HC Deb 19 October 1998 vol 317 cc953-66 3.30 pm
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook)

With permission, I wish to make a statement on recent developments concerning Kosovo.

In mid-June, in response to demands from the international community, President Milosevic gave an undertaking not to carry out repressive action against the civilian population. That undertaking lasted for barely one month.

By late July, the Yugoslav army and the Ministry of Interior police had commenced a widespread campaign of repression throughout Kosovo. During that campaign, they made no distinction between armed guerrillas and unarmed civilians. Whole villages were shelled, crops were burnt in the field and farm animals were incinerated in their barns. A quarter of a million people—a tenth of the entire population—have become refugees.

In September, Britain and France presented to the Security Council resolution 1199, which demanded that President Milosevic cease fire; withdraw his security forces; allow refugees to return to their villages; and make a rapid start to real negotiations on self-government for Kosovo.

Two weeks ago, Britain chaired a meeting of the contact group at Heathrow. That meeting sent Dick Holbrooke back to Belgrade with a mandate from all members of the contact group, including Russia, to secure an agreement that complied with the demands of the Security Council resolution.

Last Monday, NATO unanimously took the decision to authorise air strikes on Serbian military targets. The next day, President Milosevic gave his agreement to Dick Holbrooke on a settlement that commits Yugoslavia to full compliance with resolution 1199.

There can be no Member of the House who imagines that President Milosevic would have made such a commitment if the diplomatic efforts backed by the contact group had not also been backed by the credible threat of military action by NATO. His draconian steps to close the independent press to prevent it from reporting the agreements in full underlines his dislike of being forced into them.

A key concern that drove forward our efforts over the past month was the serious risk to the homeless refugees hiding on the hillsides of Kosovo. Our most immediate concern was to enable those refugees to return to sheltered settlements before winter. I am pleased to tell the House that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Red Cross have been able to return to their relief work in Kosovo, and that the latest evidence suggests that refugees have started to return to their settlements. Britain has already pledged £3 million to the international aid effort.

A central part of the Holbrooke package was the agreement by President Milosevic to a political framework to deliver self-government for Kosovo. This is the first time that President Milosevic has accepted the principle of self-government for Kosovo.

That political framework provides that the police in Kosovo will be under local control. There is a commitment to free and fair elections to a Kosovo assembly and to communal administrations. These elections will be supervised not by Belgrade, but by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Belgrade has been pressured to agree to a tight timetable, which commits it to an agreement with the Kosovars on the central issues by 2 November.

The international community has no intention of leaving President Milosevic to choose whether or not he honours the commitments that he has given. That is why Belgrade has been obliged to sign two separate agreements on verification. The first agreement, with the OSCE, provides for the presence throughout the whole of Kosovo of 2,000 representatives of the international community. The agreement authorises them to verify the maintenance of the ceasefire; to monitor and accompany movements of the security forces and the police; to facilitate the return of refugees; and to supervise elections, the establishment of Kosovar institutions, and the development of a locally accountable police force.

The second agreement is with NATO, and obliges President Milosevic to accept daily overflight of Kosovo by NATO reconnaissance planes to monitor movements of the security forces and to verify compliance with the ceasefire. The agreement compels the Yugoslav authorities to switch off all relevant radar systems when NATO flights are taking place, and is a retreat from President Milosevic's position hitherto, which has been that NATO could have no role within Yugoslav sovereign territory.

The verification mission will not be armed because it is not there to enforce the agreements. The agreements do, however, enable both verification missions to report to NATO. The importance that NATO attaches to compliance by Yugoslavia was spelt out to Belgrade by Javier Solana, the Secretary-General of NATO, who said after meeting Milosevic that NATO will remain ready and willing to act if Milosevic does not meet his obligations.

In the meantime, NATO has maintained its air activation order while the two verification missions are put in place.

We also expect the Kosovo Liberation Army to abide by its commitment to honour a ceasefire. Over the weekend, there have been several breaches of the ceasefire by the Kosovo Liberation Army, including the murder of four policemen. Such continuing acts of hostility serve only the interests of those who wish to undermine the political process and return to war.

It would be a grave mistake to imagine that the Holbrooke package marks the end of the international community's pressure on President Milosevic. It is only the beginning of a process that will require the full commitment of the international community to achieve stability, security and reconstruction in Kosovo.

