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Britain Pledges More Refugee Aid

May 3, 1999

BRAZDA, Macedonia (AP) _ Britain will double its aid for Kosovo Albanians and will not be swayed from efforts to ``defeat the policies of ethnic cleansing,″ the British prime minister promised Monday.

During a visit to Macedonia’s largest refugee camp, Tony Blair said Britain would increase its refugee aid contributions to $64 million, and take in more ethnic Albanians fleeing the southern Yugoslav province. He did not name a specific number of refugees.

Blair also insisted that Britain will not back off its ``commitment of defeating the policy of ethnic cleansing.″

``This is not the battle for NATO. This is not a battle for territory,″ he said during a stop in a camp of about 35,000 people about six miles north of the capital, Skopje. ``This is a battle for humanity. It is a just cause that is a rightful cause.″

Blair’s visit was seen as a part of NATO’s efforts to avoid any discord between the Western alliance and Macedonia’s coalition government, which is under pressure from the refugee onslaught and groups opposed to NATO’s growing presence in the country.

Overwhelmed with a refugee tide that shows no signs of abating, Macedonia has appealed for greater Western assistance to ease the burden.

More than 170,000 refugees are presently in Macedonia, according to U.N. officials. But the Macedonian government claims the figure has surpassed 210,000 _ about a tenth of the population of the entire country.

Many members of Macedonia’s Slavic majority fear the refugee influx could upset the country’s demographic balance. Ethnic Albanians made up about a third of the population before the arrival of the Kosovo refugees.

Macedonia is also a key point in the Western military buildup in the region. About 15,000 NATO troops are stationed in this tiny Balkan nation. It could be a crucial staging area in the event of ground intervention in Kosovo.

Blair planned to hold talks with Macedonia’s prime minister, Ljubco Georgievski, and President Kiro Gligorov.

He was later to travel to Romania, where he was expected to underline his commitment to security in the troubled Balkans.

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