HC Deb 01 November 1999 vol 337 cc50-78

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Allen.]

5.17 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Had this debate started at 10 o'clock, I would have spoken for a succinct six minutes, and shared the time available with my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon). I went in September to Serbia—the subject of this debate on the reconstruction of the Balkans—with my hon. Friend, and with Tim Gopsill of the National Union of Journalists and Bob Oram of Unison Manchester. However, as it is 5.17 pm, I should like to use the opportunity to talk quietly and seriously to my political friend of 30 years, the Under-Secretary of State for International Development. It is no use pretending that there are not deep and rancorous differences of opinion on the Balkan war between myself and the Secretary of State for International Development. What has actually been said can be left at that, although it would be nice if there were a reconsideration as time goes by.

The best way of presenting my case is to give a chronological description of the visit. The first question is who paid for it. Did the Serbs? No, they did not. We paid for it; in no way are we beholden to the Serbian Government.

Because Belgrade airport is covered by sanctions, we arrived, as everyone has to, at Budapest. One has to have transport provided by Serbian authorities, or one does not go. We were met by a senior official of the Serbian embassy in Budapest. That led to several interesting conversations. We were very blunt and said that dreadful things had happened; we never hid that. For example, there was a dreadful occurrence at Rachak. I report his reply to the House. He said that Rachak was awful, but that there had been a terrible occurrence at Waco and asked whether we would condemn a whole nation for what happened there? Would we arraign in court Mrs. Janet Reno, the Attorney-General of the United States, simply because a terrible thing happened?

I do not say that this is the whole story, but the Serbian people deeply resent the fact that they have been blamed when they have more refugees than anywhere else in Europe. Some put the figure at 800,000, some at more than 1 million, starting with the 200,000 Krajina Serbs. My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax will deal at some length with the refugees, so I shall leave that and consider what happened on our first visit, which was to Novi Sad.

We were met by Professor Budhakov, who got his doctorate at the university of Nashville in the United States and went on to do research at the university of Pittsburgh. There were no language problems and no deep-seated hatred of the west or anything of that sort. Here was a man who was deeply hurt at what had happened. My hon. Friend the Minister has not had the opportunity of going to Novi Sad; I understand that. It is not only that there are bridges down over the Danube. Pictures cannot convey the sheer horror of seeing those bridges dumped there.

That point leads me to my first question: what do the Government think that our obligations are to the countries that lie on this greatest of European arteries? I refer to Bulgaria and Romania in particular. Later, we went to the ministry of reconstruction in Belgrade. My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax will bear out the fact that the people there said the bridges would not be cleared until they got a clear offer on the table in deutschmarks, not only for clearance but for reconstruction costs.

I understand that eight major bridges were destroyed out of the 11 targeted. One cannot be certain about the costs, but I saw an estimate that the cost of destroying them was about £6 million. We were given a rough estimate of £10 million per bridge for reconstruction. In my opinion, and this was also the opinion of my colleagues, the Serbs are determined not to mend the bridges until NATO comes up with a clear, watertight, firm offer that payment will be made.

Secondly, what happens in the winter, when the ice forms? What happens when there is severe flooding down river, as we have been told could occur? I hope that, in his answer—like me, he will have plenty of time—my hon. Friend the Minister will make some serious comments on the state of negotiations between the British Government and the Danube commission.

However, the worst thing at Novi Sad was not the bridges; it was the bombing of the oil refinery. I repeat the question that was eloquently put by the Finn, Dr. Pekka Haavisto. He asked whether, in modern warfare, it is really acceptable to bomb oil refineries and chemical complexes. We must answer that question. At the oil refinery at Novi Sad, no one knows how long the ammonia, benzene, chlorine, mercury, phosgene, pyralene, and many other chemicals and chemical compounds will last; no one knows where they have gone, and how they got into the Danube water. It is not merely a matter of what happens just after the bombing; the chemicals get into the silt at the side of the river, and can last for an extremely long time. I hope that the Minister's brief contains some scientific advice as to the effect on groundwater.

We have turned an awful, local crisis into a Balkan catastrophe. As my notes confirm, the Prime Minister and other Ministers repeatedly stated from the Dispatch Box that we would rebuild the Balkans. As of the end of September, there was not much sign of that in Serbia. My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax has been to Kosovo and will talk about Kosovo. Perhaps the Government have a good story to tell—as they perceive it—but very little is happening in relation to Serbia. Whether we like it or not, Serbia was the economic engine of the Balkans. How one can rebuild the Balkans without rebuilding Serbia is beyond the imagination.

At Novi Sad, we came across the first instance of the taste of unemployment. In the second city of Yugoslavia, we were told that 30,000 people were now out of work; many were earning only two fifths of the not very great wages that they received before the start of the conflict. The economic situation is horrendous. The following day of our visit was—if anything—even worse. We arrived in Belgrade, late at night, and, in the morning, were taken to the motor vehicle factory at Zastava, about 100 miles south of Belgrade. That was the site of the motor and vehicle industry, manufacturing the Yugo, not only for the whole of Yugoslavia, but for areas beyond that country.

I have some notion about motor vehicle factories; for 25 years of my life as a Member of Parliament, I was immersed in the problems of the British Leyland truck and tractor division at Bathgate. To put it bluntly, I know my way around motor vehicle factories.

The area of Zastava was seven times greater than that of the plant at Bathgate. I do not pretend that it was the most modern motor vehicle factory on the face of the planet: by modern motor vehicle production standards, much of the machinery was rather old and we saw none of the robots or other technology used at Sunderland and Dagenham. Nevertheless, that machinery provided the bread and butter for 130,000 workers. We had a long session with the trade union representatives, whom I found to be both sad and impressive. They wondered what the winter would bring to a town in an area that is wholly dependent on the motor industry—where else were they to obtain the means to support themselves?

What are our obligations, if any, in the rebuilding of that motor industry? I do not know any western motor company that would look at Zastava and I suspect that the machinery is not repairable. There is a vast number of unemployed skilled people in the middle of central Europe. We were told repeatedly throughout the conflict that it was taking place in Europe and that we had an obligation. The point was made that, unlike Chechnya, Yugoslavia is so near to us that we had an obligation to act. What are we going to do about the massive problems at Zastava?

Is there to be some sort of conference, as the trade union leaders would like? They asked us, semi-humorously, but in earnest, where better for an international conference such as we were promised to be held than on the site of the Zastava plant?

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) for interrupting the flow of his speech, but I have a point of order that is relevant to the end of the Adjournment debate. On Wednesday, the House is to have a guillotine motion on the Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill and there is some suggestion that the Government are modifying the way in which they will deal with certain clauses relating to national insurance for those working through a limited company—it is known as IR35 in general parlance. I have been contacted by constituents and others asking what the Government's intentions are—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. That is not a point of order to be dealt with now, but a matter to be debated when those issues come before the House.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have dealt with the point of order. We should return to the Adjournment debate, which is on an important matter.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Without intending any discourtesy to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), may I ask on what occasion the Government will be able to make available to the House the information that they will otherwise introduce on Wednesday in a guillotine motion?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is not a matter to be dealt with by me at this stage of this evening's business.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Is it the same point of order?

Mr. Bottomley


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Is it an entirely different point of order?

Mr. Bottomley

Yes. At the end of this debate, the House will have adjourned and there will be no opportunity available to the Government today; that leaves only tomorrow, Tuesday. Hon. Members and those outside the House will have only overnight to consider any proposals the Government make. It would be appropriate for Ministers who have heard these exchanges to consider the matter and return to the House.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have no doubt that Ministers on the Treasury Bench have heard the hon. Gentleman's remarks, but that is not a matter for me at this time.

Mr. Dalyell

We returned from Zastava to Belgrade the following day. It is incredible what technological weapons have done to a modern European capital such as Belgrade. We experienced great difficulty repairing parts of Manchester after the bomb damage there. It cost £60 million to repair the Bishopsgate building. Throughout the centre of Belgrade, huge, solid buildings of the Austro-Hungarian empire are reduced to unsafe rubble and twisted metal.

Is the Serb capital city to remain in that state? If so, we have some moral obligations; if not, who will start paying for it? Will there be an international effort, or will we leave Belgrade to deteriorate and thus become infinitely more expensive to repair and a greater technical problem than it otherwise would have been? Does my hon. Friend the Minister believe that we have such obligations? We must always bear in mind that the House was told time and again that we had no quarrel with the people of Serbia. On that basis, the House—apart from very few of us—assented to military action. Therefore, I am entitled to probe Government thinking.

