HL Deb 10 March 1998 vol 587 cc128-38

4.20 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat a Statement on Kosovo which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The Statement is as follows:

"I will, with permission Madam Speaker, make a Statement on the crisis in Kosovo.

"On Monday I chaired a meeting of the six-nation Contact Group, which consists of Britain, the United States, the Russian Federation, France, Germany and Italy. The group met in London at my invitation. We issued a comprehensive statement. Copies have been placed in the Library of the House.

"The whole House will wish to share the grave concern expressed by all nations at the Contact Group meeting about the events in Kosovo of the past two weeks. The security operations around Dreniza in the past week appear to have left at least 80 people dead. It is simply not credible that all those killed were terrorists, as claimed by Belgrade. Of the 51 corpses released yesterday by the Serb police, less than half are believed to have been men of military age. The local press report that 12 were children, 13 were women and 4 were elderly men.

"Belgrade cannot claim that such extra-judicial killings are a purely internal matter. The international community has a legitimate right and a duty to condemn such gross violations of human rights. Europe has a particular responsibility to reduce violence in the Kosovar region before it produces instability in neighbouring countries.

"I visited Belgrade last Thursday. I made it clear that I did so not just on behalf of Britain but as the Presidency of the European Union. I regret to tell the House that President Milosevic sought to present the events in Kosovo as a legitimate police response to terrorism.

"Britain's record against terrorism is firm and resolute. We strongly condemn the use of violence for political objectives, including the terrorism of the self-styled Kosovo Liberation Army. But terrorism cannot be used as the pretext for indiscriminate use of force against the civilian population.

"While I was in Belgrade I spoke with leaders of the Kosovar people, including Dr. Rugova. That leadership advocates a peaceful pursuit of legitimate political views.

"The international community does not support separatism in Kosovo. We do demand that Belgrade provides enhanced and real autonomy for Kosovo, without which the demands for independence are only too likely to grow. It is the tragic irony of Kosovo that its people enjoyed more autonomy under the communists than they have done under President Milosevic.

"The Contact Group on Monday approved a lengthy statement, which expressed our dismay at the current repression and condemned the excessive use of force. We approved a 10-point action plan to stabilise the security position in Kosovo. Perhaps I may highlight three key objectives.

"First, justice. We urged the prosecutor of the War Crimes Tribunal to investigate the recent violence in Kosovo, and we invited independent forensic experts to investigate the allegations of extra-judicial killings. Those responsible for repression in Kosovo are now on notice that they cannot act with impunity.

"Secondly, international monitoring within Kosovo. We called for access to Kosovo for the Red Cross, and for all embassies of the Contact Group in Belgrade. We also supported a new mission by Felipe Gonzalez as the personal representative of the OSCE Chairman. If Belgrade has nothing to hide, then it has nothing to fear from an increased international presence.

"Thirdly, regional security. The Contact Group agreed to arrange an early meeting with representatives of neighbouring countries, in particular to determine how to enhance the monitoring of their borders. After yesterday's meeting, I phoned the Prime Minister of Albania and the President of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Both expressed strong support for the Contact Group statement and President Gligorov gave a warm welcome to our commitment that an international military presence must continue on the border with Serbia after the current UN mandate expires in August. My Minister of State, the honourable Member for Manchester Central, will tomorrow visit Tirana and Skopje as a representative of the Presidency of the European Union in order to discuss what more can be done to strengthen their security.

"The Contact Group also resolved to take specific sanctions against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, to underline our condemnation of its acts of repression and to encourage it to co-operate with the action plan. We endorsed the following four measures for immediate action: a resolution in the UN Security Council for a comprehensive arms embargo against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, including the supply of weapons to terrorists; a refusal to supply equipment which might be used for repression or terrorism; denial of visas for senior Ministers and officials responsible for repressive action; and a moratorium on official credit for trade and investment, including privatisations which are currently of vital importance in maintaining the Yugoslav budget.

"Five members of the Contact Group agreed to all these measures with immediate effect. I spoke by phone at the end of the meeting to Mr. Primakov, the Russian Foreign Minister. He agreed that Russia could support with immediate effect the arms and equipment embargo, and would be willing to consider the denial of visas and the moratorium on official credit if there was no progress in Kosovo within two weeks.

"We have given President Milosevic 10 days to withdraw the paramilitary forces from Kosovo and to commit himself to a process of dialogue with the leadership of the Kosovar community. If President Milosevic takes these steps we will immediately reconsider the sanctions we have adopted. If he fails to do so, the Contact Group will take further measures, including a freeze on the funds held abroad by his government. The Contact Group meets again on 25th March to assess the Belgrade Government's response.

