HL Deb 21 May 1998 vol 589 cc1757-61

11.13 a.m.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they will propose to the NATO-led Stabilisation Force in order to stop Serbs killing Albanians in the province of Kosovo.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, no role is envisaged for the Stabilisation Force, the SFOR, in Kosovo. SFOR was established in accordance with the Dayton Agreement for peace in Bosnia and Hercegovina. Its mandate does not cover action in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her Answer. Does it not immediately lead to the question as to whether the mandate should be changed to cover, if necessary, action either in Kosovo within Serbia or on the Albanian frontier between Kosovo and Albania? Is not the fact of the matter that the present measures being taken, such as sanctions, show at this stage very little sign whatever of succeeding? Indeed, Commissioner van den Brock, at a conference last week, described the sanctions as little more than an act of helplessness of last peaceful resort? Are we not really in great danger of making the same mistakes as were made in 1991 and 1992? Is not the fact of the matter that as long as Milosevic is president of the Federal Republic of Serbia, the western world can make as many declarations and pass as many sanction rules as it likes, but effectively we are whistling in the wind?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I agree that the situation in Kosovo is increasingly dangerous as the noble Lord and indeed I am sure the whole House, will be aware. A pattern of virtually unbroken, low-intensity fighting has now developed in western Kosovo and in border areas. There are growing concentrations of Serb security forces and Yugoslav army units which are very worrying. But NATO has expressed its concern at these recent events and has pledged to continue to monitor the situation very closely. I hope that that reassures the noble Lord that this is not an issue that has been placed to one side, but that it is being monitored and that NATO's concern has been expressed on that point.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, before anyone at the Ministry of Defence or anyone else takes a decision to commit British soldiers to this part of the world, first, will they make sure that they read a simple history of that area over the centuries which has been pretty bloody? Secondly, will they consult the Germans who became ensnared there between 1941 and 1945, with great casualties, and ask them why they made jolly sure that they did not get involved in that area?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am sure that the utmost care will be taken before there is any question of pledging British troops anywhere. We should note that the recent visit to the region by the Secretary-General underlines the importance that NATO attaches to preventing the escalation of conflict. NATO is currently considering possible further measures to promote stability and security in the region. I am sure that the whole House will be pleased to note that Mr. Milosevic met Mr. Rugova, the leader of the opposition, on 15th May. That was a very welcome first step. The meeting was made possible by sustained pressure from the European Union, the contact group and others in the international community.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, following the meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers on 27th April when the decision was taken to bring in sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro, there was reference to additional measures. Can the noble Baroness say what they might be or have they been agreed? May I also ask the Minister about the crisis which has just blown up in part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia; namely, the attempt by President Milosevic to appoint Mr. Momir Bulatovic as the new president of the Federal Republic which has been rejected by the Montenegran Parliament and is now leading to a serious political crisis in that part of the former Republic of Yugoslavia. Can the noble Baroness tell us something about that?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I cannot give the noble Baroness any further specific information on the last point that she raised. My general point is that there is considerable worry about what appears to be a continuing armed conflict in that part of the world and continuing difficulties caused by the lack of stability. The noble Baroness must be reassured that this matter is being monitored not only by the United Kingdom Government but through the contact group and the EU.

The noble Baroness asked about further measures. These are under consideration at the moment. The question of sanctions has revolved around the freezing of assets in this country and investment in Kosovo. As regards money going into Kosovo, that matter was put on one side for the time being on 16th May, given the meeting that had just taken place between Mr. Milosevic and Mr. Rugova. It was hoped that that meeting would lead to a quieter, more stable position in Kosovo. The other issues will be considered at further meetings within the next couple of weeks or so. I hope that we shall have more information at that stage as regards the first point that the noble Baroness raised.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is important that the frontier between Albania and Kosovo is monitored to prevent the infiltration of arms and people from Albania into Kosovo?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

Yes, my Lords, I agree that it is enormously important to monitor what is happening at the borders. Five monitors are currently attached to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. We are giving as much support as possible to ensure that we are monitoring what is happening on the borders because of the tension that may well escalate if the level of hostility rises in Kosovo. We are well aware of the possibility of a spill-over of the conflict outside Kosovo, to which the noble Earl referred.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, as normal chaos returns and re-establishes itself in the Balkans after the break-up of Yugoslavia, would the Government consider an arrangement under which NATO, which was set up for a completely different purpose and has a membership which is only partially appropriate to these operations, would make available to the OSCE its own facilities in terms of international co-operation for future military action in that part of the world with the aim of defusing the possible American/Russian and Western European/Russian tensions that will continue to arise as long as this is left to NATO under its own direct command?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, we have been pursuing the question of Kosovo through a number of different forums. The House will probably be most aware of the contact group through which we are trying to ensure the maximum degree of international agreement, involving both the United States and Russia in our approach to the problems of Kosovo. I believe that in the first instance we should be considering the role of the contact group to see what can be done to de-escalate the difficulties and hostilities in Kosovo rather than leaping down the path of assuming that our only course of action is to bring in full NATO forces. I am not quite sure what the noble Lord was suggesting, but I hope that I have got over to him the point that the Government will want to continue to pursue the option of the contact group.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the recent report by the Council of Europe which looked into the question of Kosovo, and particularly its recommendation that any potential long-term settlement of the issue should be within the existing borders of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and that there should be no question of Kosovo somehow seceding from those existing borders?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am aware of the report and agree with its major conclusions about Kosovo not seceding. The position of the EU contact group is clear on this point. It supports enhanced status and a greater degree of autonomy for Kosovo within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. However, that has to include meaningful self-administration. The status quo is clearly not sustainable.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry

My Lords, the Minister will know that no one on either side of this House wishes to mitigate the extraordinary difficulty of the circumstances in Kosovo at the moment, but history certainly does repeat itself in the Balkans as elsewhere. Having been to Mostar, Bihac and Sarajevo within the past 11 months and seen the horrific damage done in recent years in those cities and the country around them, may I ask the Minister to bear in mind, and to pass on to her colleagues, the fact that we must try to avoid repeating the mistakes that were made in the early 1990s?

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I could not agree more with the noble Lord. Having heard that acknowledgement of his views from all sides of the House, I am sure that all noble Lords agree with his basic premise. A few moments ago I mentioned the meeting between Mr. Milosevic and Mr. Rugova earlier this month. That meeting was made possible as a result of sustained pressure from the EU and the contact group and others in the international community who are pressing for a dialogue within Kosovo itself. We must look to both sides in the conflict to use the opportunity to establish a political process which we hope will lead to an enhanced status for Kosovo. There is a particular responsibility upon President Milosevic as head of the government to seek that negotiated settlement.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, given that the Minister has informed the House that there are only five monitors, what information can she give us about the extent and effectiveness of the monitors who were deployed by the European monitoring mission in Kosovo?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I would not wish to be misunderstood. Five may not be the total number. I believe that five monitors were looking particularly at the border arrangements. I shall write to the noble Lord on that point because I would not want any imprecision on my part to be misleading. I hope that it is understood that the Government's position is that it is enormously important to monitor what is happening. I believe that that monitoring position changes as the difficulties are perceived to be more or less acute. As I have said, I shall write to the noble Lord on the particular point that he raised about monitoring.