HL Deb 19 October 1998 vol 593 cc1201-14

4.47 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:

"Madam Speaker, with permission I would like to make a Statement on recent developments concerning Kosovo. In mid-June, in response to demands from the international community, President Milosevic gave an undertaking not to carry out repressive action against the civilian population. That undertaking lasted for barely one month. By late July the Yugoslav army and the Ministry of Interior police had commenced a widespread campaign of repression throughout Kosovo. During that campaign they made no distinction between armed guerrillas and unarmed civilians. Whole villages were shelled, crops were burnt in the field and animals were incinerated in their barns. A quarter of a million people—a tenth of the entire population—have become refugees.

In September Britain and France presented to the Security Council Resolution 1199 which demanded that President Milosevic cease fire; withdraw his security forces; allow refugees to return to their villages; and make a rapid start to real negotiations on self-government for Kosovo. Two weeks ago Britain chaired a meeting of the contact group at Heathrow. That meeting sent Dick Holbrooke back to Belgrade with a mandate from all members of the contact group, including Russia, to secure an agreement which complied with the demands of the Security Council resolution.

"Last Monday, NATO unanimously took the decision to authorise air strikes on Serbian military targets. The next day President Milosevic gave his agreement to Dick Holbrooke on a settlement which commits Yugoslavia to full compliance with Resolution 1199. There can be no Member of the House who imagines that President Milosevic would have made such a commitment if the diplomatic efforts backed by the contact group had not also been backed by the credible threat of military action by NATO. The draconian step to close the independent press to prevent it reporting the agreements in full underlines his dislike of being forced into them.

"A key concern which drove forward our efforts over the last month was the serious risk to the homeless refugees hiding on the hillsides of Kosovo. Our most immediate concern was to enable those refugees to return to sheltered settlements before winter. I am pleased to tell the House that the UNHCR and the Red Cross have been able to return to their relief work in Kosovo and that the latest evidence suggests that refugees have started to return to their settlements. Britain has already pledged £3 million to the international aid effort.

"A central part of the Holbrooke package was the agreement by President Milosevic to a political framework to deliver self-government for Kosovo. This is the first time President Milosevic has accepted the principle of self-government for Kosovo.

"The political framework provides that the police in Kosovo will be under local control. There is a commitment to free and fair elections to a Kosovo assembly and to communal administrations. These elections will be supervised not by Belgrade but by the OSCE. Belgrade has been pressured to agree to a tight timetable which commits it to an agreement with the Kosovars on the central issues by 2nd November.

"The international community has no intention of leaving President Milosevic to choose whether or not he honours the commitments he has given. That is why Belgrade has been obliged to sign two separate agreements on verification. The first agreement, with the OSCE, provides for the presence throughout the whole of Kosovo of 2,000 representatives of the international community. This agreement authorises them to verify the maintenance of the ceasefire; to monitor and accompany movements of the security forces and the police; to facilitate the return of refugees; and to supervise elections, the establishment of Kosovan institutions and the development of a locally accountable police force.

"The second agreement is with NATO and obliges President Milosevic to accept daily over-flight of Kosovo by NATO reconnaissance planes to monitor movements of the security forces and to verify compliance with the ceasefire. The agreement compels the Yugoslav authorities to switch off all relevant radar systems when NATO flights are taking place and is a retreat from President Milosevic's position hitherto that NATO could have no role within Yugoslav sovereign territory.

"The verification mission will not be armed because it is not there to enforce the agreements. The agreements do though enable both verification missions to report to NATO. The importance which NATO attaches to compliance by Yugoslavia was spelt out to Belgrade by Javier Solana, the Secretary-General of NATO, who said after meeting Milosevic that NATO, 'will remain ready and willing to act', if Milosevic does not meet his obligations. In the meantime NATO has maintained its air activation order while the two verification missions are put in place.

"We expect the Kosovo Liberation Army also to abide by its commitment to honour a ceasefire. Over the weekend there have been several breaches of the ceasefire by the Kosovo Liberation Army, including the murder of four policemen. Such continuing acts of hostility serve only the interests of those who wish to undermine the political process and return to war.

"It would be a grave mistake to imagine that the Holbrooke package marks the end of the international community's pressure on President Milosevic. It is only the beginning of a process which will require the full commitment of the international community to achieve stability, security and reconstruction in Kosovo.

"Britain is ready to play its part in making this agreement work. We have already committed ourselves to providing 150 members of the OSCE mission, with the expectation of a further commitment to a total of 200. On Friday I announced that a British Major-General with considerable experience in Bosnia would head the British contribution. He and the advance party are now already in Pristina. We will also provide Canberra aircraft to the NATO air operation over Kosovo and will supply British personnel to the NATO unit in Macedonia which will co-ordinate the two verification missions on the ground and in the air.

"As the President-in-Office of the Security Council, Britain is taking a leading role in drafting a Security Council resolution which enshrines the commitments which President Milosevic has given and underwrites the agreements with the full authority of the United Nations. I shall leave tonight on a tour of three of the neighbours of Yugoslavia to assure them of our continuing commitment to security and stability in the region. While in Macedonia I intend to meet with leaders of the Kosovo Albanians.

"As I said last week at the Paris meeting of the contact group, the agreements are not perfect. International agreements rarely are perfect. There is though nothing to be gained by wasting our time wishing we had a different agreement. The responsible approach must be for us to do everything we can to make this agreement work. That will take great effort by the international community to deliver on their contribution and heavy pressure on President Milosevic to stick to his side of the bargain.