"While I was in Belgrade I met also with representatives of the Serbian opposition, and gave an interview to the independent B92 broadcasting station, which has had material support from Britain. It is important that we recognise that many people in Serbia also reject the police action over the past two weeks, and want their country to accept the standards on human rights of a modern European country.

"We also want the day to come when we can welcome the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia into the family of democratic nations of Europe. We cannot do so, though, unless Belgrade starts to behave by the standards of modern Europe. It is for President Milosevic now to decide whether the future of his state and its people will be deepening isolation from Europe or enhanced co-operation. I ask the backing of the whole House for a firm message to President Milosevic and his Government that the essential first step must be to stop the violence now".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.29 p.m.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, I begin by thanking the Minister for repeating the Statement. From this side of the House I echo her condemnation of the violence of the past few days. Furthermore, I wish to make it clear to the Minister that she has the full backing of the Opposition for sending a firm message to President Milosevic and his Government that the essential first step must be, as she put it, to stop the violence now.

The comments made by the Minister on the position taken by the Russians are crucial to the Statement and the current position. Russian influence is considerable and we urge the Government to use their influence—particularly during their presidency of the European Commission—during the next two weeks to persuade the Russians of the merit and importance of the position the Government have taken. We join the Minister in her condemnation of the actions of Serbia and the continuing repression and the gross violations of human rights which she has reported that have caused such suffering to the majority Albanian community in Kosovo. Indeed we condemn all violence, including that of the Kosovo Liberation Army, and welcome the continued commitment to peaceful negotiation.

We remain seriously concerned about the situation in Kosovo. The Serbs' continuing repression there has alienated the majority Albanian community. But Kosovo's unique position bordering Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Albania makes it an important factor in maintaining stability in the region. One of the fears since 1992 has been that the Bosnian war might reach into Kosovo and create an international conflict. What is vitally important is the need to recognise the potential for violence spreading further in the region.

I wish to ask the Minister one or two short questions. If Serbia does not abide by the terms proposed by the Contact Group, can the Government clarify their position regarding economic sanctions? Is there not a role for UN monitors for Kosovo along the lines of the Macedonian model? We oppose the unilateral ending of Kosovo's autonomous status and believe that autonomy and an open democratic political process must be put in place if Kosovo is to have a secure and stable future. What prospects does the Minister see for a return to the autonomy enjoyed by Kosovo before 1989? Does she agree that Kosovo's unique position makes it crucial in terms of the stability of the whole region?

In conclusion, we strongly support the steps being taken through the EU, the Contact Group and the United Nations to keep the situation under urgent review so that the damage to the stability of the region is kept to a minimum. We welcome the early intervention by the American Secretary of State in particular.

4.32 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement on Kosovo. I echo her words that not only are we looking at the repression of peaceful dissent in Kosovo, but we are also looking at what one can only describe as the organised destruction of civilians by government forces. Looking at Kosovo one fears that we may be seeing the spectre of Bosnia walking again. On this occasion it is of the most vital importance that the European Union should not fail, nor should the Contact Group, because as the noble Lord speaking for the Opposition has said, the repercussions could be of the most significant kind.

I also commend the Government on what I think is a most impressive Statement of action in one area after another to bring home to President Milosevic the dangers of the path upon which his police forces and his military forces appear to have embarked. The Government have come up with a most commendable list of actions which they are taking, together with the significant step—in my view—of announcing in advance a possible second stage in the event that the President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia does not respond in the next 10 days to requests being put to him.

I ask the Minister three questions. The first concerns UNPREDEP, the United Nations force which is currently on the borders of Macedonia. That force has now become of the greatest significance to contain what is happening in Kosovo and to prevent it spreading to other parts of this profoundly unstable region. Can the Minister tell us whether in the view of Her Majesty's Government 1,050 troops are sufficient; whether steps are in hand to reinforce that body should it be necessary; and whether Her Majesty's Government will be willing to call together the combined joint task force to reinforce that crucial line of command should it be necessary?

What assurances, if any, has the Minister had from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia with regard to the invitation for forensic experts to examine those who have died within the past few days so that the process of justice may commence and pursue its path to the end? I refer to the request made as long ago as last October for discussions to take place between the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the, in this case, peaceful leaders of the Albanian Kosovo community with a view to determining the autonomy of Kosovo within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Has the Minister any reason to believe that such a dialogue might now take place, and is there any possibility of outsiders being brought in to ensure that it happens? Some 10 per cent. of the population of Kosovo are not Albanians but people of a Roma community. Will the Minister bear in mind their rights too in any discussions that take place on autonomy?

