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STRICT EMBARGO: Monday 29 March 1999, 5.55 pm


Delivering his reply this evening [Monday] to the Prime Ministerial statement on Kosovo, the leader of the Scottish National Party Mr Alex Salmond MP said:

"A few nights ago, the Prime Minister asked us to do the right thing in Serbia and by the people of Kosovo.

"This evening, I want to suggest that the right thing to do is not for politicians to pursue a misguided policy and then ask our servicemen to implement it.

"Few people are in any doubt that President Milosevic bears the prime responsibility for the human tragedy in the Balkans. He and his supporters have subjected innocent civilians to daily assault, indignity and murder.

"However, if we are to sanction intervention in Serbia then the policy must be capable of achieving two things. It must be capable of weakening Milosevic, and helping Kosovo.

"A bombing campaign will achieve neither. Indeed, the chances are that it will make both worse.

"In virtually every country which has been blitzed this century, the reaction has been to steel the resolve of the civilian population. This is what happened in London in the Second World War. It is also what happened in Clydebank.

"Why should we believe that there will not be the same reaction in Serbia?

"The evidence from the much respected BBC correspondent John Simpson is that the bombing campaign has effectively silenced the Serbian opposition to Milosevic.

"Nor has the bombing campaign helped the people of Kosovo. The atrocities against them have intensified. The Prime Minister claims this is nothing to do with the NATO action. Does anyone at all take that opinion seriously?

"General Sir Michael Rose who commanded the UN Forces in Bosnia certainly does not. He argues that the Serbian militia, unable to do much damage to NATO forces 20,000 feet up in the air, will exact revenge on people who are much more vulnerable on the ground.

"Thus far the NATO action has consolidated the position of Milosevic, and further jeopardised the position of the Kosovo Albanians.

"It must be of little consolation to those being driven from their homes, or worse, to know that the campaign in the skies above is actually meant to be for their benefit.

"There are those who call for the intervention of NATO troops on the ground. This would at least have the prospect of helping those who we are meant to be helping. However, the NATO powers have set their face against it for the understandable reason that it carries the likelihood of substantial further loss of life.

"What then is the alternative to the present misguided campaign - accepting that there are no easy answers?

"Well, we could expend the billions of dollars currently being flung at Serbia in high explosives on stepping up our humanitarian efforts to help Kosovo.

"We could turn what has been a partially effective arms embargo into a full scale economic blockade of Serbia, until her leadership comes to their senses in the treatment of the people of Kosovo.

"We could also accept that if Milosevic were prepared to sign up to the Rambuillet accord then it could be policed by United Nations and non-NATO forces.

"Almost fifty years ago, NATO was formed as a defensive alliance against potential aggression from the Soviet Union.

"It achieved its primary purpose without firing a single shot. But now for the first time it is acting in an offensive capacity outwith any specific remit from the United Nations.

"It is an action of dubious legality, but above all one of unpardonable folly - an action which thus far has made matters even worse for the very people it is meant to help.

"All war is evil, but there is something deeply disturbing about warfare which can be so conducted by remote control - missiles and bombing which sanitise conflict - at least on our side.

"Our servicemen deserve support, but the politicians who sent them there are not above criticism or responsibility.

"Sometimes the right thing to do is to negotiate patiently even with those we find repellent, to recognise that economic influence is more effective than military might, and to accept the moral strength of relying on international law even when it seems frustrating and ineffective.

"The correct thing to do is not to substitute folly for wisdom, aggression for diplomacy, or might for right."

Contact: SNP Press Office, tel: 0131-226 3661