HC Deb 22 June 1999 vol 333 cc917-20
8. Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South)

If he will make a statement on the United Kingdom's relations with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. [86580]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook)

The last Serb tank left Kosovo on Sunday, ahead of the deadline, and 19,000 KFOR troops have now been deployed across the whole of Kosovo, to guarantee its security and to protect against violence all its residents, both Albanian and Serb. The whole House will want to record its deep regret at the loss of life of the two British soldiers who were killed making a school safe for the local people.

A civil administration has been authorised by the United Nations and is tasked with preparing a political settlement on the basis of the Rambouillet accords, which provide for an ambitious degree of democratic self-government, with a review of the future status of Kosovo after an interim period.

We are determined to make the defeat of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo a turning point for the whole region, and have launched a stability pact that offers its countries more open trade and faster integration with Europe. We hope that one day it will be possible for Serbia to join us as a partner in the modem Europe, but first its Government must abandon the policies of ethnic hatred that have brought poverty to the people of Serbia and a decade of violence to their neighbours.

Mr. Griffiths

I am going to Pristina and the surrounding area on Friday with aid workers from the Scottish charities Kosovo appeal. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Government of Yugoslavia co-operate fully in the aid effort to rebuild in Kosovo and elsewhere and abandon their disgraceful policy of ethnic cleansing, which has made the state a pariah?

Mr. Cook

I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend that the Government in Belgrade are now in no position either to pursue ethnic cleansing in Kosovo or to hinder the vital work of the relief agencies. Relief has already been supplied to those who were made homeless in Kosovo and the refugees have returned from their camps in very large numbers. That has been made possible only by the deployment of the international military force led by NATO. All hon. Members will have been moved by the pictures of Kosovo Albanians greeting the arrival of the soldiers with flowers and a spontaneous warm welcome that underlines the depth of the horrors from which they have been liberated.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

I, too, pay tribute to the sacrifice of the two Gurkha soldiers who were so tragically killed.

May I press on the Foreign Secretary the need to move to a civil administration for Kosovo at the earliest possible date, so that the Kosovars themselves may be responsible for their democratic self-government and for the policing of their country, as it would be wrong for us to impose structures and a way of life on the country?

Mr. Cook

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his tribute to the soldiers who gave their lives making Kosovo safe.

We have to be realistic about the civil administration: in the immediate future, the international community must accept an obligation to provide public administration, economic reconstruction and humanitarian relief to Kosovo, but the Security Council resolution clearly states that, over a period of time, that UN administration is expected to transfer its powers to Kosovars of all nationalities—Albanian and Serb alike—and ensure that Kosovo has a democratic Government. That is important for Kosovo and will send a strong message to Serbia, where the people have been denied proper democracy and freedom of expression; they may find the model of a free society that we can create in Kosovo more attractive than what is offered by President Milosevic.

Mr. Jim Murphy (Eastwood)

My right hon. Friend has correctly paid tribute to the Gurkhas who were tragically killed yesterday.

Are the British KFOR troops being encouraged to record what they witness and take statements from victims so that the information can be drawn together? Will he confirm that those records and eyewitness accounts will be admissible in any future war crimes hearings? If that is so, British troops will go down in history not only for securing a peace to protect the innocent but for securing the convictions of the guilty.

Mr. Cook

My hon. Friend touches on an important priority for our troops in Kosovo. As KFOR has moved forward, it has recorded and identified all sites of atrocities and mass graves. It has passed the information to the International War Crimes Tribunal and is fully co-operating with it in the investigation. Britain was the first nation to provide a police team to carry out that investigation. The team has been working for the past three days exhuming corpses from a mass grave at Veluka Krusa, which is a priority site because it is named in the indictment of President Milosevic as one of the atrocities for which he was ultimately responsible.

I spoke at the weekend to Judge Arbour, the special prosecutor for the International War Crimes Tribunal, and I am pleased to report to the House that she much appreciated the assistance that Britain is giving and the full co-operation of KFOR.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)

We should like to be associated with the remarks that the Foreign Secretary has made about the two Gurkhas—Royal Engineers—who lost their lives, and would add to the tributes that have already been rightly paid to them. We also wish to send our congratulations to Lieutenant-General Mike Jackson on the signing of the demilitarisation agreement.

Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that the demilitarisation agreement included a pledge by NATO to consider the formation of an army in Kosovo modelled on the US National Guard; that it permits the KLA to continue to wear uniforms and insignia for the next 90 days; and that it did not deny the KLA the right to self-defence, which is a sign of the on-going volatility in Kosovo? Under those circumstances, is the Foreign Secretary confident that the difficulties being caused by armed KLA patrols will cease immediately?

Mr. Cook

It would be a brave person who claimed that all violence in Kosovo will halt immediately, given the enormous disruption and the great violence and high emotions that have been visited on that province in the past three months. That said, we believe that the agreement that has been signed fully meets our objective of demilitarisation of the KLA; indeed, it proposes to do so in a shorter time scale than was envisaged in the Rambouillet accords, which gave the KLA 120 days in which to demilitarise.

The 90 days is not the point at which everything happens: it is the point at which everything is to be completed. For most of the intervening period, the KLA will not be allowed to take weapons outside their designated camps. That is a sensible way forward which has provided for an understanding between both sides. It will also enable NATO to ensure that it knows where the KLA is, and that is helpful. Within the three-month period, the agreement will provide for full demilitarisation. It is our objective to ensure that the ceasefire is observed not just by one side but by both sides, and that the future of Kosovo will be brought about through the ballot box, not the barrel of the gun.