4.36 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, for their support. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, referred to the position of the Russians. As I said in repeating my right honourable friend's Statement, the Russians have agreed the arms and equipment embargo. They have said that they will consider the denial of visas and the moratorium on official credit within two weeks if there is no change in Belgrade's position.

The noble Lord asked what would happen if Serbia did not abide by the 10 point plan agreed by the Contact Group yesterday. In those circumstances such issues as the asset freeze referred to in my right honourable friend's Statement will be considered. Further consideration will be given to that—among other things, no doubt—at a meeting of the Contact Group on 25th March if Belgrade does not make any changes in its approach. The noble Lord spoke—quite rightly in the view of Her Majesty's Government—about the threat that the current position in Kosovo poses to the stability of the region in general. It is because Her Majesty's Government are so alert to the grave dangers about regional stability and the real tensions in the region at the moment that Her Majesty's Government were convinced that there should be a meeting of the Contact Group. Her Majesty's Government have been forward in considering the rapid and, I believe, firm actions required in the 10 point plan referred to in my right honourable friend's Statement. We want to ensure that the situation does not get out of control and that it does not become critical. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, referred to the dreadful spectre of Bosnia in this connection.

The noble Baroness mentioned in her address to your Lordships on this point the importance of ensuring that we communicate with our colleagues and our partners in Europe on these issues. There are two opportunities for doing so this week. On Thursday, there will be a European conference in London of current members of the European Union and a number of the applicant countries. It is expected that they will discuss the serious situation in Kosovo. There will also be an informal meeting of foreign ministers in Edinburgh at the weekend. Again, I believe that my right honourable friend intends to discuss the situation with colleagues at the meeting in Edinburgh.

The noble Baroness also raised the question of the UNPREDEP force currently in Macedonia. This afternoon the United Nations is, I understand, being briefed on what happened yesterday in London, and the outcome of the Contact Group. In particular, discussions will take place on the possibility of a comprehensive arms embargo under UN auspices, and of the situation that should pertain after the planned withdrawal of the UNPREDEP troops from Macedonia, which, as the noble Baroness knows, is due to take place in August this year.

The noble Baroness also asked what assurances we had had from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia about implementing the 10 point plan and what discussions were taking place over ensuring real dialogue between the Federal Republic and the Kosovar community about the future. It is because we are waiting for the Federal Republic to respond on the points put forward in the Contact Group that we have arranged the further meeting on 25th March. Of course we very much hope that there will be a sensible and positive response from Belgrade on these issues. We and all the Contact Group members hope to receive the specific assurances for which we have asked. Among them, we hope, will be the assurance of proper discussions about the future of Kosovo, including the presence of those such as Felipe Gonzalez who have wisdom to bring to the discussions.

4.42 p.m.

Lord Bridges

My Lords, the Statement repeated by the Minister is most welcome. From my knowledge of the situation it would appear that her right honourable friend has acted with commendable speed and efficiency. Perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness two questions. The first is in relation to the influence which other important countries may bring to bear. Are not the two countries on whose support we shall depend, Russia and France, the traditional defenders of Serbia in the recent past? Has the noble Baroness read reports that the Russian Republic has within the past few weeks concluded major new arms contracts for the supply of weapons to Serbia? Does she have any reason to suppose that a resolution introduced in the Security Council to ban the export of arms would be supported by Russia and France? That would be an important step for the future.

Secondly, following the question by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, can we now learn something from the past and try to promote policies on this extremely grave and difficult matter within the framework of the European Union? We failed to do so at an earlier stage in the Yugoslav crisis. Here there is an opportunity for the British presidency to help all the member states to profit from our past mistakes of sins and omissions.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his compliments to my right honourable friend which I believe are more than justified. The noble Lord raises the attitude of the governments of Russia and France. Perhaps I may remind the noble Lord that in his Statement in another place my right honourable friend indicated that he had had a telephone conversation yesterday evening with the Foreign Minister of Russia, Mr. Primakov, who had agreed an arms embargo and an embargo on equipment that might be used for internal repression in Kosovo. I believe that the noble Lord's worries on those points should therefore be put in the context of the conversation that my right honourable friend had last night with his Russian counterpart. I hope that that will give the noble Lord some satisfaction.