Britain is ready to play its part in making this agreement work. We have already committed ourselves to providing 150 members of the OSCE mission, with the expectation of a further commitment to a total of 200.

On Friday, I announced that a British Major-General with considerable experience in Bosnia would head the British contribution. He and the advance party are now already in Pristina.

We will also provide Canberra aircraft to the NATO air operation over Kosovo and will supply British personnel to the NATO unit in Macedonia, which will co-ordinate the two verification missions on the ground and in the air.

As the President-in-Office of the Security Council, Britain is taking a leading role in drafting a Security Council resolution that enshrines the commitments which President Milosevic has given and underwrites the agreements with the full authority of the United Nations.

I shall leave tonight on a tour of three of the neighbours of Yugoslavia to assure them of our continuing commitment to security and stability in the region. While in Macedonia, I intend to meet leaders of the Kosovar Albanians.

As I said last week at the Paris meeting of the contact group, the agreements are not perfect. International agreements rarely are perfect. There is, however, nothing to be gained by wasting our time wishing we had a different agreement. The reasonable approach must be for us to do everything we can to make this agreement work. It will take great effort by the international community to deliver on its contribution, and it will take heavy pressure on President Milosevic to ensure that he sticks to his side of the bargain.

Britain played a leading part within the international community in putting the pressure on President Milosevic that made these agreements possible. Britain is now demonstrating that we are among the first nations to make a practical contribution towards making a success of the agreements. We will not let up on our efforts until President Milosevic carries out his commitment to withdraw forces, and until the people of Kosovo can return to their homes without fear, can rebuild their villages in peace and can start to construct a self-governing Kosovo without repression from Belgrade.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)

I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for his statement, and for the modestly encouraging news that he has reported to the House. Does he not acknowledge that, if action had been taken along these lines in March or April, as I then urged, hundreds of lives would have been saved, hundreds of thousands of people would still be living in their homes and enormous suffering and anguish would have been prevented?

Will the right hon. Gentleman now apologise for the inaccurate information that he gave this House on 14 July, when he told us that he had introduced a ban on flights into Britain by Serbian airlines? Is it not the case—as we discovered in September—that not only was that not true but that, as late as 11 September, Foreign Office Ministers were claiming that there were clear legal reasons why it was necessary to give 12 months' notice before implementing such a ban? Why was it that what were clear legal reasons on 11 September had mysteriously vanished five days later, on 16 September, when we were told that 12 months' notice was no longer necessary? Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that that ban is now, at last, in place?

On the agreement that has now been reached, what consultation took place with representatives of the majority Albanian population of Kosovo? Why was it that a deadline for implementation was imposed and then postponed for 10 days? Did that not give precisely the wrong signal to President Milosevic?

Is it the case that the NATO planning group which has been working on contingency plans for intervention should the agreement be breached has now been stood down? If so, why?

What can the right hon. Gentleman tell us about how the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe monitors will operate? Has a clear chain of command yet been established? Will he comment on today's worrying reports of large-scale Serbian troop movements in, but not out of, Kosovo, and the cancellation of refugee aid convoys? Will he undertake to keep the House informed of the progress, or lack of it, in the implementation of the agreement? What can he tell us about the action to be taken if Milosevic does not honour the obligations that he has made?

The agreement that has been reached is to be welcomed, but on the basis of "better late than never". We must all hope that it works, but it is certainly no cause for self-congratulation.

Mr. Robin Cook

May I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for what I take to be the support of the Opposition for the Government's line? I rather think he failed conspicuously to rise to what is a major international challenge, and I am glad that we managed to achieve more unity out of our 15 NATO colleagues than we can achieve with the Opposition in this Chamber.

Let me deal with the particular questions that the right hon. and learned Gentleman asked. First, there were extensive consultations with the Kosovar Albanians: indeed, that is exactly why Dick Holbrooke went repeatedly to Pristina and why Christopher Hill, accompanied by our British ambassador, went to Pristina.

On the question of a deadline, I am not quite sure what the right hon. and learned Gentleman is referring to as a deadline, but the decision that was taken by the North Atlantic Council on Friday was to extend the order authorising air strikes against Serbia. I should have thought that anybody who wanted to maintain pressure on President Milosevic would welcome the fact that that authorisation remains in force for a further 10 days and, indeed, would have denounced us if we had dropped it on Friday.

