattered lives and communities, our forces will gather evidence of war crimes so that those responsible are brought to justice.

We began this campaign with reluctance but with resolve. We end it with no sense of rejoicing.

We cannot rest until the refugees are home. Then, truly, we will be able to say that good has triumphed over evil, justice has overcome barbarism, and the values of civilization have prevailed.

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