Our first meeting in Belgrade was with Dr. Leposana Milicevic, the Minister of Health, who is a distinguished doctor. She told us that we should not imagine that the graphite bombs aimed at power stations simply knocked out the power for a short time; they created all sorts of other problems. Those for the health service were incredible. For example, Dr. Milicevic told us that 4,000 people were on kidney dialysis. What happens when not only the main but the auxiliary power supplies are knocked out?

All sorts of other medical problems were pointed out to us. For example, hospitals were hit. I do not doubt that that was unintentional, and I appreciate that much of the precision bombing was remarkably precise, but collateral damage is inevitable. We must consider whether modern aerial warfare is justified in the long term when one has no quarrel with the people of the country being bombed. That was the basis on which the bombing commenced.

We visited the Red Cross in Belgrade, and its presentation made it clear that we must confront collateral damage and not only short-term, but long-term damage. My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax, the representative of Unison and I think that the problems in hospitals are likely to be acute for a long time, not only because of the damage done to medical cases, but because of the trauma effect. The bombing that took place night after night was traumatic for a whole generation.

How does the west intend to mend its fences with the Serb people? The answer might be, "They brought it all on themselves", but I do not think that the problem is as simple as that. There are two sides to the story. My hon. Friend the Minister may deal in some depth with the reports in the Sunday press yesterday that suggested that the numbers of those executed in Kosovo were markedly fewer than were claimed in my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary's statement to the House, which suggested that there had been mass genocide. I am not jumping to conclusions, but there will be a briefing on yesterday's reports in The Sunday Times. Will the Minister give us the Government's reaction to the briefing? Is The Sunday Times justified in saying that the number of people executed was markedly fewer than the Foreign Secretary asserted, or was my right hon. Friend justified in talking in terms of genocide?

We must also consider a Serb view of events, so I shall describe what was said to us and ask for a Government comment. The Serbs said that the Albanians, who live in very large families, made group decisions to send one or two family members to Germany. In Germany, they worked as Gastarbeiter where they earned—let us say—DM2,000 a month. They lived very frugally and the overwhelming proportion of that money was remitted to their Albanian families. Therefore, a family soon had sufficient deutschmarks to buy a house in a village in Kosovo. When the Serb owner of a house refused the first offer of market value, the Albanians said that they would offer double the market value. That was very tempting, because such an offer would enable a Serb family to buy a house in Belgrade, send a child to the university there and better themselves.

That process was repeated once or twice in the same village. As the Albanians came in, other houses could be bought quite easily at market price and the rest would be sold dead cheap because, by that time, the Serbs felt that they had to get out. Their children were bullied at school and they faced all kinds of social pressures. Therefore, the cradle of Serb civilisation—whether we like it or not, that is how the Serbs see it—systematically went over to what I was going to call Albanians. However, I had better be careful. In general, the Kosovo Albanians were not blamed, because people who had come from Albania—they had doubtless fled from the odious Enver Hoxha—took over that part of Kosovo. I mention that, because the question is not one of good and bad; it is one of varying shades of grey. Therefore, simply to say that the Serbs deserved all that they got is just not the reality.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

My hon. Friend mentioned the report in The Sunday Times. I suggest that he looks at yesterday's edition of The Observer, which describes in graphic detail the horrifying atrocities that were committed by Serb paramilitaries against innocent people—why our intervention was absolutely necessary. My hon. Friend spoke about the Serbians feeling out-manoeuvred by Kosovo Albanians, but does he not realise that that is precisely the same argument used in this country by racists and white supremacists, who talk of being swamped, and so on, by immigrants who are undermining British culture and British civilisation? In giving the Serb point of view—the Milosevic point of view, to be more accurate—he is giving the impression that he is campaigning on what the racists, from whom I know he dissociates himself, have been campaigning over many years in our country.

Mr. Dalyell

I do not think that it is as simple as that. The people who made such complaints were as anti-Milosevic as one could find. They had demonstrated, day after day, in the streets of Belgrade. I wish that they had had rather more help from the west when doing so some years ago.

The problems of the Balkans are not in black and white. This debate is about the future. I am trying to pre-empt the argument that the Serbs deserved all that they got. That is not a fair way of looking at a very complex problem.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. George Foulkes)

I assure my hon. Friend that he does not need to pre-empt that argument because I do not intend to advance it.

Mr. Dalyell

I am glad that we have got that out of the way, because certain people in the press have put around, "Hell mend the Serbs! As long as they keep Milosevic, we have no obligations." I think that we have some obligations, and it is the purpose of this Adjournment debate to try to elicit what they are.

5.48 pm
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) for being so generous in sharing his debate with me. I endorse many of his comments, particularly those on the demonisation of the Serbs and the way in which they have been blamed—quite unfairly—for every ill in the Balkans.

On Thursday, in business questions, I raised the persecution of Serbs, and called for a debate. We had just read the latest story of a column of 150 Serbs who were leaving Kosovo when they were attacked, and their vehicles set alight, by ethnic Albanians. Hansard is incorrect: I said, and should like to put on record, that nearly 1,000 people had been killed or abducted since the KFOR occupation, but Hansard states 100.

As my hon. Friend said, I went with him and other colleagues to Serbia to see first hand the effects of the NATO bombings on the civilian population and to get some idea of the need for humanitarian aid and economic reconstruction. That was necessary because the plight of Serbia proper has been almost entirely ignored by the media. Western Governments have imposed sanctions that have been designed specifically to prevent the reconstruction of civilian infrastructure, even though, as my hon. Friend said, we were constantly told that the war was not aimed at the ordinary Serbian people.

We were told that the sanctions were imposed for specific reasons. According to a House of Commons Library briefing that I received today, the British Government imposed sanctions unilaterally and participated in the multilateral imposition of sanctions under the auspices of the United Nations and the European Union. The reason behind the imposition of sanctions by the UN, the EU and the British Government has always been linked to a lack of democratic government and grave human rights abuses by the Government of Serbia. Further, the current basis for the EU sanctions, at least against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, is laid out in the most recent regulation, which was adopted by the Council on 4 October, amending the prohibition of the sale and supply of oil and oil products.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

The hon. Lady is reaching a point that I wanted to touch on. She knows that I do not entirely agree with her and the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) about the conduct of the conflict, but the Balkan winter is as cold for Serbs as it is for Kosovan Albanians. What assessment was she able to make of the adequacy of fuel supplies to enable people to get through the winter with reasonable heating? Does the sanctions regime need to be amended further to enable that to happen?

Mrs. Mahon

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I shall talk about that later, but, clearly, oil sanctions are hitting hard. We have some graphic photographs of people having to buy petrol to get to Kragujevac and other places. There is none in state petrol stations. People have to buy it on the black market, on the street corner. It was interesting because almost everyone selling it was smoking a cigarette, as were the people buying it. I have photographs of that and it was horrifying. There are serious implications for heating, for hospitals and for everything else, as my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow said.

On the legal basis for sanctions, the EU cites as justification continued violations by the Yugoslav Government of UN resolutions and the pursuit of extreme and criminally irresponsible policies, including repression against its own citizens, which constitutes serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.

Can we have some examples? What on earth does that mean? What precisely are the continued violations by the Yugoslav Government of the UN Security Council resolutions? Can the Minister give us examples because, at the moment, the people who are being persecuted, killed, having their homes burned and who are being made into refugees are the Serbs and other minorities in Kosovo. Nearly 100,000 have been ethnically cleansed from Kosovo since the NATO occupation.

The Minister will be aware of the demonstrations by Opposition parties in Yugoslavia, which want early elections. They are perfectly entitled to do that, but those demonstrations take place regularly and freely. I have not seen any of the over-the-top policing that I saw the other week when the Chinese President came to this country. Peaceful protesters were treated in a fairly rough manner by our police.

A friend of mine, a member of the Committee for Peace in the Balkans, went to Serbia after we went. She attended four demonstrations. She said: In spite of media reports to the contrary, we witnessed no beatings and no police brutality. She said that she saw one or two fights in the crowds and the police stopped them, but she witnessed no beatings or police brutality. She took photographs. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) can choose to believe that, or not. A very good friend of mine, whom I trust, saw it with her own eyes. When we were in Serbia, we witnessed no police brutality.

We are told by the west that there are no political prisoners—certainly, Amnesty International is not badgering us about political prisoners in Yugoslavia. The opposition media operate with restrictions, but they are no greater—I have been looking the details up; I am a member of the North Atlantic Assembly—than some that we found when we visited Croatia in April 1998. At that time, we met the opposition media there, who complained about the state-run media and described what a bad time they were having. We recommended that Forum 21, the opposition media, be given more freedoms and should not be harassed, and that Croatia did something about the lack of press freedom there.