On the question of current troop movements within Kosovo, at present we have no independent corroboration, but we are urgently seeking information from our monitors on the ground. The difficulty of getting precise data on what is happening there instantaneously underlines exactly why it is so important that we get 2,000 monitors in with the right to be in every town and in every village in Kosovo in order that we can be sure exactly what is happening in terms of compliance with these agreements.

Finally, let me pick up the right hon. and learned Gentleman's comment about delay in reaching this point. I dare say that, if the topic were not so tragic, his criticism would be comic in its hypocrisy. Many of us remember exactly how the last Conservative Government dithered for three years while Bosnia burned. The right hon. and learned Gentleman sat in the Cabinet for those three years, and the only reference to Bosnia that we have been able to find for that period is a statement that Britain should not take any more refugees from Bosnia. if the right hon. and learned Gentleman really wants a remedy for those three years of shameful delay, the best thing that he can do is support, not oppose, the Government's efforts to bring security and self-government to Kosovo.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)

May I offer the Government my support for the agreement and the statement that we have just heard? Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the expression "better late than never" would have been a very accurate description of the last Government's actions in relation to Bosnia?

Does the right hon. Gentleman feel some concern about last week's statement by the president of the Yugoslavia war crimes tribunal, deploring the fact that the Milosevic Government are refusing to surrender three individuals against whom indictments have been made? Will he confirm that it is the policy of Her Majesty's Government that Mr. Milosevic must co-operate with the war crimes tribunal, as called for in the United Nations Security Council resolution of 25 September, and that any reports to the contrary are unfounded?

If the reports of continued use of military force today are found to be correct, what response does the right hon. Gentleman think NATO is likely to make? Finally, if the monitors are to be deployed on the ground without military protection, what is to prevent them from being subject to the same kind of intimidation as was found by the representatives of UNPROFOR during the Bosnia conflict?

Mr. Cook

I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for his support in regard to the war crimes tribunal, about which he has written to me separately. The agreement with the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which has been signed by Belgrade, states explicitly that the purpose of the OSCE verification mission is to verify full compliance with resolution 1199, which calls on Belgrade to co-operate fully with the war crimes tribunal.

The three individuals to whom the hon. and learned Gentleman referred have indeed been indicted. We want them to be surrendered, but we should be clear that they were indicted for offences relating to Vukovar in 1995, not to activities in Kosovo. Nevertheless, I assure the House that the Government will continue to take the most robust approach to bringing indicted war criminals to justice. I do not believe that there can be peace and reconciliation in the Balkans unless there is justice against those who have committed atrocity in war. We now have a majority of those indicted under arrest awaiting trial, and we shall continue our pressure to ensure that the rest are brought to trial.

As I am currently unable to corroborate precisely what movements are taking place in Kosovo, it would be wrong to predict what NATO should do in response; but President Milosevic should be well aware that that activation order is still in place, and the planes are still on the runway.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, although there is unanimous horror at the repression, tragedy and bloodshed in Kosovo, NATO's threat to bomb Serbia is contrary to the charter of the United Nations which provides that only the Security Council can authorise military action? It is contrary to article 1 of the NATO treaty that commits NATO to the United Nations charter; it would be likely to trigger a Balkan conflict, and a restart of the cold war; and it is in marked contrast with the total neglect of the plight of the Kurdish people in north Cyprus, and their treatment by the Turkish Government.

Is my right hon. Friend also aware that NATO is not the international community, and that to talk as if he and the United States speak for the world is to undermine the authority of the United Nations itself?

Mr. Cook

The whole strategy of the past month has been built around a partnership between NATO and the contact group, which included Russia. It has also been based on Security Council resolution 1199, which was passed overwhelmingly by the Security Council and was voted for by Russia. We are seeking to obtain from President Milosevic compliance with that United Nations Security Council resolution.

As I said, I do not imagine for one minute that we would be this far forward with a commitment by President Milosevic to meet resolution 1199 if he had not believed that the threat of military action by NATO was credible. I vigorously regret the fact—as does my right hon. Friend—that we are dealing with someone in power in Belgrade who only understands the language of force, but, so long as that is the case, we are right to make it clear that we are not prepared to allow him to turn his back and to ignore the reasonable demands of the United Nations.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

I am, perhaps a little improbably, vice-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on Albania. Perhaps less surprisingly, I am on the all-party parliamentary group on refugees. When, during the Labour party conference, the Foreign Secretary referred on the "Today" programme to a string of Foreign Office successes throughout the summer, was he including Kosovo in the list?

