HL Deb 08 October 1998 vol 593 cc575-8

3.32 p.m.

Baroness Ludford asked Her Majesty's Government:

What decisions were taken at this week's NATO meeting on military action in Kosovo.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, NATO Ambassadors have met daily since Monday 5th October. No formal decisions on military action in Kosovo have been taken in this period. NATO planning now stands at a very high degree of readiness to pursue military options in pursuit of the international community's goals, should this be necessary.

Baroness Ludford

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer and appreciate that it is a fluid situation. Can she confirm that the justification for military action is not as a punishment for President Milosevic, or to make western leaders feel better, or even to be seen to be doing something after six months—some would say years—of passivity in the face of human rights abuses in Kosovo, but that it is to stop genocide and brutality and to enforce Security Council Resolution 1199 which is still being flouted? Does she agree that any airstrikes will have to be followed up, probably by the deployment of ground forces and forceful pressures for a solution to bring stability, democracy and meaningful self-government to the Kosovars?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, the international community is united in its resolve to ensure that President Milosevic complies fully with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1199. That was a UK-drafted resolution and it was adopted on 23rd September. It makes clear the steps which the Yugoslav authorities must take to avert humanitarian catastrophe in Kosovo.

The report of the UN Secretary General on compliance clearly shows that they have so far failed to comply fully with the requirements of the resolution. No one wants to use military force. The international community is united to ensure that President Milosevic does comply fully. President Milosevic should be in no doubt that if that is what is required to make him comply with Resolution 1199 military force will be used.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, in view of the many reports that British troops are to be sent to Kosovo, can the Minister say what they can do there that they have not been able to do in Northern Ireland?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, at this time I would not wish to go into details as to what British troops might do in Kosovo.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that before NATO, acting as such, bombs the territory of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, or takes any military action there, a further United Nations resolution will be necessary? Resolution 1199, which was passed only two weeks ago, promises nothing worse than further consideration if Belgrade does not comply with its terms. Moreover, it is addressed with complete impartiality to both the Federal Yugoslav Government and to the Kosovo/Albanian leadership.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, the British Government have made clear right from the beginning that they disapprove of military force being used for political ends from whatever direction it comes. That applies to the Kosovo Liberation Army as well as to the forces of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

The Foreign Secretary will be chairing a Contact Group meeting at Heathrow tonight to hear the results of the Holbrooke mission. We would hope that the united pressure of the international community means that the mission will have borne fruit. In any event, we are clear that pressure, including the credible threat of military action, must be maintained if there is to be full compliance by Belgrade with Security Council Resolution 1199.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, pursuing the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, which is critical, will the Minister give the House a clear indication as to whether the Government believe that the American and British Governments, for instance, could take military action in Kosovo without recourse to a further UN Security Council Resolution? Furthermore, without going into details, does she seriously believe that airstrikes without the deployment of ground troops can ever be effective and conclusive in Kosovo?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, I shall deal first with the second part of the question. It is a wholly hypothetical question which I am not prepared to answer at this time. I would have thought that the House would understand that. It is hypothetical to discuss military actions in situations about which we are not in possession of all the facts. I am not prepared to reveal them in the House, and no one else would be either.

As regards the legal authority, the view of the UK is that if action through the Security Council were not possible, military intervention by NATO would be lawful on grounds of overwhelming humanitarian necessity. No one who has seen the details of the recent massacres at Gornje Obrinje and near Vucitrn, which appalled the whole world, could possibly doubt that we are in danger of a humanitarian catastrophe. Most of those killed were women and children. It was not an act of war or a military operation; it was plain, cold murder.

The UN Security Council Resolution 1199 affirmed the role of the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and Kosovo. On news of the last outrage, the Foreign Secretary immediately contacted the prosecutor to urge her to investigate it. She has now confirmed her intention to do so. We would expect the authorities of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to co-operate fully in this matter.

Lord Judd

My Lords, would not my noble friend agree that, while it is very damaging to the cause of international order to threaten force when in the end not being prepared to use it, it is invariably true that to deploy force without a political strategy is disastrous? Would not my noble friend further agree that it is essential to remember that Kosovo joined a Yugoslav federation and not a Serbian state and that when Yugoslavia dissolved into its constituent parts there was high expectation, denied by the international community, that the people of Kosovo would be able to enjoy the rights of independence as they anticipated from the constitution of 1974 which accorded them the status of an autonomous province with all the prerogatives of a republic? Is it not this denial of what they see as their rights that is driving the Albanians of the whole region together and which threatens to deny us a stable and lasting solution?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, there is no doubt that the problem, in many ways, arose from the fact that the autonomy which Kosovo enjoyed during the time that Tito was leading Yugoslavia was taken away by President Milosevic. It has to be said that he was put into power in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, after the elections around 1987, in part because of a pledge to bring Kosovo more directly back into Serb control. Around 1990 that was done, by various measures of his parliament, and the rights under the autonomy were taken away. That is the seed-bed of a lot of what has happened since.

But nothing can get us away from the fact that we are now looking at a potential humanitarian catastrophe—not only because of the people who have been killed already but homes have been destroyed and approximately 50,000 people are out in hillsides with winter approaching. That is the urgency of the situation facing the international community at the moment.

Lord Bridges

My Lords, an intervention in Yugoslavia would bring assistance to the refugees in Kosovo to enable them to return home and live in peace. Does it not inevitably follow, as a number of other noble Lords and noble Baronesses have said, that there must be a substantial component of ground troops in an intervention force? I understand why the noble Baroness does not wish to embark on that sort of discussion this afternoon, but I hope that she will feel able to convey to her colleagues in the Government the belief of many of us this fact cannot be ignored.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, I will indeed convey that message.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, is it not apparent that Mr. Holbrooke came away from Belgrade empty-handed? How many more last warnings are we going to give to Milosevic before we decide—as we should have done some time ago—that he has been a war criminal, he is continuing to be a war criminal and that, according to a statement made by the noble Baroness, he should be charged before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, as I have indicated, the Foreign Secretary immediately contacted the prosecutor. The whole question of what is happening in Kosovo is being looked at now by the court.

As to the result of the Holbrooke mission, I have no knowledge of what that is. I do not think that anyone has at the moment, other than the people involved. There will be a meeting at Heathrow this evening of the contact group to hear from Mr. Holbrooke, who will be there, and he will report on the results of his mission.

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