It is the hypocrisy of the west sometimes that needs to be exposed, and this is the place to expose it. On political prisoners, during a visit by the North Atlantic Assembly to Turkey in February 1998, we tried to see the members of Hadep, who were Members of the Turkish Parliament, who were sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment on charges of separatism and membership of a terrorist organisation. Immunity was lifted and they were sent to prison.

Those members include Lena Zana, the recipient of the Sakharov prize for human rights of the European Parliament and a well-known campaigner for the rights of the Kurds. The unconditional release of Mrs. Zana and her colleagues has been demanded by several interparliamentary organisations, including the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, as well as the European Parliament. There is something seriously wrong when we live with that and carry on dialogue with the Turkish Government, despite all the human rights abuses that we have seen there, including the imprisonment of elected representatives, yet bring that out about the Yugoslav Government.

Sanctions do hurt ordinary people. There will be enormous suffering in Yugoslavia this winter. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has confirmed that Yugoslavia has the largest concentration of refugees in Europe. We visited some; we visited some of the Roma people. They include not just Serbs from Kosovo—Yugoslavia has hundreds and thousands of Serbs from the Krajina, Serbs from Bosnia, and also other minorities.

We visited Roma in the camp. I do not like going to refugee camps. I hate staring at people who are already living in absolute misery. It is a dreadful thing to do, but sometimes we have to make ourselves do it. Lots of people visited the refugee camps in Kosovo. I thank NATO. It was fairly well organised after the initial bad start, but people are not getting that sort of help in Serbia. Some groups do not naturally have a family in Serbia—not only Roma, but Turks, Bosniaks and Jews. Jews are being expelled. Can hon. Members believe that, in this day and age, Jewish families have had to leave Kosovo because it was not safe and because they were warned?

We visited those people. It is difficult to do. They are living in converted school rooms, barracks and factories. Entire families have been squeezed into single-room accommodation. Many were expelled from the Krajina and Bosnia; they have been there for years and their plight is difficult.

Mr. Winnick

I have much admiration for my hon. Friend, but it saddens me that she has allowed herself, in many respects, to act as a spokesperson for the regime in Serbia. I would be glad to have her comments on the following point. Milosevic instigated wars that have led to the disintegration of Yugoslavia. He lost those wars, and the Serbian people, to a large extent, as well as others, are paying the penalty.

With regard to the position in Serbia, I draw her attention to the murder of a journalist during the conflict, a murder that was undoubtedly instigated by the Belgrade authorities. No effort has been made, understandably, to find the murderers. It would be useful if the Committee for Peace in the Balkans, of which she is the chair, denounced such crimes and put the blame for them, as well as for what has happened in the past eight or nine years, where it belongs—on a Milosevic clique.

Mrs. Mahon

I am sorry that I gave way to my hon. Friend, as some of his remarks were unworthy of him. He knows perfectly well that any committee that I might belong to would condemn murder, and I am outraged that he thinks that the situation might be otherwise. I hope that, on reflection, he will decide to apologise for those remarks.

The press has ignored the plight of the hundreds of thousands of refugees in Serbia. Although all the refugees are not Serbs—there are many other minority groups among the refugees—Serbs comprise the vast majority of them, and the conditions in which they are living are very bad. Many of the refugees have no family support and, unfortunately, are receiving very little help from aid agencies.

Will the Minister tell the House what aid the Department for International Development is giving to the Yugoslav Government? The Yugoslav Government have to deal with the victims not only of the recent NATO war, but of the previous war—in which the Croats, with NATO's help, expelled hundreds and thousands of people from the Krajina. I have seen those refugees for myself; shamefully, the Red Cross seemed to be the only aid agency helping them. Red Cross workers told us that their soup kitchens are able to feed only a third of the worst-off refugees—100,000 of 300,000 people.

Another problem, which the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) mentioned, is power cuts. Although there were power cuts while we were there, the problem will become much worse as temperatures drop and the demand for power grows.

The power shortages caused directly by NATO's bombing are seriously affecting health care in Yugoslavia. As my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow said, heating for homes and hospitals has been curtailed. Schools will also have to close because of power shortages. As we all know, elderly people will suffer as temperatures drop as low as minus 20 deg C.

Even The Guardian, which has been almost as warlike on the subject as my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North, has now said that sanctions should be eased. It is interesting that it should now be coming round to that view. It stated: The US, ignoring the lessons of Iraq, continues to insist that tough economic sanctions, including fuel oil, must be maintained. It believes this will spur the Serbian populace to mass revolt as winter exacerbates its misery. The Guardian, like everyone else who thinks about the matter, concludes that the Serbian people will have to try to survive the winter and that all their energies will be spent in attaining that one goal. Nevertheless, we are very grateful for its support in calling for sanctions to be lifted.

About £52 million has gone to help refugees in Kosovo, with which I shall deal in a moment as I was fortunate enough to visit it in late September. Although that money is desperately needed in Kosovo, where the housing situation is awful—people must have decent accommodation to cope with the winter—it dwarfs the aid that has been provided to Serbia. It is disgraceful that, although everyone knows about Serbia's huge refugee problem, people who raise money for Kosovo say not a word about the Serbs. The west really will have to answer for the way it has demonised the Serbs, almost creating a hatred of them, so that we do not think of them as deserving.

What miserable Serb-hating group dreamed up the policy of providing oil only to Serbian cities that vote for Opposition parties? It takes a sick mentality to think that because a town votes in a certain way, its children and its sick and elderly people should starve in freezing temperatures, whereas those voting in another way should have access to oil.

It is absolutely sickening that, in the oil for democracy scheme, the European Union should try to boost Serb Opposition parties by promising that, if President Milosevic were ousted from power, it would not only rapidly lift sanctions but, after five years, press Croatia to take back Serb refugees. Although Croatia has been a member of the Council of Europe since the Krajina Serbs were expelled, Europe has only now decided to press the Croatians to take back the refugees. I wonder what Europe has been doing meanwhile about Croatia's continuing disgraceful treatment of Serbs.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

Does the hon. Lady conclude that the continuation of sanctions against Serbia has more to do with the ousting of Milosevic than with any other single objective? Why else should we be continuing to impose sanctions?

Mrs. Mahon

I do not think that Milosevic will be ousted soon. Nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to suggest that that is the main objective of sanctions. If that is not the main objective, we would simply be taking revenge against 10 million people.

Mr. Dalyell

My hon. Friend has been to Kosovo, and I have not; nevertheless, I have been told by responsible people—senior people in the British Army—that the situation in Kosovo is such that only the Irish Guards conduct night patrols; that, without night patrols, one cannot provide any protection of Serb minorities; and that only elite units of British regiments are doing anything to fulfil the undertaking that Serb minorities will be protected—for, without night patrols, we can do nothing. Although I understand perfectly well Mr. Bernard Kouchner's remark that we cannot put a soldier or policeman behind every Serb in Kosovo, nevertheless, the general situation is such that the impression has been given that KFOR is either unable or unwilling—or a bit of both—to provide protection to such Serbs as remain.

Mrs. Mahon

I am able to confirm what my hon. Friend says about the Irish Guards being the only group to conduct night patrols, because, on my visit, I made a point of speaking to some of those soldiers. I think that it is a good idea to talk to the ordinary soldiers, and not only to those who give the briefings—with which I shall deal shortly.

The sanctions are a crime against humanity and should be lifted immediately. As the war continued, the civilian infrastructure was smashed deliberately by NATO bombs, to terrorise the civilian population. More than 1,500 Serb civilians were killed, and 4,000 were injured. There was damage to 27 hospitals and clinics, and I have a photograph and a dossier on each of them. Although it was called collateral damage, the fact is that schools, factories, bridges, roads and Government buildings were destroyed. The damage amounted to £40 billion.

Kragujevac—which is home of the destroyed car factory described by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow—was hit by 22 cruise missiles, injuring 120 people and utterly destroying the living not only of the factory's 36,000 workers, but of those who worked in the 47 factories supplying it with components. The devastation has affected the livelihood of more than 120,000 people living in the area.

Kragujevac's local health centre was one of the medical centres damaged. The town relies on the factory's power plant for winter heating. We were told that the whole city has stopped, that people are living on Government hand-outs, and that refugees are still pouring in. As my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow said, all its hospitals have been affected by power shortages: dialysis machines are not working; powered wheelchairs have stopped; incubators do not work; operations have been cancelled; and children and elderly people who have been traumatised by the bombing are suffering badly.

