HC Deb 18 January 2000 vol 342 cc683-6
14. Mr. Michael Portillo (Kensington and Chelsea)

If he will make a statement on the future of the UK's contribution to United Nations peacekeeping missions. [104203]

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

We are strongly committed to UN peacekeeping and Britain will continue to play a leading role in its support. Along with France, we were the first permanent members of the Security Council to sign a memorandum of understanding on the forces that we could make available to the UN if required. More than 500 UK personnel are on UN-led peacekeeping missions, in addition to the 7,000 personnel on UN-mandated missions in Bosnia and Kosovo. The whole House can take pride in the contribution that those service men and women are making to peace and stability in the countries where they serve.

Mr. Portillo

Leaving aside practical and political considerations and focusing entirely on ethics, is there a reason to intervene in Kosovo but not in Chechnya?

Mr. Cook

We intervened in Kosovo to halt and reverse a major ethnic cleansing, and the 850,000 people who were refugees last Easter are back in their homes. In the case of Chechnya, we have repeatedly made it clear to Russia that we deplore the military action that it is taking against civilians and I honestly do not understand why the right hon. Gentleman finds anything amusing in what is happening there. We have supported the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe missions to try to find a political way forward and have already intervened by making sure that we withhold the financial support available from the European Union. I shall continue to take every possible responsible and realistic step to bring home that message to Russia. If he wants us to engage Russia in a military war, he should be honest in saying so. He would find little support, either in the House or in the country outside.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

Did the Foreign Secretary have the opportunity—if not, will he take one— to see the television programme broadcast on Sunday night by Jonathan Dimbleby in which it was revealed that there is widespread intimidation of Serbs in Kosovo and ethnic cleansing on a massive scale and that the KLA, whose members were described by my right hon. Friend and the American Secretary of State as "terrorists" a year ago, is in a dominant position in Kosovo? Is he altogether satisfied that the same criteria of humanitarian assistance might not be applied to relieve the pressure there and on the Yugoslav people, who have suffered so much from the NATO bombing?

Mr. Cook

We are very willing to provide humanitarian assistance to Serbia wherever we can find an interlocutor with whom we can work. That is why we have created the energy for democracy scheme to provide fuel to municipalities under opposition control, but President Milosevic held up those trucks for a long time when they reached the borders of Serbia. In the case of Kosovo, as my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe has said, KFOR spends 50 per cent, of its time protecting the Serbian 5 per cent. of the population. It will continue to provide their protection and we shall continue to do everything that we can to build that multi-ethnic Kosovo. I say to my right hon. Friend that I do not accept that the KLA is in a dominant position. We shall continue to work, both in NATO and with UNMIK, to make sure that hardliners and the KLA are clear that we want a Kosovo ruled by the ballot box, not the gun.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

It is all very well to say that KFOR is spending 50 per cent. of its time defending the Serbian minority in Kosovo but, although the UN has been criticised in respect of its role, we are not helping those people. The Serb community in Pristina is down to negligible proportions, Serb monasteries are being desecrated as soon as troops leave them and the only safe Serbs are those who are protected by their own people and herded into safe havens. The policy is not working, the whole basis of the war has gone wrong, one exodus has been replaced by another and the reply from the Minister for Europe was wholly complacent. We have to do something to protect those people.

Mr. Cook

If I may say so, devoting half KFOR's time to protecting those people is doing something. Some sense of proportion must be retained. I know that the hon. Gentleman was not keen on our intervention in Kosovo but, as a result of it, we have seen the most successful return of refugees—850,000—in post-war history. If we had not intervened, those people would still be leading a miserable existence in tents in Macedonia and Albania.