Mr. Cook

Again, I welcome the reserved support offered by the Opposition on this issue. Throughout the discussion on Kosovo today and over the past few weeks, I have eschewed any talk of triumphs or victories. What should animate us all is the humanitarian crisis among the refugees in the hillside. I condemn as offences against humanitarian law the atrocities that occurred in the villages in which the paramilitary police took action. They should be of concern to all members of humanity. I would warmly welcome it if just one Opposition Member joined us in that concern.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that, although President Milosevic has now agreed to a move towards some kind of autonomy, the Kosovar Albanians have not? The Kosovo Liberation Army wants complete independence. What pressure is being put on the exiled organisations that fund the KLA to ensure that attacks by the KLA do not undermine this process, and do not make it impossible for the OSCE to do its work?

Mr. Cook

I must correct my hon. Friend on one point: the stated objective of the Kosovo Liberation Army is not to achieve independence for Kosovo, but to forge a greater Albania. There is no place on the international map for a greater Albania—any more than there is for a greater Serbia or a greater Croatia. As I stressed in my statement, that is why the objective of our policy is to ensure that the elected, democratic politicians of Kosovo, and not the gunmen, are left in control of Kosovo.

Resolution 1199 calls on all members of the United Nations to co-operate in halting the funding and supply of weapons to the Kosovo Liberation Army. It is important that we put every possible effort into establishing law, order and security throughout Albania, because that country has provided a springboard for the KLA.

Through this agreement, we have provided a basis on which we can take forward a political process leading to self-government for Kosovo. If any force is needed to ensure that that agreement sticks, it should be force authorised by the international community. It should not be force provided by the Kosovo Liberation Army, which, far from making the agreement stick, would undermine it and pull it apart.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey)

The Foreign Secretary will be aware that Western European Union has been considering the establishment of a paramilitary police force to deal with situations such as that in Kosovo. Will he confirm that it is still Her Majesty's Government's policy to resist such a formation? The right hon. Gentleman said that once law and order is restored it will be up to the civil police to maintain it. If they cannot do so, troops—preferably under NATO command—will have to go in to give them the support that they need.

The Foreign Secretary mentioned humanitarian aid. Will he take this opportunity to congratulate those—such as Mr. Bernard Sullivan in my constituency, with his Operation Angel—who continue to take humanitarian aid to that beleaguered province of Serbia under particularly difficult circumstances?

Mr. Cook

I congratulate all those who have shown courage in taking humanitarian aid to those who most need it in Kosovo. Had it not been for the international humanitarian effort, there would undoubtedly have been many more casualties among the refugees over the past month. I particularly welcome the courage and dedication shown by the staff of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Red Cross in returning immediately to Kosovo without necessarily waiting for the removal of the authorisation of air strikes. It is important that they get on with their work as quickly as possible.

On Albania, I agree that we would look, and look positively, at any way in which we could assist the Albanian Government—it would have to be at their request—in securing law and order. There is a new Government of Albania, and we are in dialogue with them. If there are reasonable things we can do to assist, we shall consider them, but it must be with their agreement. Which agency provides that assistance is a matter to be considered then.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

What would be the purpose of anyone in this House denouncing the crimes committed in Kosovo if those crimes could continue to be carried out by Belgrade? With the threat of force being applied, Belgrade knows what will happen if it continues its recent policies. Would it not be wise for any criminal dictator—whether in Belgrade or Baghdad—to bear in mind what is happening to Pinochet in this country?