I visited Kosovo on 25 September as part of the North Atlantic Assembly. My conclusion from that visit—which was not denied by anybody we spoke to—was that Kosovo was being ethnically cleansed of all minorities. We hear different figures. UNHCR said that 50,000 Serbs and other ethnic minorities had left Kosovo, KFOR said nearly 100,000 and somebody else said 120,000. I think that the generally accepted figure is around 100,000. The scale of the ethnic cleansing, with daily murders, arson attacks and other accompanying forms of intimidation, led us to conclude that KFOR is not protecting the minorities. It did not pretend to us that it was.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North talked about the journalist who was killed. I condemn that out of hand. I should like him to condemn an unprovoked attack in the centre of Pristina on a United Nations peace worker, who was taken away by the mob and shot in the head because when somebody asked him the time he answered in Serbo-Croat. He was killed simply for speaking that language. The hatred is not all on one side and both sides have many things to answer for.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

The hon. Lady will understand that those of us who are here do not want to affect the debate or criticise what she or her hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) have said. However, I should like to point out that over the past eight years Mr. Milosevic and Serbia have carried out a succession of military interventions in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, with the threat of going beyond that. The context of the debate is that Mr. Milosevic ordered his forces into Kosovo and eventually ordered them out again.

Mrs. Mahon

The hon. Gentleman is right. There was a war going on in Kosovo. The first research note in the House of Commons Library from before we went to war with Yugoslavia is even-handed about the Serbs and Albanians being killed. I recommend that paper to him, because it makes good reading. The Serb army was fighting the KLA in Kosovo. No member of the KLA has been indicted for war crimes. Indeed, Agim Ceku, the KLA commander who is being investigated for his role in the ethnic cleansing of Serbs in Croatia, has recently been appointed to lead the so-called Kosovo protection force, which is just another name for the KLA. The appointment by the UN of a man who could well be indicted for war crimes is hardly calculated to reassure Kosovo's minorities that they will be safe.

Mr. Dalyell

I should like to return to my hon. Friend's previous point about the UN official. His name was Valentin Krumov. The circumstances were outlined on 13 October by Laura Rozen on page 12 of The Independent. She says that he was brutally killed as he went for a walk outside the Grand Hotel, on Pristina's main thoroughfare, and reportedly replied in Serbian when asked what the time was by a group of Albanians. If officials or the Minister have some reference to make to that case, it would be helpful to have it at the end of the debate. If not, perhaps he could write to us.

Mrs. Mahon

I thank my hon. Friend for that. I refer the hon. Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley) and my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North to the second assessment of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe of the situation of ethnic minorities in Kosovo. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary told us on 18 June to read the report about the atrocities committed by the Serbs against the Albanians. There is little difference between the two—they both involve people killing each other in the most horrible way. It does the debate no good if we fail to recognise that there were no good guys in the middle of the horrors of the break-up of Yugoslavia.

Our delegation in Kosovo met the some of the Albanian and Serb leaders, although unfortunately two key figures—a bishop and a priest—did not turn up. They have pulled out of the transitional council because of what is happening to the Serbs and other minorities, so I met only one of the Serb leaders. However, we met Hashim Thaci, the self-styled Prime Minister of Kosovo—a man whom my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary rang up regularly to get information about what was happening in Kosovo. From the evidence in the Library of 52 reports of killings and massacres received during the war, 42 were received from the KLA or the Kosovo press, which are hardly independent sources. As we know, some of those reports have since been proved to be lies.

We put questions to Mr. Thaci. We doubted that he was doing anything to stop the daily violence against the minorities, yet KFOR seemed to treat him as the Prime Minister in waiting. Opinion polls, including one in the Washington Post recently, say that Mr. Rugova, the moderate leader, has the majority of support, because the ordinary Albanians are sick of the violence that is being perpetrated on their behalf by the KLA.

We met Bernard Kouchner and other UN personnel, as well as senior representatives from the Serb and Albanian communities. We were also briefed by the German general Klaus Reinhart, who has just replaced Mike Jackson. We visited Mitrovica, where there is almost daily confrontation between Albanians and Serbs. There is still a fairly large Serb population in the north of Mitrovica. The saddest sights were the small groups of Serbs and other minorities who were surrounded by tanks. They were prisoners, sometimes in monasteries. They were not allowed to go out for fear of their lives, so they could not lead a normal life. If they ever went out, they were subjected to abduction or killing. The situation is very sad.

Mr. Dalyell

I wrote to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 15 August about Fergal Keane's description of the plight of the Kosovo Serbs. My right hon. Friend replied on 11 October: When I visited Kosovo at the end of July I made a point of seeing the leaders of the Kosovo Serb community and reassuring them that the international community was opposed to ethnic intimidation and violence from whatever origin. I certainly did not 'tiptoe' around the issue as Mr. Keane suggests. In all my contacts with Kosovo Albanian and Kosovo Serb leaders I have left no doubt that nothing excuses ethnic cleansing and that there is no question of our tolerating such abuses. That is a clear statement from the Prime Minister.

Mrs. Mahon

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention.

About 70 churches and monasteries have been damaged since the KFOR occupation. We went to Decani—a famous 13th century orthodox monastery where about 40 monks still live. During the bombing, they took in Albanians and looked after them, protecting them at some risk to themselves. For their troubles, they cannot leave the compound and the KLA has put them at the top of their list of targets for destruction. That is a sad story.

Since I came back, my Committee has issued a report. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow was right to say that Bernard Kouchner has said that he cannot put a soldier or policeman behind every Serb. He was pessimistic about the situation.

We heard a lot about the Albanian border, which was left completely unprotected, and arms are still pouring in. Drug trafficking has started again, and the mafia is very active. International representatives, both military and civilian, have said that they expect the risk of terrorism motivated by ethnic and other reasons to increase in the months to come. It is not a good report to put to the North Atlantic Assembly, and it was a sad visit altogether.

We have heard that there must be a democratic press in Yugoslavia before sanctions can be lifted. Yet the press in Kosovo—which is allowed to operate freely—recently took a dangerous turn with an article condemning Veton Sorroi, a well-known moderate Albanian newspaper owner. The article called him a traitor to the Kosovo Albanian cause and warned that he is at risk of eventual and "very understandable" revenge. The article continued ominously that such "criminals" and "enslaved minds" should not have a place in a free Kosovo. That article created a storm, but the KLA—our allies, and those who would run Kosovo—defended the story, which was published widely in the region.

I wish to refer to the steady stream of revelations coming from Kosovo about the numbers of the dead. Every death and every massacre is to be condemned, whoever has committed it and under whatever circumstances—there is no excuse. All power to the International War Crimes Tribunal if it can find the perpetrators of some of those horrendous massacres. However, I would like to see some more even-handedness, and the same energy and commitment being applied to those who are committing murders and massacres now. I still hope that that will happen.

During the war, we were told by the Foreign Secretary and others why we needed to bomb Yugoslavia. We now find that the leader of the Spanish forensic team which has just returned from Kosovo has said we did not find one—not one—mass grave. I do not know how people define mass graves—I have read of places where 100 bodies have been found. However, the area given to the Spanish team did not contain one such grave.

The claims were extraordinary. I sat in this House when people referred to 150,000 Albanian men who were missing and who could be dead. The implication about their fate was made, and that did nothing to help reasoned debate. According to the Spaniard in charge, 187 bodies were found. He was told first to expect 44,000 bodies, and then 22,000. He was told that his team would be exhuming bodies until November, if not beyond. The figure of bodies was then reduced to 10,000, then to 2,000. Finally, they got down to the real figure, which was 187—many of whom had been killed by NATO bombing. Some had been shot, and some were prisoners in Istok prison, which had been bombed by NATO. He concluded: A military action prejudices truth. We were told that the Trepca mines—this story came up again and again and is referred to in the document put in the Library by the Foreign Secretary—contained 700 bodies. We now find that war crimes investigators found nothing in the shaft of a Kosovo mine where hundreds of bodies were rumoured to be hidden. Nothing was found—not even animal bones. That rumour clouded opinion, and made people less concerned about the effects that the bombing was having on a civilian population—a population that had not declared war on NATO. It has been a terrible tragedy.

My Government and NATO were wrong to bomb Yugoslavia, and history will prove that they were wrong. It has done nothing to help the situation in Kosovo. It has been a tragedy for the surrounding countries, such as Montenegro and Macedonia, which have been destabilised. The Danube has been blocked, and the countries will suffer as the blockage causes floods and continues to interrupt trade. There is also the tragedy of pollution.