The noble Lord rightly raises the importance of involving our colleagues in the European Union. Again, I remind the noble Lord of what I said a few moments ago in answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. My right honourable friend plans to discuss these issues with the large group expected at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on Thursday this week, and with the smaller group of EU Foreign Ministers who will meet in Edinburgh. I believe that we have a favourable opportunity to discuss these important matters in very good time in the way that the noble Lord suggests would be entirely proper.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, will the proposed arms embargo also extend to Albania? Having been in and out of that country since the Italian occupation 60 years ago I have some views on the matter. The noble Baroness may be interested to know that the current Albanian ascendancy in Kosovo dates from the period of Tito communism which encouraged Albanians to settle there and drive out the Serbs. Albania has been the source of small arms flooding into Kosovo over the years.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I understand that the arms embargo agreed yesterday by the Contact Group is an arms embargo on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, is it a principle of foreign and security policy that where a state uses armed forces in internal security duties in a manner that causes the death of many civilians and the destruction of much property the international community should take action to persuade the authorities concerned to desist from that action? Does that principle apply to all similar cases?

Can the Minister say what steps the European Union and others will take to bring to the attention of the Serbian military and police personnel the fact that they are running a grave risk of being prosecuted before the international criminal tribunal if they continue along the path they have undertaken?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I do not believe that I am in a position to start extrapolating from the very unhappy and appalling incidents in Kosovo over the past few days to go as far as the noble Lord urges me to do. What I can say is that the scale of the extrajudicial killings in Kosovo is a matter of international concern. As my right honourable friend said, the international community has a legitimate right, indeed a duty, to condemn such gross violations of human rights. I believe that a number of authorities are calling at present for some independent forensic experts to go into Kosovo to look at the corpses which, sadly, still remain unburied. As my right honourable friend said in his Statement, 12 corpses were those of children. There is no way that anyone can pretend that children have been involved in terrorist action which would justify extrajudicial killing.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I welcome the general drift of the Statement. However, the one word that it does not contain is "ceasefire". Is it not essential that someone should be charged with the task of negotiating a ceasefire which would be binding on both the Kosovo liberation army and the Serbian state forces? Is that not an essential preliminary to any attempt to resolve the whole conflict in a peaceful manner?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord is content only with the general drift. I thought that the Statement had the merit of being specific on a number of important points. The noble Lord complains that the word "ceasefire" does not appear in my right honourable friend's Statement. Perhaps I may remind the noble Lord of the last sentence of my right honourable friend's Statement. He asked the other place for its backing for a firm message, that the essential first step must be to stop the violence now". I think that that comprehends a ceasefire.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn

My Lords, is it the policy of Her Majesty's Government that Kosovo should be returned to autonomous status within Yugoslavia? I have been disquieted to hear Kosovo referred to on the BBC in recent days as a Serbian province. I do not think that that is in conformity with such a policy. Secondly, does the noble Baroness recall the questions I asked on the subject of Kosovo, and on this topic, on 10th December 1992 and 25th May 1993? Replying for the Government, my noble friend Lord Henley referred to the "international monitoring presence" in Kosovo. I am not at all clear that there is in fact an international monitoring presence there. If there is, can we hear a little more about it? If there is not, surely there should be.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the noble Lord raises the status of Kosovo. Her Majesty's Government and the European Union, indeed the international community, do not support separatism in Kosovo. What we demand is that Belgrade should provide enhanced and real autonomy for Kosovo within the federal republic. It is that matter that we are urging the federal republic to discuss with the political leaders in Kosovo.