Mr. Cook

I counted three separate international issues in my hon. Friend's question, and I congratulate him on that. If he will forgive me, I will stick to the narrow question of Kosovo and Yugoslavia, which is quite enough to sort out in one statement. I strongly agree that there is no point in our lamenting the behaviour of President Milosevic in Kosovo if we are not prepared to show resolve in making it clear to him that the action is not an internal matter for Yugoslavia. It is a matter that concerns the rest of the international community, and we are therefore entirely correct in putting pressure on him. Secondly, if President Milosevic was convinced that he was doing the right thing in Kosovo, and that his regime had nothing to be afraid of, he could simply reopen the four newspapers and the independent radio station that he has closed and let the people of Serbia know the truth.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the Government had intelligence last year—not least within the Ministry of Defence—that there was likely to be violence in Kosovo? Will he explain why he has led the international community in setting its face against the aspirations for Kosovar independence, not least in the conclusions of the Cardiff summit? Does he agree that the delay in international action has radicalised the Kosovar people into supporting the Kosovo Liberation Army, while the moderates in Kosovo are now frankly politically irrelevant? Will he confirm that the KLA is not a party to the international agreements, and that the path down which we are going—with the use of unarmed international monitors—is likely to lead to us needing host-nation support from Serbia to protect the monitors from the KLA during the next six months?

Mr. Cook

I am not entirely clear what conclusion the hon. Gentleman draws for action by Her Majesty's Government. First, we never comment on intelligence reports, and I have no intention of doing so on such fraught circumstances as those pertaining to Kosovo and Yugoslavia. Secondly, it is absolutely plumb flat wrong to say that Britain led the argument against independence for Kosovo. There is not a country in the region that favours independence for Kosovo, and all three countries that I will visit this week would be deeply alarmed by independence for Kosovo because of its destabilising effect on the wider region.

On the question of the moderates being marginalised, that is precisely why we attach the greatest importance to the holding of free and fair elections in Kosovo to see who has the support of the Kosovar people. The last time there were elections in Kosovo was only three months ago. The KLA urged the people of Kosovo to boycott the elections, but 80 per cent. voted—and voted overwhelmingly for Doctor Rugova.

Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South)

In welcoming my right hon. Friend's statement and the robust position taken by the British Government over the agreement, may I say that I share his view that this is only the beginning of the process? That being the case, what consultations will take place with the Governments of Greece, Albania and Bulgaria over the implementation of the agreement? Does my right hon. Friend feel that there is enough in the agreement to create a political situation in the Balkans that will prevent further destabilisation?

Mr. Cook

I will visit Bulgaria later this week, when I will hold discussions with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister about how we take forward this agreement and about wider questions of Balkan security. We are, of course, in constant dialogue with Greece, which, as a member of NATO, was present at all the NATO discussions and contributed to them, but I agree with my hon. Friend that one of the important aspects of trying to achieve a stable, secure outcome is to put it in the context of the wider security of the Balkans.

What is particularly distressing about President Milosevic and one or two of the other leaders who came to power in the post-communist period is that they appear to imagine that, by rebuilding ethnically based nation states with large borders against their neighbours, they are joining the modem Europe. They are not. They are going back to an ancient Europe that the rest of Europe is leaving behind. We wish to see what ways there are of constructing a Balkans that recognises that the way forward is to bring down borders between us and to avoid building statehood on ethnic identity alone.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is extremely important that the observers and monitors get out into the countryside as quickly as possible, and that they stay and take up place in the villages and hamlets around the countryside, so that they become, for the purposes of the next few months, part of the community, to ensure that these poor people are not further abused?

Will the right hon. Gentleman investigate what help could be given, perhaps via what was the Overseas Development Administration, to provide building materials? People are going to come down from the mountains and face increasing cold in houses that have been brutalised beyond anything that one can possibly imagine. What they need is the ability to build roofs. Money will not do them any good. They need building materials.

Mr. Cook

The hon. Gentleman raises two important points. I assure him that we agree with him on both. First, it is vital that the monitors should be able to go anywhere they want to in Kosovo. The urgent priority must be to verify that refugees are free to come out of rural high-lying areas and into the valleys and sheltered settlements.

Secondly, when the refugees do so, they will return not to their homes, but to homes that have been blown up by the Yugoslav army. It is therefore vital that, within the next month, they have an adequate supply of corrugated iron, cement and bricks, so that they can make those places habitable to see them through the winter. We agree on both those as being high priorities.

Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, whatever those on the Opposition Front Bench may say, the Kosovo conflict is amenable neither to quick solutions nor to clear-cut victories? Does he agree that the immediate priority must be to enforce the international agreement by whatever means are necessary to bring humanitarian relief to a quarter of a million refugees, to end the murder and mayhem and to allow a political process for a long-term solution to be put in place?