Cluster bombs are now killing more people—those who have returned—than during the offensive. Children are having limbs blown off, and 14,500 of those bombs are still to be demined. What we have in Kosovo is a tragedy.

Mr. Dalyell

It was reported under the byline of Robert Fisk in The Independent on 16 October that Pekka Haavisto, chairman of the UN's Balkan environment task force, says NATO refused to co-operate with his team and that immediate action is necessary to obtain information from NATO confirming if, how and where, DU"— depleted uranium— was used during the conflict.' Did NATO refuse to co-operate with Haavisto and his team?

My hon. Friend referred to pollution. Has the Department for International Development looked at the analysis of the environmental damage caused by the bombing of chemical and petrochemical industries in Pancevo and Novi Sad. Following a visit to Belgrade by the World Wide Fund for Nature from 27 July to 29 July, a full and detailed report was produced. I shall not read it out, but it is important that the Department looks at this matter—particularly at the chemical reactions at Pancevo.

Mrs. Mahon

My hon. Friend knows that I saw the bombing of Pancevo. The soil was polluted, and some of the pollution has seeped into the waterways. That will be a problem for future generations. We must also get rid of the cluster bombs which, after all, are just land mines that are dropped from the sky. Their legacy remains for years afterwards.

I am not certain that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for International Development is the right Minister to be replying to this debate. I wish the Foreign Secretary had been here, as many of the things that we have referred to concern his Department. I want to assure my hon. Friend the Minister that I too will be watching the programme from Mr. Sweeney about the smiling killer. I am horrified when I see pictures and articles about Kosovo's numbers game. I think that there was such a game, and that it was sad. It clouded the truth, and we should all be against that.

I have pictures and stories about children killed by NATO bombs, and they do not make for pretty reading—nor does the story of the column of 75 men, women and children who were killed while fleeing either bombing or ethnic cleansing.

We should keep the matter in perspective. I wanted a peaceful solution, and we should have trebled the number of verifiers in Kosovo. The conflict could have been prevented but, for reasons best known to itself, NATO wanted to bomb. I am deeply of the opinion that that was the wrong decision, and history will prove me right.

6.30 pm
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

I totally disagree with my hon. Friends the Members for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon), as I did during the conflict. As my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax knows, before the recess I raised on a point of order the position of the Serbs in Kosovo and said that it would be appropriate to have a statement. I totally agree that the murder of the United Nations official, undoubtedly for no other reason than that he answered a question in what appeared to be Serbian language, is to be absolutely deplored.

More recently, I wrote to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary asking what action is being taken to bring to justice not only those responsible for the murder of that Bulgarian UN employee, but others who are responsible for the murder of Serbs since the liberation of Kosovo. I have also tabled questions on the matter. Let us be perfectly clear: those of us who supported the war are anxious that the Serbs in Kosovo should be protected. Kosovo was not liberated in order to create a pure ethnic Albanian state. The international community has a responsibility to do everything possible to protect the interests of Serbians in Kosovo. That should be clearly stated from all of us on the Back Benches on both sides of the House, and put on the record.

I disagree with the way in which my two hon. Friends condemn the military action. When the Foreign Secretary made a statement on 18 January about the mass murder of ethnic Albanians, two months before the military action started, I said that there would be no change in the situation until military action was taken and I urged air strikes. Naturally, I supported such action when it was taken. In all the circumstances, it was right for the international community to have taken such action.

My two hon. Friends have spoken about the position of Serbs in Kosovo. No one has suggested that what is happening is organised or instigated by KFOR. It would be madness to advance such a view—if there is a criticism, it is that KFOR is not doing enough to protect the Serbs—but it is entirely clear, despite what my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax has said, that before the liberation there was Serbian state-organised mass murder of ethnic Albanians. We could not turn away in those circumstances, saying that it was a faraway country and none of our business. Therefore, I cannot accept that the military action was not justified.

I do not for one moment question the fact that innocent people died in the air strikes. No one could argue for military action without recognising that civilians will be killed in the process, however much one wishes otherwise. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow admitted that the military action minimised civilian casualties but the fact that anyone was killed is unfortunate, of course. That, however, is the price of going to war, as in the Falklands and in the Gulf. The question is whether we were justified in taking such action. I think that, in this case, we were.

What is so depressing about what my two hon. Friends said is that, to a large extent, they advanced the view of the Milosevic clique. I do not believe that Serbians necessarily take the same view as my hon. Friends. A growing number of Serbians believe that crimes were committed in Kosovo and some, including representatives of the Orthodox Church, have admitted that paramilitaries, no doubt at the instigation of the Serbian leadership, engaged in ethnic cleansing. The crimes could not have been committed without the consent and approval of Belgrade.

Some Serbs also rightly believe that what has happened in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo, which was lost to the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, was caused by the way in which Milosevic took the ultra-nationalist line 10 or 11 years ago. They believe that he is responsible for the break-up of Yugoslavia, the wars and all the innocent casualties about which we know.

Mrs. Mahon

I recently visited Serbia twice and Kosovo once. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow will confirm that we met opposition leaders—people who would not support Milosevic in a million years—and that every single one of them condemned the NATO aggression. Many Serbs admitted that crimes had been committed, but every single Serb and minority person—let us not forget that minorities have been ethnically cleansed, too—condemned NATO aggression. People did not agree with my hon. Friend that it was a good way forward.

Mr. Winnick

I do not believe that it was NATO aggression. If those people admit that such crimes were committed—I am glad that they do—how do they think that that would have ended without the liberation of Kosovo, and how could that liberation have taken place without air strikes, unless ground troops were used, a move that would certainly have escalated the war?

I understand Serbs at the receiving end of the air strikes taking one view, but the international community, of which we are very much a part, took another. The only way in which the mass murders—which the Serbs now accept as having taken place, although a few in this country refuse even now to accept it—could be stopped was by military intervention, and we decided on air strikes rather than all-out war.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)

The hon. Gentleman and I will probably have to differ about the merits of the air strikes. Does he agree that it is important for the Foreign Secretary to make a full statement soon about the situation in Kosovo and Serbia? Does he feel that it is right for sanctions to continue against all the people of Serbia, including those who are opposed to Milosevic, while Milosevic and his clique will probably be the last to be affected?

Mr. Winnick

As I began by saying, in a point of order before the recess, I asked for a statement from the Foreign Secretary. We will have the opportunity to ask him questions tomorrow. With any luck, I may catch the Speaker's eye, as may the hon. Gentleman. I understand the view that Milosevic is not suffering and the ordinary Serbs are. How far sanctions can be relaxed without strengthening the regime must be the subject of on-going debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow said that we should not demonise the Serbs. I could not agree more. We have no quarrel with the Serbs. We will be delighted when Serbia is no longer under the rule of Milosevic and his clique. However, my hon. Friend is not necessarily the best person to have made that remark because, during the conflict, he quoted in the House some German intelligence report condemning all ethnic Albanians—not only those in the KLA—without qualification.

If the remarks that my hon. Friend quoted had been made about blacks, Asians or Jews, what uproar there would have been in the House. What he said about ethnic Albanians being criminals—condemning a whole people without qualification—means that he is not the best person to lecture us about not demonising the Serbs.

Mr. Dalyell

I would not presume to lecture anybody on anything. On that occasion, I was quoting the exact words of the Bundeskriminalamt of the German police. It is they who used the words "ethnic Albanians". On reflection, I think that that was an unfortunate way of putting it, but the KLA, and a number of individuals, have been highly involved in the drugs trade, and what I said was an exact quotation from the German police.

Mr. Winnick

So what does that mean? If there were a similar report from somewhere or other about blacks, Asians or Jews, or if some African or Asian country produced such a report about whites, would we take those on board and simply quote them? At least my hon. Friend says that, on reflection, he feels that he might have qualified his words. The remark that he made was disgraceful—even more so as the ethnic Albanians were being subjected to atrocities at the time. My hon. Friend considered it appropriate to stand up in a free Parliament in a democratic country and quote that report in order to condemn a whole people. He should consider not only reflecting on what he said but apologising for it.

Mrs. Mahon

On the subject of drugs, NATO itself, through its parliamentary wing, said something that we shall take to our meeting in Amsterdam: Kosovo was an important centre of drug…trafficking linked to the KLA. It continued: The war disrupted these flows. However, there are clear signs that mafias are reorganising, both linked to the organisation of the drug traffic in south-eastern Europe (more than to the physical traffic itself), and to the infiltration of weapons into the province through the Albanian border. That is making—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. The hon. Lady must be brief in an intervention.

