HeadLine: ASHDOWN FLIES TO ALBANIA FOR TALKS WITH KLA
Daily Record, 20/04/1999, p10&11.
by Shaun Milne in Kukes, Albania
LIB Dem leader Paddy Ashdown flew into Albania yesterday to meet leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army.
Ashdown said the talks, at a secret location near Kukes, were to help him assess the KLA’s military capability ahead of any move by NATO to send ground troops into Kosovo.
He added: “We have got to use ground troops but we cannot use the KLA as proxy UN soldiers. We’re not going to ask them to go and do NATO’s dirty work.”
Ashdown was speaking as reports suggested the KLA had captured three Serb soldiers whom they plan to hand over to NATO today.
Later, the Lib Dem leader toured official and unofficial refugee camps, getting overwhelming backing for NATO bombing attacks and gathering information on behalf of Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Ashdown’s visit to the war zone will go down better with No 10 than that of Labour backbencher Alice Mahon – who went to Serb capital Belgrade at the weekend.
The MP for Halifax is the first British politician to visit the city since NATO launched its bombing campaign.
During a Commons debate on the Kosovo crisis last night, she angered some MPs by arguing that the air raids were hitting civilian targets and simply strengthening Yugoslav resolve to hold out against the bombardment.
Meanwhile, America’s first lady, Hillary Clinton, may visit Albania and meet the Kosovar refugees.
An aide said she would also assess the situation in the war-torn region.
Her spokeswoman Marsha Berry said yesterday: “It is something natural for her to do.”
Later, she met the heads of foundations who could help raise money for the refugees.
The meeting was included in her crowded schedule designed to stoke interest in her potential campaign for the US Senate.