Mr. Cook

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that there is no short cut to achieving a solution to the crisis It will take us a long time to reconstruct Kosovo and it will take us some time to achieve the self-governing status that is provided for in the agreement, but although there is no short cut to it, I assure my hon. Friend and the House that we are determined to ensure that there is maximum momentum towards that goal. That is why the agreement has set up a very tight timetable for the early stages of that political process. I hope that, within the next few months, we will be able to put in hand successful free and fair elections in Kosovo, which should change the political reality.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

May I express the gravest reservations about the insertion of unarmed British personnel, especially British service personnel, in a region of such brigandry and banditry as Kosovo? Although I applaud the long-term objective, to which Mr. Milosevic has signed up, of free and fair elections for Kosovo, I shall believe it when it happens. May I also express the hope that Her Majesty's Government will not frustrate any vote by a democratically elected Parliament in Kosovo for independence, if that is what the Kosovo Parliament decides to do?

Mr. Cook

First, I am not sure that it helps to achieve understanding and reconciliation between the two sides to characterise Kosovo as an area of brigandry and banditry. Dr. Rugova is well known for his pacific approach to the political problems and for the long period during which he renounced violence as an objective. Throughout that period, he had the overwhelming support of people in the area to which the hon. Gentleman refers as one of brigandry and banditry. I agree that it is important to ensure that elections take place. The agreement lays down a clear, finite period within which they have to take place. President Milosevic has committed himself to holding the elections within nine months maximum, and I hope that it will be possible to achieve them in a shorter period. As to the hon. Gentleman's doubts about whether the elections will take place, they are to be initiated, supervised and established by the OSCE. That is the specific task of the 2,000 people on the verification mission and we will certainly give it a high priority.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

Are there any plans to provide protection for the moderate Albanian leadership under Dr. Rugova, given that one of his closest associates, Mr. Ahmet Krasnigi, was assassinated by supporters of the KLA and that another, Mr. Sabri Hamiti, has been shot—although fortunately he survived? Unless the KLA is under firm control, its members may become agents provocateurs of a new conflict within Kosovo.

Mr. Cook

First, the agreement provides for the police in Kosovo to be under the control of locally elected politicians. Therefore, it is essentially for Dr. Rugova or whoever is elected by the Kosovo people to make the appropriate arrangements for protection and security. However, I would not disagree with my hon. Friend's central point, which is that there will be some people who will seek to destabilise the agreement for their own purposes during the coming months. It is important that we are all alive to the fact that those who seek to destabilise the agreement are neither acting on behalf of nor representative of the majority of the Kosovar people, who would like to be able to return to their homes and construct a secure and peaceful Kosovo and to get on with the process of self-government.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)

I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House are grateful for the fact that NATO forces were not used against a sovereign country. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that one of the unfortunate effects of events in recent days has been the strengthening of President Milosevic's position within Serbia and his closing down of an independent radio station and four newspapers when he was given the opportunity, because of the threats hanging over him?

Mr. Cook

I have heard the debate: it has been said that if we bombed it would strengthen President Milosevic and that if we did not bomb it would do so. The only appropriate course for NATO to take was to make a judgment on the basis of what was most likely to get an agreement out of President Milosevic. That we did and that agreement we have got. It is perverse to argue that President Milosevic is stronger and to use as evidence of that strength the fact that he has been obliged to close down four newspapers and half a dozen radio stations. That seems to argue not strength of position, but that he is only too conscious of his weakness and the extent to which he is vulnerable once the people hear the truth. Britain will continue to do everything possible to press for freer and more open media within Yugoslavia and we will be stepping up our support for the B92 radio station, to which we provide material help. Whenever we have the opportunity, we will give interviews to the independent media in Yugoslavia.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Would not the consequences of military action in the form of air strikes inevitably be that the KLA would use those air strikes to further its military and political objectives? With that in mind, should not President Milosevic be reminded of the fact that it might be better for him to do a deal now rather than face the consequences of that military action?

Mr. Cook

I absolutely agree that it was in Milosevic's own interest to resolve the situation and, frankly, to do it six months ago when he could probably have done so at a much lower price than it is necessary to extort from him now.

We have no intention of NATO being conscripted as an air force for the KLA. If we are obliged to take action, we shall do so on behalf of the people of Kosovo—and in particular to ensure that they can have democratically elected politicians ruling them, not the KLA.