Mrs. Mahon


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I cannot allow the hon. Lady to make such a long intervention.

Mr. Winnick

It is all the same sort of anti-ethnic Albanian propaganda, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I condemn it, as I condemn anti-Serbian propaganda. Such things could be said about the United States, Turkey and many other countries. To condemn a whole people because of drug trafficking and other criminal activities is disgraceful, and illustrates the point that I made when I intervened earlier.

I have great respect for my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax. What she said in reply to me was not very flattering but, be that as it may, we agree on 90 per cent. of domestic policies, and we shall probably agree again on Wednesday. None the less, she has allowed herself, as has the body that describes itself as the Committee for Peace in the Balkans, to act as a mouthpiece for Milosevic to a large extent.

Mr. Randall


Mr. Winnick

I had hoped to finish my speech soon, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way to him.

We must bear in mind the necessity for helping people in Serbia, but I hope that we will also understand the background, and why the war that the international community undertook was entirely justified. I am proud of what we did, and in view of the horrors that were taking place in Kosovo, I would have been deeply ashamed if we had stood aside and said that what was happening was none of our business.

6.43 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. George Foulkes)

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has, with his usual diligence and persistence, raised a timely and important issue, in which he has had the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon). In fairness, for the sake of balance on our Back Benches, I am grateful that my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) is also present.

I shall try to answer all the questions that have been asked; I cannot plead lack of time tonight. However, if I cannot answer them all, I undertake to do as my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow asked and write to him or to my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax.

I assure both my hon. Friends that following the ending of the conflict, the whole international community—I emphasise the fact that this has happened in close partnership with the countries of the region—has moved forward quickly to address the need for reform and reconstruction in the Balkans. One of the most encouraging aspects of the events in Kosovo has been the affirmation by most countries in the region that they see their future as part of the democratic community of Europe. They are looking to a democratic, productive and prosperous future. Despite the fact that Milosevic is still there, he and all that he represents belong to the past—and that is where they should be consigned. Having worked together with our partners in the region so successfully to confront the forces of destruction—systematic murder and ethnic cleansing, as described by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North—the international community is now rightly putting our collective energy into the process of reconstruction. The United Kingdom is playing its full part in that.

It is because the subject of the debate is the reconstruction of Yugoslavia that I, rather than one of my colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, am responding to it. I shall say something about that process in relation to Yugoslavia; then, as my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow requested, I shall also say a few words about it in relation to the region more generally. As he and others have said, there is a wider and more important context to the situation in Yugoslavia.

In Kosovo the immediate task following the ending of the conflict was to provide immediate support, in particular to the hundreds of thousands of refugees who flooded back to the province. Was it not a welcome sight when they spontaneously flooded back to their homeland? The difficult task of both addressing immediate needs and longer-term reconstruction has been entrusted by the international community to the United Nations mission in Kosovo.

In all our discussions about reconstruction in Kosovo, we should bear in mind the fact that the people of the province and the international community are now addressing not only the impact of the conflict there this year, but the effects of many years of deliberate and systematic neglect of basic services by the Serbian authorities, particularly since 1992. I hope that my hon. Friends recognise that.

Inevitably, the task of taking over responsibility for executive and legislative authority for a population of 2 million people, in the circumstances in which UNMIK was assigned that duty, has had its difficulties. However, we should be clear that, whatever the organisational difficulties have been, we can all be proud of the international commitment and solidarity expressed through the UNMIK operation.

It has generally been recognised on both sides of the House and beyond that the United Kingdom has played a major role in the response to immediate humanitarian needs, as well as to preparation for longer-term reconstruction. We have committed £98 million for humanitarian and rehabilitation assistance since the beginning of the conflict in late March. We provided immediate and practical support to the establishment of the UNMIK organisation. I doubt whether it would have got off to such an effective start had it not been for that British support.

We have taken particular care to assist with the re-establishment of the health system in Kosovo, including support for a primary health care programme designed to reach 800,000 people, and the overhaul and management of core services at the centrally important Pristina university hospital. I do not know whether my hon. Friends saw that when they visited the country, but I hope that they will agree that the work has been effective.

We have also established an infrastructure engineering unit to try to ensure that essential repair work for water, sanitation and the power supply is carried out before the coming winter, which will soon be here. The unit is also involved in essential rehabilitation of public buildings. We are assisting with maintenance and repair at Pristina airport to enable it to remain open throughout the winter.

Of course, the future of the province should and will be led by its own people. We have funded a wide range of micro-projects enabling local communities to implement their own priorities in the reconstruction of services and facilities. That has included repairs to schools and community centres, arrangements for waste disposal and the direct provision of tools and equipment. The assistance has been channelled in part through KFOR brigades, which have made an outstanding contribution to the restoration of security and the development of local communities.

We have also helped to put in place some of the aspects of democratic society that were denied to the people of Kosovo by the Serbian authorities. For example, we have assisted with the development of independent media and the establishment of legal advice centres.

The European Union is also playing a major role in reconstruction, and we contribute significantly to that. It has so far pledged a total of 137 million euro in reconstruction aid in 1999, through the Obnova programme, in addition to 378 million euro of humanitarian aid. A reserve of up to 500 million euro for further reconstruction has been provided for in the EU budget.

The next step for the international community in addressing the requirement for reconstruction is the meeting to discuss Kosovo's reconstruction requirements that will take place in Brussels on 17 November. That is a crucial meeting in relation to long-term reconstruction.

Mr. Randall

When the Minister talks of reconstruction, does he regard Kosovo as part of Yugoslavia or as a separate entity, given the title of the debate?

Mr. Foulkes

I said that I would deal first with reconstruction in Kosovo and then move on. I have much to say and we have lots of time. I have nowhere else to go, although I do not know about the hon. Gentleman.

The assessment of need is being prepared jointly by the EU and the World Bank and that co-operation is vital. The meeting on 17 November will enable us to plan ahead in a co-ordinated way. We are also making arrangements to put in place our bilateral programme of support for reconstruction and development in Kosovo. Officials from my Department will be visiting Kosovo in early November for discussions on the possible content of a long-term programme of support. We shall assess the humanitarian assistance that we are presently giving, and maintaining it where necessary. Then we intend to manage a smooth transition from activities addressed to immediate needs to support for the process of transition to pluralist democracy and a prosperous market economy, as we are doing in other countries of the region where reformist policies are in place.

No one has raised the issue of Montenegro, but I should mention that we are also watching closely developments there. We have a small programme of bilateral activities there at present, and we have committed £650,000 of bilateral, humanitarian relief to Montenegro. The EU has pledged 13 million euro of new economic support for Montenegro. Britain took the lead in getting agreement in the EU for exemption of Montenegro from the current oil embargo and flight ban on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Mrs. Mahon

Is the money going into Montenegro and Macedonia a gift or a loan?

Mr. Foulkes

All the money that I have mentioned is in the form of grants. My Department is principally involved in granting money to our partner countries. We also strongly welcome the participation of Montenegro as a guest of the chair in meetings of the stability pact. It has been enormously encouraging to see the active participation of colleagues from Montenegro in the meetings of the stability pact, and their evident wish to associate themselves with the community of democratic European nations.

Mr. Dalyell

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has said that there would be "severe consequences" if Serbia in any way tampers with Montenegrin autonomy. The west pretends to want to see former Yugoslavia held together, but not under the leadership of Milosevic. However, the west's every action, from economic sanctions to indictments for war crimes, entrenches Milosevic further. Are there any contingency plans being considered, even to the deploying of troops, to prevent Milosevic from entertaining any ideas of attacking Montenegro? I realise that that is a delicate matter.

Mr. Foulkes

It may be delicate, but it is also an issue for which I do not have direct responsibility. That question might be more appropriately addressed to one of my right hon. and hon. Friends. However, I do not disagree with the words of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary as quoted by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

Before the Minister moves on to the issue of Serbia, can he tell us about the situation of the refugees who were displaced by the conflict into Montenegro, Macedonia and Albania? How many have been able to return to their homes and what assessment has been made of that situation, the need for reconstruction and the funds required?

Mr. Foulkes

I will return to the question of refugees later, but if I do not touch specifically on the point raised by the hon. Gentleman, I shall write to him.

Mr. Dalyell

I do not wish to try my hon. Friend's patience, but before he leaves the subject of Kosovo perhaps he can tell us whether it is true that the Irish Guards are the only people who do night patrol. If he cannot answer that question, perhaps he could find out and write to me.