So far as concerns international monitoring, we are urging the Government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to increase access for proper monitoring into the areas of Kosovo where so far there has been a denial of access. As noble Lords are aware, it has been very difficult for international monitors and also members of the press to get access to the places where violence has occurred. We hope that that position will be reconsidered so that international monitors can now do the job which will be necessary to satisfy the world that the terrible extra-judicial killings have stopped.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that Her Majesty's Government deserve congratulations on their prompt action under the leadership of her right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary in relation to the crisis in Kosovo? What action has been taken in respect of other European institutions becoming involved in this issue in an attempt to bring about a settlement? I refer specifically to the Council of Europe on the one hand and the Western European Union on the other. Is my noble friend further aware that, when I was a member of both organisations, we visited Yugoslavia repeatedly and tried to persuade the Yugoslays that the problem that has now emerged in Kosovo was always there and was likely to erupt? Have any representations been made with a view to using the good offices of the Council of Europe and the Western European Union?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his congratulations to my right honourable friend. I am sure that Her Majesty's Government and our colleagues in Europe will want to consider all sensible means of pursuing a peaceful settlement in Kosovo. My noble friend mentioned in particular the Council of Europe and the Western European Union. I am sure that those will be considered. I would remind my noble friend that the Western European Union is presently more attuned to examining more specific peacekeeping issues. However, I am sure consideration will be given to any sensible alternatives.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, will the Minister tell the House whether the measures that are proposed if the present measures fail will be backed by force, which is now accepted as an essential back-up for diplomacy? Are the ships still in place to effect a proper blockade of Serbia—for example, to cut off oil supplies? I do not think that at the present time Milosevic will be much affected by the measures proposed and would be more affected by measures that might be proposed.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, a number of groups, indeed some of the Albanians presently living in this country, are urging Her Majesty's Government to consider the use of force. I urge your Lordships not to consider such an option. I hope that the Statement that I have repeated has indicated a number of specific measures which the Contact Group not only hopes, but believes, will be successful. The Contact Group will meet again, as I indicated, on 25th March. If the measures that it has indicated have not moved the Belgrade government, then it will be able to consider other measures, including the assets freeze that I mentioned. I am sure that other measures will also be considered at that stage.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, will the noble Baroness go further in response to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie? There is the old Latin tag: si vis pacem, para bellum. We should therefore not follow the line taken by the late Harold Wilson, who said: "I will never use force in Rhodesia". We should never say that we shall never use force. I hope that we never have to use it. However, the behaviour of the Serbian Government is so intolerable that there must be an ultimate threat of force. Surely, force worked ultimately in Bosnia. Possibly, had we been more prepared to use it earlier, it may not have been necessary. So I say to the Minister: please do not rule out the use of force. I do not under any circumstances advocate it: however, I beg the noble Baroness not to rule it out.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am sure that when the noble Earl has an opportunity to read Hansard tomorrow he will be able to see that I did not say that we shall never use force. I urged the noble Lord on the Liberal Benches to consider the measures that Her Majesty's Government and the Contact Group have already proposed, and to remember that there is an opportunity on 25th March to reconsider the position.

Lord Rea

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for answering my supplementary question at Question Time yesterday on the involvement of the Security Council in the Kosovo question. She has done so through the words of her right honourable friend the Foreign Minister. Does she agree that the Albanian people of Kosovo, under President Rugova, whom I met four years ago in Priština, have shown remarkable patience in their passive resistance to the oppression that they have suffered to date under the Serbs—a patience which, I suggest, is now running out. What further steps can be taken to encourage the opposition, and eventually a change of regime in Belgrade, which I suggest is the only peaceful way in which the autonomy in Kosovo can be achieved?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, my right honourable friend, when he was in Belgrade last week, was able to give some encouragement to Dr. Rugova by having a meeting with him. As I indicated, Dr. Rugova rightly continues to advocate the peaceful pursuit of the legitimate political views of those Albanian people whom he represents. Her Majesty's Government have encouraged him to pursue that course of action. I am sure that Her Majesty's Government, the Contact Group and, I hope, our European partners will do the same in the coming weeks.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I wish to ask a very short question. In the context of the war crimes trials, which are a form of deterrent, as perhaps the noble Baroness will agree, how are the investigations to be made? How is identity to be established? I realise that there are difficulties. Is it the job of the monitors? What arrangements have been made? If contemporaneous or virtually contemporaneous arrangements are made, it is no effective deterrent.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the Contact Group yesterday urged the office of the prosecutor of the international court in Yugoslavia to begin gathering information relating to the violence in Kosovo that may fall within its jurisdiction. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia authorities have an obligation to co-operate with the international court. Contact Group countries will make available to the international court substantial information which is already in their possession. But it is part of the 10-point plan being urged upon the Belgrade Government at the moment that we see proper co-operation from them as well.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, can the Minister assure us that the preventive force in Macedonia will be maintained over the summer? I understand that nearly half the force is now made up of American troops, and there is some pressure for their withdrawal at the end of the current mandate. Can the Minister give us any indication whether the European allies will be prepared to replace and, if necessary, reinforce that important force, should the Americans withdraw?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I believe that we must await the discussions of the next few days about the nature of any international force to be kept in the area beyond August this year. As my right honourable friend said in his Statement in another place, we wish to see some kind of force being kept there. The actual auspices under which such a force would operate are, I believe, a matter for discussion in the next few days, within the UN, NATO and elsewhere. We must await the outcome of those discussions.

Noble Lords


Lord Whitty

My Lords, I regret that we have now reached the 20 minute limit.