HL Deb 07 December 1998 vol 595 cc713-6

2.50 p.m.

Lord Moynihan asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress has been made in implementing the Holbrooke package in Kosovo and in facilitating talks between President Milosevic, the ethnic Albanian leadership and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the OSCE is continuing its work to establish a ground verification mission in Kosovo. An HQ is being established in Pristina and there are already about 100 mission staff in Kosovo, in addition to the approximately 300 international monitors already on the ground as part of the Kosovo Diplomatic Observer Mission. These will be folded into the OSCE mission. Since 17th October NATO's Air Verification Mission has made regular overflights of Kosovo. The UK continues actively to support efforts led by US Envoy Hill and EU Special Envoy Petritsch to secure agreement on an interim accord for Kosovo.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, given that the Holbrooke package was agreed in mid-October, can the Minister say why some seven weeks later only a fraction—indeed, the Minister said some 300?—of the 2,000 strong OSCE verification mission has been deployed? Further, can she say what assessment the Government have made of fears that the Balkan winter has helped to check violence in the province for the time being but that it could well break out again in the spring? If more monitors are not on the ground soon, it may not be possible to contain the violence sufficiently for the parallel negotiations on the future of Kosovo to succeed.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, we believe that we are making steady and proper progress. There are already some 500 international personnel in Kosovo, including the 300 monitors who were attached to the Kosovo Diplomatic Observer Mission. It is important for us to realise that this is an unprecedented task for the OSCE, but the establishment of the headquarters in Pristina and the fact that the first contingent of verifiers is being put in there—some 23 of whom are from the UK—are important steps forward. In view of the urgency, the UK put in over 50 additional personnel in November to boost the additional Kosovo diplomatic mission. Those people have to be trained in their task, which is a serious and important one. However, we believe that steady progress is being made.

As to the difficulties over the Balkan winter, although a few months ago there were about 50,000 people without shelter in Kosovo, I am happy to say that I believe all people who have been looking for shelter have now found it. It is to be hoped that the devastation of the Kosovo winter will not be so tragic in its effect.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether the Government are keeping a wary eye on the behaviour or Prince Leka—the claimant to the Albanian throne—who, although resident in this country at one stage, has also been resident in South Africa and is now believed to be in Albania. Is he helping the KLA? Do the Government have any information about his present whereabouts and behaviour?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I do not have any information about that particular individual. However, in relation to the KLA in general, the Government's position is quite clear; namely, that the basis of the Holbrooke agreement applies to all parties in Kosovo and not just to some of them.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, in the agreement reached by Mr. Richard Holbrooke, there was a date of 2nd November for the commencement of discussion about the future autonomous status of Kosovo and that it was suggested that talks between Mr. Milosevic and the Kosovan authorities should begin? Can the Minister give the House any information about where, if anywhere, those talks now stand?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right. Belgrade has committed itself to seek agreement on a framework document for an interim settlement based on the Contact Group-endorsed proposals. We fully intend to hold them to their word. Therefore, we are continuing actively to support the ongoing diplomatic efforts which are being spearheaded by US Envoy Hill and EU Special Envoy Petritsch to try to bring the two sides together in agreement. This is certainly a very long, difficult and drawn-out business. However, both envoys are actively engaged in discussions with both sides. Her Majesty's Government are supporting them in their endeavours.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, while many of those who have been seeking shelter have now found shelter of a sort, the situation which confronts them is pretty bleak? Does she also agree that there is a tremendous need to ensure adequate medical and food supplies? Further, as winter takes a grip on the area, can my noble friend say anything reassuring to the House about the supply of humanitarian relief and access to it?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, as I reported to your Lordships a few moments ago, UNHCR has reported that all displaced people previously living in the open now have access to adequate shelter. I believe that that is a tribute to the very hard work of UNHCR in that respect. Much assistance continues to go into Kosovo directly from Her Majesty's Government. Moreover, the Department for International Development announced a £2 million contribution for humanitarian assistance to Kosovo, in addition to £1 million provided earlier this year and a further £1.5 million allocated for longer-term peace-building activities. Indeed, that is in addition to the European Union assistance which amounted to some £13 million over the period. We believe that the humanitarian assistance is getting through. Of course, there have been reports of some difficulties in particular areas but, on the whole, the reports now coming through are mostly positive in that the assistance is getting to where it is needed.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, can the Minister say on what day the first report of the monitoring mission will be published and at what intervals it will publish further reports thereafter?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I do not believe that a particular date has been established for the first monitoring report. However, if I am wrong in that respect, I shall write to the noble Lord and ensure that a copy of my letter is placed in the Library of the House. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, earlier, it is important that the training of the observers is done properly and that we receive the kind of reports that will be genuinely useful. I should also remind your Lordships that the overflights have already begun and we are beginning to receive some very useful information from them.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, can the Minister confirm whether it is still the policy of the British Government not to give refuge in this country to foreigners who are plotting troubles elsewhere? Indeed. Prince Leka—of whom the Minister has not apparently heard and about whom I shall say more some other time—is a great hefty fellow with a couple of guns to his belt who was in South Africa at one stage and has recently been in Britain. Can the Minister say whether he is known to be helping and backing the KLA?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I regret that I do not know any more about Prince Leka now than I did a few moments ago when I hoped that I had indicated to the noble Earl that that was a significant gap in my knowledge, though clearly not in his. I shall certainly do what I can to find out about him and write to the noble Earl. Moreover, as I can see that this is of general interest to your Lordships, I shall also put a copy of that letter in the Library of the House.