Mr. Foulkes

My hon. Friend is not trying my patience, because I have infinite patience and almost infinite time to deal with all these points. However, as he knows, I do not have direct responsibility for the Irish Guards, which is a matter for the Ministry of Defence. If he wishes to address that question to the Ministry, I am sure that he will get a sensible answer.

The challenge of reconstruction is, of course, greatest in Serbia. The British Government, and the international community, are as strongly committed to the transition of Serbia and the prosperity of its people as we are to other countries of the region with which we are working so closely and productively. We have nothing against the people of Serbia. As my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North said, we have no vendetta against the people of Serbia, many of whom have suffered under the leadership of Milosevic as much as anyone. It is the misfortune of the people of Serbia to be governed by a corrupt and undemocratic regime led by an indicted war criminal.

We are ready to give our support to the process of reform and reconstruction in Serbia as soon as there is a Government there who respect and implement the principles of democracy on which reform and reconstruction are based. As soon as Serbia is democratically governed and complies with its international obligations, it will immediately be able to participate in the stability pact and to benefit from bilateral and multilateral support available from the international community. The help that the people of Serbia need is ready to be provided if those conditions are met, but that is in the hands of the people of Serbia.

Mrs. Mahon

I raised earlier the double standard in the attitudes of the west, and the EU and the OSCE in particular, to Turkey, which has elected representatives in prison, an appalling human rights record and where up to 30,000 Kurds have been killed. What is my hon. Friend's response to the comparison of the attitudes to Turkey and Yugoslavia?

Mr. Foulkes

I do not think that it is helpful to make such comparisons. We could go around the world making comparisons, but we need to take each case on its merits. We need to make a judgment on the circumstances and all the information that we have. As my hon. Friend will know, I strongly opposed armed intervention in the Falklands, and that stance was not too popular at the time.

Mr. Winnick

I supported intervention.

Mr. Foulkes

My hon. Friend made a different judgment in the case of the Falklands, and rightly.

Several hon. Members—including the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells), who is no longer in his place—raised the crucial issue of sanctions. The goal of the oil embargo, the flight bans and the visa regime is to promote democratic change in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, by as far as possible targeting Milosevic's regime.

On sanctions, I emphasise that, although it is crucial to keep up pressure on Milosevic and his regime, our argument is not with the Serbian people. Our present judgment is that the sanctions in force will not cause a humanitarian crisis in Serbia, although we are monitoring the situation closely. I tell my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow that we remain ready to provide targeted humanitarian assistance, should it be required.

Forty thousand tonnes of oil have already been imported under the humanitarian exemptions provided in the terms of the western oil embargo. I say specifically to my hon. Friends that, if need be, further exemptions can be agreed within a week. Indeed, the oil embargo is incomplete. If Milosevic so chooses, he is free to purchase oil from Russia, Bulgaria and the Ukraine, so the opportunity to bring help to his people is in his own hands.

Mr. David Heath

I am very interested in what the Minister is saying. Am I right in thinking that, as I heard a couple of weeks ago, it is the assessment of the United Nations Commission for Europe—a body in which I do not always have a great deal of confidence—that there is a need for a change in that sanctions regime, precisely to replace the generating capacity that was destroyed during the war and avoid difficulties of a humanitarian nature this winter?

Mr. Foulkes

Is the hon. Gentleman referring to the Balkans Task Force?

Mr. Heath

No; the UN Commission for Europe.

Mr. Foulkes

I believe that the same point was dealt with by that report. However, if the close monitoring that is taking place shows that further exemptions are needed, they can be agreed rapidly—within a week. We shall take that into account. The reports that we receive—I am not immediately aware of the one that the hon. Gentleman mentions—certainly help us to make up our mind about that.

On refugees in Serbia—a subject raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow—the precise figures are unknown. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has permission from the Serb authorities for a re-registration exercise to reassess the numbers. The current estimate is about 700,000. The UN office for co-ordinating humanitarian affairs, based in Belgrade, says that collective centres in Serbia are receiving energy supplies, including from non-governmental organisations and the Red Cross; and UNICEF, the Red Cross, the European Community Humanitarian Office and Focus—a Swiss, Russian and Czech agency—have support programmes focused on schools and hospitals. Natural gas imports into Serbia from Russia via Hungary are continuing. That assistance is available to help to meet the immediate humanitarian needs of people in Serbia.

Audrey Wise (Preston)

Would my hon. Friend care to quantify the help that he just mentioned?

Mr. Foulkes

Not immediately, but I could reply in more detail to my hon. Friend in relation to that. I do not believe that she was in the Chamber when the question to which I am replying was asked, in an intervention. If I had been given greater notice, I would have tried to reply to that point in more detail, but I shall try to do so later.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow expressed particular interest in the environmental impact of the Kosovo conflict, as he has done several times in the House. As he said, the joint United Nations Environment Programme-United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Balkans task force—under the chairmanship of Dr. Haavisto, an eminent Finn—was set up in May to investigate the impact of the conflict on the environment in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and on human settlements. That task force looked in particular at the environmental consequences of air strikes for industrial sites; the impact of the conflict on the Danube; the impact on biodiversity; the consequences for human settlements and the environment; and the use of depleted uranium weapons.

It is a testimony to our concern about the issue that that task force was set up and was given that remit. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow said that he was concerned that the conflict may have resulted in an environmental catastrophe. The BTF's key conclusions were that the Kosovo conflict had not caused an environmental catastrophe in the Balkans region, but that pollution at some sites was serious and did, indeed, pose a threat to human health.

Environmental contamination as a result of the conflict was identified at four hot-spot sites. However, the BTF also said that part of the contamination identified at some sites was obviously due to poor environmental management pre-dating the Kosovo conflict; that, in particular, there was a long-term deficiency in the treatment and storage of hazardous waste; and that immediate attention to environmental issues was necessary, regardless of the cause. Concern about that pre-existing long-term deficiency had previously been expressed by some other states in the region.

Mr. Dalyell

I quote Dr. Haavisto: It is up to the international community to discuss and decide whether the rules of modern warfare are up to date when looking at all the risks to human health and to the environment". Do the Government in general accept Dr. Haavisto's request in that respect?

Mr. Foulkes

Obviously, the environmental considerations must be taken into account, with a range of other things, but as I said, Dr. Haavisto's—and the task force's—principal conclusion was not that the conflict had caused an environmental catastrophe.

Inevitably, especially where industrial sites are targeted in the course of conflicts, there is likely to be environmental impact. However, it is relevant to bear in mind the fact that, in all aspects of public administration and service delivery, Kosovo has suffered from extensive and deliberate neglect by the authorities of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, especially since 1992. That point is made in the BTF report.

There has also been particular concern about the possibility of pollution of the Danube, including contamination of drinking water and the ingestion of toxins by fish. The BTF concluded that there was no evidence of an ecological catastrophe for the Danube as a result of air strikes, although there were some serious hot spots where contamination by air strikes had occurred. That was against the background of long-term chronic pollution.

Mr. Dalyell

I quote page 53 of the report by Professor Stephan and Dr. Strobel: It is of urgent necessity to analyse sediments and bank filtrates in case they are to be used in the production of drinking water. As fishing is practised in the Danube and in the canals, the fish should regularly be checked for mercury and PCB content so that diseases (e. g. Minimata disease…) can be prevented. Is action being taken on that?

Mr. Foulkes

We are certainly taking account of that; that is why Dr. Haavisto's task force was set up. However, I wish that my hon. Friend would also take account of the point that I was making when he was preparing to make that intervention—that many of the problems pre-date the conflict and are caused by poor environmental management before it.

I shall also answer my hon. Friend's previous question, in relation to the blocking of the Danube as a result of the bombing of bridges during the conflict. On 11 October, the General Affairs Council of the European Union emphasised the EU's readiness to support the Danube Commission and the countries of the region in addressing that issue, given the importance of the Danube to regional economies. We know how important that river is. I have sailed down it myself; I know how crucial it is to regional economies. However, the Serbian authorities are refusing to clear the debris until the cost is paid by the NATO countries.

Mr. Dalyell


Mr. Foulkes

Let me finish. However, the true motives of the Serbian authorities are revealed by the fact that they have declined offers from Russia and from the city of Dortmund to help with bridge building and the clearance of the river. If they were genuinely concerned about the immediate effects, including the effect of icing up, why have they not accepted the offers from Russia and from Dortmund to do that clearing up?