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester)

The Foreign Secretary said that he was hoping for understanding and reconciliation between the Serbs and the Kosovo Albanian community. Does he not think that extremely unlikely in view of the events not only of the past year but of the past decade, and especially since the Serbs decided to put aside the 1974 constitution that had given the people of Kosova a measure of independence? What support does the Holbrooke plan really enjoy in the Kosovar Albanian community?

Mr. Cook

As far as I recall it, my reference to peace and reconciliation was made to underline the importance of bringing to justice those who have committed atrocities in the course of the conflict. I stand by that: I do not think that there is a prospect of peace and reconciliation if people do not believe that judicial process can be taken against those who commit atrocities against them and outrages against humanitarian law, and I would hope that that was not a contentious or divisive statement in the House. Of course peace and reconciliation seem a long way away in many parts of the Balkans, but it is important to encourage people to look forward rather than—as is too often the tendency in the area—looking back at past grievances, even unto the 14th century.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)

I welcome my right hon. Friend's remarks about free and genuine elections and self-government, but I wonder how President Milosevic defines self-government. What is likely to happen if the free and genuine elections lead to a genuine demand not for autonomy but for self-government? What value will the elections have if those in power refuse to uphold the rule of law?

Mr. Cook

First, let me stress that it will not be for President Milosevic to judge whether the elections are free and fair: that will be for the international community, through the OSCE. The proposals in the agreement secured by Dick Holbrooke in Belgrade are based on the package prepared by Chris Hill and negotiated in both Belgrade and Pristina. That is the package that we now expect to be implemented under the terms of the agreement.

Elections in Kosovo will be important in strengthening the hand of those who negotiate on behalf of the Kosovar people. Part of our difficulty in brokering negotiations over the past six months has been the difficulty in identifying people who can, with authority and without controversy, speak for the Kosovar people. The elections will help us to achieve that. To a degree, it is for the parties to the negotiations to decide between them what is an acceptable arrangement. We are determined that they should get on with the negotiations and, at the very minimum, honour the commitments in the contact group package.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Were all the hon. Members rising in the Chamber to hear the whole statement? I have the impression that one hon. Member was not.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South)

I heard the whole statement, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

Did the hon. Gentleman hear it outside, or in the Chamber?

Mr. Hancock

In the Chamber.

Madam Speaker

In that case, I will call the hon. Gentleman. I have to accept his word as an hon. Member.

Mr. Hancock

I am grateful to you for allowing me to ask a question, Madam Speaker. I was here, but I had to leave briefly to go to the surgery, for which I apologise to the House.

What commitments have been sought from the KLA and the Albanians who are currently fighting in Kosovo that, given the support that they might believe they have gained in the international community, they will not turn their attentions to the 25 per cent. of Macedonia's population that is Albanian, and cause problems in that country?

Mr. Cook

It is extremely difficult to get meaningful guarantees and commitments from the KLA, partly because it denies having any central command structure and partly because it appears to have some difficulty in passing messages throughout all its units. Last week it volunteered a unilateral ceasefire, and I very much regret the fact that the events of this weekend suggest either that that commitment has been broken or that there are elements within the KLA that are not aware that it has been made.

On the question of Macedonia, I will be there myself on Wednesday and will meet the President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. I will give a commitment to Macedonia and its territorial integrity and I hope that the presence of an additional NATO cell, deliberately sited in Macedonia, will provide a additional token of the international community's support.

Mr. Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central)

For how long will NATO forces remain on standby? In particular, will they be available until the conclusion of the elections? One can imagine a scenario, if the elections do not turn out as the Serbians wish, in which the death of a Serbian in Kosovo sparks genocide or an invasion by Serbia.

Mr. Cook

The decision made on Friday by the North Atlantic Council extended for a further 10 days the authority given to military commanders to use force. Whether another extension will then be appropriate is a matter that can be judged in the circumstances. In particular, we will want to judge the extent to which the verification missions have been put in place and are able to get on with their job. However, in the past two months, NATO has made detailed and careful preparations for intervention and NATO's members have made a commitment to provide the force to carry out the plans. Those plans will not disappear with any cancellation of the authorisation order: they will remain in place to be activated. As the Secretary-General of NATO has said, we are ready and willing to activate them if necessary.