HC Deb 14 March 2000 vol 346 cc160-3
10. Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester)

What recent discussions he has had with his colleagues in the United Nations regarding Kosovo; and if he will make a statement. [112878]

12. Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh)

What recent discussions he has had with Foreign Ministers of other countries regarding Kosovo; and if he will make a statement. [112880]

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

I most recently discussed Kosovo with Kofi Annan this morning. As I said after the meeting, we agreed that much progress had been made. A total of 800,000 refugees have returned to Kosovo; the first 350 local police drawn from all ethnic communities have completed training; and 90 per cent. of children have been able to attend school, something that they were denied for a decade by Belgrade.

Much remains to be done, particularly to tackle crime. Today I have announced that Britain will be responding to the appeal for international judges and prosecutors. Forty British lawyers have expressed an interest, and I hope that some of them will be able to take up their posts next month.

We take seriously the problems that remain in Kosovo, and we will take every responsible step to resolve them; but we should never forget that the problems would be much worse if we had not acted, and had left nearly 1 million refugees without homes during the winter.

Mr. Oaten

Does the Foreign Secretary share Madeleine Albright's fear that the European Community is not pulling its weight in delivering hard cash quickly to help to deal with the reconstruction problems in Kosovo?

Mr. Cook

I met Madeleine Albright last week and we discussed the state of Kosovo at some length. Let me point out that the European Union is funding the majority of UNMIK's administration budget, and that this country, of which the hon. Gentleman is a Member of Parliament, has funded the utilities, the prisons, the transformation of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the formation of the Kosovo protection force and the health service in Pristina. It has provided civil experts for UNMIK, is supporting de-mining and, over the coming year, will fund reconstruction of the health and social services and the registration of electors. We are investing considerable resources and we are working hard to make a success of what we are doing.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

My right hon. Friend will be pleased to learn that last week we heard universal praise for the British contribution—for the professionalism of our soldiers, the contribution of our police and our civil administrators. There was, however, deep-seated concern about what was seen to be the proposed precipitate withdrawal of the team from the Department for International Development in Kosovo, which could, it was felt, lead to a great gap and to great disturbance. Will my right hon. Friend, in co-operation with our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, undertake to review the contribution of that Department, to ensure that there is, at best, a more phased withdrawal?

Mr. Cook

I read with interest the reports from Pristina of the visit by my hon. Friend and members of the Foreign Affairs Committee. I am pleased about the visit, and look forward to discussing it with them when I give evidence to the Committee on Thursday.

I think that there has been a misunderstanding in regard to the point raised by my hon. Friend. It is true that a change is in progress in the Department for International Development in regard to who is responsible for the support work in Kosovo: it is shifting from the section that deals with humanitarian crises to the section that deals with reconstruction, because that is what is happening in Kosovo. I can, however, tell my hon. Friend that only last week the DFID confirmed that its budget in Kosovo this year would be £29 million, which will help reconstruction. The DFID will be fully involved in that.

Mr. Martin Bell (Tatton)

Is the Foreign Secretary aware of recent instances in which the activities of the international police force in Kosovo have been frustrated and obstructed by the French military and the French-controlled sector?

Mr. Cook

I read last week's report in The Times with interest. I made inquiries, and I am sure that the report was not correct in saying that British policemen had withdrawn from Mitrovica because of criticism. It is important for all members of KFOR, the French and everyone else, to co-operate fully with the police and to provide rapid access to scenes of crime.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West)

I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement of the supply of additional judges to Kosovo. When we were there, we were made very much aware of the problem experienced by the police, who could arrest people but could then do nothing other than caution and release them.

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that there is a uniform policy across Kosovo of dismantling paramilitary forces, whether they are the KLA or the Serb paramilitary in Mitrovica, so that there can be a real return to civil government?

Mr. Cook

I entirely agree: it is important for Kosovo to be ruled and governed by the UN international mandate, rather than by men who happen to have managed to hold on to their weapons.

We have worked hard to try to reduce the volume of weapons in Kosovo. Eight thousand have been handed in voluntarily, and a further 4,000 have been confiscated as a result of KFOR's work. I agree that it is important for us to continue to press home that work, to ensure that Mitrovica does not remain an enclave under paramilitary control but is part of the UNMIK mandate throughout Kosovo, and to ensure that those expelled from their homes there have the opportunity to return.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

Following the discussions that the right hon. Gentleman has just reported to the House, is he able to tell us the number of Kosovar Albanians forced out of Kosovo, as distinct from the number terrorised out of their homes prior to the start of the NATO attacks on Yugoslavia?

Mr. Cook

A total of 850,000 were forced out of their homes during that period of conflict. As to those who were forced from their homes in the period preceding the conflict, that, of course, will depend on the period that is taken, but, in October of the preceding year, when Holbrooke attended negotiations in Belgrade, 250,000 Kosovar Albanians had already been forced from their homes. The idea that the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo began with the NATO bombing is totally in defiance of the history of that troubled province in the preceding year. It was the victim of repeated oppression.

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