My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax raised the question of the Kosovo protection force. That force explicitly preserves 10 per cent. of its places for non-Albanian minorities. Not all of them have been taken up, but that allocation is fundamental to the concept of the force.

The Kosovo protection force is not a military organisation. KFOR has reported that the KLA was successfully demilitarised. We should give some credit to positive steps of that kind.

Mrs. Mahon

How does my hon. Friend explain the shootings and the continued ethnic cleansing? How does he explain the fact that the bishop and the priest to whom I referred earlier have pulled out? The Kosovo protection force is the KLA by another name.

Mr. Foulkes

My hon. Friend puts two and two together and makes five. She cannot attribute everything that she has described to the Kosovo protection force—unless she has some information to which we are not privy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow raised the matter of our obligations to Bulgaria and Romania. We are working closely with those countries. I visited Bulgaria recently and discussed our programme there, and I hope to visit Romania. We are producing strategies with both those countries, and copies are available in the Library. We have very good relationships with Bulgaria and Romania, and both are taking part in the stability pact meetings. It is important for all hon. Members to remember that, as I said earlier, those countries in the region supported the NATO operation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow also asked about chemical factories. The task force looked into that matter, and concluded that, although there were no catastrophic effects as a result of the operation, there was evidence of a background of chronic problems owing to long-term environmental mismanagement.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow also raised the matter of the rebuilding of the motor industry. As I said earlier, we understand that need, but there can be no reconstruction activity until a democratic Government is in place. That democratic Government must comply with the international standards, including the ICTY in the Hague.

Mr. Randall

Would the Minister consider the Government of Croatia to be democratic? Would sanctions be lifted if there were a Government in Serbia similar to the one in Croatia?

Mr. Foulkes

It is important to stick to the topic in hand. Various hon. Members have tried to make a range of comparisons: following them up would have taken us all around the world. All I can tell the hon. Gentleman is that it is important to stick by our principles, and the principles that I have enunciated apply universally.

Mr. Dalyell

It is easy to be optimistic about Pancevo, but the report on mercury that I quoted earlier states: The bombings in Pancevo and the destruction of the PVC manufacturing plant also caused the release of mercury. Part of the mercury may have evaporated due to the heat, part of it may have been transformed into mercury compounds through the simultaneous presence of heat and chlorine and through the combustion products of the rocket fuels, and may have migrated in the smoke cloud in the form of fumes. dust, or soot. Some of the mercury must also have been washed into the Pancevo canal by the water used for fire extinguishing. Mercury findings in the soil and the concentrations at lower levels confirm this. Mercury vapour and fog"—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows better than that: his intervention is far too long.

Mr. Foulkes

With respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow, it seems to me that as soon as I answer systematically and point by point one of the matters that he has raised in his opening speech and in interventions, he raises something entirely new. Given that this Adjournment debate could go on until 10.30 pm, my hon. Friend could have spoken at much greater length in his initial presentation. I should then have had the opportunity to consider such matters carefully and to reply to them—just as I am trying to reply to the various points that have been raised. Again with respect, to intervene constantly with totally new points just because I have managed to answer an earlier question is not a proper way for my hon. Friend to conduct the debate.

I now turn to another point, raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Linlithgow and for Walsall, North—the murder of the UN official. I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow that his information is absolutely correct. I join him, and my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North, in deploring that murder. I strongly praise the work being done by the United Nations. I hope that we are agreed on that matter at least.

My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax raised the question of casualties incurred during the course of the NATO operation. I do not quarrel with what she said, but she should also bear in mind the fact that, in the year preceding the NATO operations, 2,000 Kosovans were killed, 400,000 were internally displaced and 90,000 were displaced outside Kosovo. In addition, a quarter of all EU asylum applications in 1998 were from Kosovo Albanians. Those figures come from the UNHCR; they testify to what was happening, and demonstrate why we had to take the action that we took.

My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax also asked about the report stating that Serbs had been attacked by Albanians. I can tell her that a column of Serbians was escorted by KFOR troops, and that a small group of Serbians was also tacked on behind. Somewhere, that smaller group took a wrong turn and ended up in a Kosovo Albanian village. They were set upon by the villagers, who thought that they were trying to return to Pec. The Serbs were eventually rescued by Italian troops—doing the job that they are there to do—and have now reached Montenegro. There were no casualties, and the main group under the KFOR escort also arrived safely.

Mrs. Mahon

I am sure that we are all pleased about that outcome. In September, KFOR stated that nearly 400 Serbs and members of other minorities had been killed, and that 500 had been abducted and were still missing. Will my hon. Friend comment on those figures?

Mr. Foulkes

I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North said—that we deplore any killing or torture of Serbs, or any attacks on them, just as we would deplore any killing, torture or attack suffered by Kosovans. Our attitude to such matters does not discriminate according to nationality.

I share the concern expressed by my hon. Friends the Members for Halifax and for Walsall, North, but I am sure that they will welcome the fact that there are now encouraging signs that the people of Serbia recognise the destructive nature of the current regime. For example, we welcome the meeting of Serbian mayors that took place on 7 October in Szeged in Hungary. That was a clear demonstration that democratic principles are alive in Serbia, despite the malevolent attitudes of the Milosevic government. Those principles need to be encouraged.

The European Union's General Affairs Council, at its meeting on 11 October, made clear the position of the European Union concerning Serbia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The council declared that, as soon as the Governments of Serbia and the FRY are under the political control of democratic forces and there is full co-operation with the international criminal tribunal of the former Yugoslavia, the EU and its member states will lift sanctions and launch an EU reconstruction programme. That is a positive incentive for all the people of Serbia.

The meeting of those conditions would also enable the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to negotiate a stabilisation and association agreement with the EU, in line with the other western Balkan countries. The FRY would also be able to join the stability pact and negotiate the conditions necessary to join the Council of Europe. Britain is ready to play an active role, both bilaterally and multilaterally, in reconstruction and reform in Serbia and the FRY, as soon as political conditions in Serbia allow.

In conclusion, I want to emphasise that our commitment, and that of the international community, to reconstruction is a commitment to the region as a whole. The European Union has announced its intention to negotiate stabilisation and association agreements to assist with the acceleration of economic growth in countries of the region. We want them to be democratic and prosperous. Negotiations are under way with some countries. The international community has also expressed its commitment to reform throughout the region through the creation of the stability pact, which was established by Heads of Government, including the Prime Minister, at Sarajevo on 30 July.

The stability pact has moved on quickly. First meetings have been held of its three working tables on economic reconstruction, security, and democratisation and human rights. Each working table has agreed a programme of work to be carried out before its next meetings, early next year.

The most encouraging aspect of the stability pact, and its essential strength, is that it is not a donor consortium but a partnership between the countries of the region and the international community. It is enormously encouraging to have seen the part that the countries of the region have played in stability pact discussions. Indeed, the next meetings of the working tables will be hosted by countries in the region—Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Hungary. The meetings of the stability pact have agreed and emphasised that participation is open to Serbia as soon as it meets the necessary conditions.

The United Kingdom has been a strong supporter of the stability pact as a means of accelerating the path to pluralist democracy and flourishing market economies in the region. We have, jointly with the United States, presented a compact for reform, investment, integrity and growth. The compact sets out the mix of conditions required in the countries of the region to promote investment and growth of the private sector as the basis for the creation of wealth and prosperity. We are now actively involved in developing a plan of action to take forward the compact and to assist the countries of the region in implementing it.

We have also taken the lead of a task group established to consider the promotion of the principles of free and independent media throughout the region. Discussion is taking place on draft principles prepared by Britain.

I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow secured this debate. It is, of course, his right to pursue this again and again, diligently and persistently. This is a democratic country—I wonder whether he would have the same kind of freedoms in Serbia.

I went to Poland last week and visited the concentration camps around Lublin. Some people would now have us believe that no genocide took place there either. I saw the evidence of genocide. Similarly, we know of the evidence of genocide in Kosovo.

It always surprises me that some of my hon. Friends believe the propaganda of the dictator Milosevic rather than believing me and my ministerial colleagues. Milosevic is the villain of the piece. He has systematically attacked the people of Kosovo and is responsible for the continuing suffering of his own people.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow attacked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development earlier in the debate. My right hon. Friend and I have worked for years—and will continue to do so—to help the poorest of the world's poor. We would not unnecessarily do anything to hurt the poor people of Serbia. That is why I hope that the points that I have made on behalf of Her Majesty's Government will strike a resonance on both sides of the House.

7.26 pm

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the sitting until a Message was received from the Lords relating to the Greater London Authority Bill, pursuant to Order [29 October.]

It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.