"Britain played a leading part within the international community in putting the pressure on President Milosevic that made these agreements possible. Britain is now demonstrating that we are among the first nations to make a practical contribution towards making a success of the agreements. We will not let up on our efforts until President Milosevic carries out his commitment to withdraw forces, and until the people of Kosovo can return to their homes without fear, can rebuild their villages in peace and can start to construct a self-governing Kosovo without repression from Belgrade."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.58 p.m.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, on behalf of the Opposition I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place. For the time being the very grave threat of NATO air strikes has been averted and the US envoy, Richard Holbrooke, is to be congratulated on his intense diplomacy in bringing about an agreement with President Milosevic which commits Yugoslavia to full compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 1199.

As advance members of the British contingent to the OSCE team of international observers arrive in Kosovo to begin the process of monitoring Serbian compliance with the UN demands to withdraw its forces, I should like to press the Minister for further details on the latest highly disturbing news from Kosovo. Overnight news reports state that a regular Yugoslav army unit has moved into Drenica in response to the murder of the four Serbian police officers referred to by the Minister. A Western official reportedly described the deployment as a "battalion-sized task force" and commented that the situation was "very serious".

On the BBC Radio 4 "Today" programme this morning, the Secretary of State for Defence said that those reports, which have described heavy shelling, were as yet unverified. What verification have the Government since sought and received concerning this Serbian Army deployment? Given that the unit involved is reported to be based in Kosovo, can the Minister tell the House whether this activity is a breach of the Holbrooke/Milosevic agreement to withdraw troops to pre-March levels? Moreover, what pressure is being put on the KLA to honour the ceasefire, which has already been breached?

These reports further damage the paper-thin veneer of optimism in the province, where Javier Solana, NATO's Secretary-General, said on Friday that from the information he had at the moment compliance was not a reality, and where Richard Holbrooke remains deeply cautious. What can the Minister tell the House about contingency plans should President Milosevic once again break his promises to the international community? Given that the Foreign Secretary welcomed the Holbrooke package as a, vindication for the strategy of diplomacy backed by the credible threat of force", can the Minister confirm that the 27th October deadline really will be the last warning, first promised to the Kosovar Albanians by the Foreign Secretary in June? Does the Minister agree that if a pressure for diplomatic strategy is backed by a threat of force, that threat must be credible? How grave a threat to the peace accord do the Government consider the recent statement of the KLA to be, in which the KLA rejected the Holbrooke package? What consultations were held with Dr Rugova, the leader of the Democratic League of Kosovo, and other representatives of the majority Albanian population in Kosovo, prior to the announcement of the Holbrooke/Milosevic agreement?

Regarding the OSCE monitoring task, what evidence is there that the presence of the 2,000 unarmed OSCE monitors will give ethnic Albanian refugees the confidence to return to their homes and will ensure that Serbian forces no longer threaten the civilian population? The Minister referred to signs that some at least of those thousands of refugees in the hills who are currently exposed to the onset of a bitter Balkan winter feel secure enough to return home to the towns and villages that they fled in fear of their lives. I would be grateful to the Minister if she could tell the House on what scale that return has begun.

Finally, I turn to a subject which was close to the hearts of many of your Lordships when we last considered this issue: namely, the UN resolution and a new UN resolution. Can the Minister give further details of the agreement by contact group members last week in Paris to seek a further UN Security Council resolution to strengthen the peace agreement? Will this resolution use the strong language of "air strike diplomacy"? If so, can the Minister confirm that this is acceptable to Russia, which has consistently opposed the use of force and furthermore threatened to veto any UN Security Council resolution authorising such action, and to governments such as the Ukraine who are genuinely concerned that air strikes without a UN resolution would significantly strengthen the hand of communist parties in Russia, the Ukraine and former CIS countries? For the sake of over a quarter of a million refugees in the region, what assurance can the Minister give everyone that the Holbrooke package is not merely a question of crisis averted, problem postponed?

5.3 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made by the Foreign Secretary in another place. We on these Benches congratulate the Foreign Secretary on the powerful initiative that he has taken with regard to Kosovo. Having said that, I echo some of the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. We on these Benches fear that we may be looking at a fragile agreement. I hope the noble Baroness will comment on the following points.

We understand that by the end of this month some 2,000 unarmed civilian monitors will be deployed in the former Republic of Yugoslavia, Kosovo region. We also understand that that deployment is not likely to be completed before the 27th October deadline. What protection might those monitors demand should they be threatened either with violent action or with the possibility of being taken hostage, for we understand that significant parts of the region are returning to violence and to conflict between the KLA and the Serbian forces, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said?

Is the Minister aware of the statement made by John Sandrock, the head of the initial logistics team, who said, We are unarmed and can operate only in a benign environment. We will not penetrate an area where there is any hostile action"? However, it is precisely areas where there is hostile action that most desperately need to be monitored in order to ensure that the agreement is being maintained. Is the Minister aware that already several of the bases of the agreement are not in the public domain? For example, it is not possible to get hold of Mr. Hill's statement about the basis for autonomy proposals. There are rumours that these do not even go as far as the autonomy that Kosovo enjoyed in 1989. Is the Minister aware that it is not possible at the moment to obtain the full text of the Holbrooke/Milosevic agreement, and that this puts great difficulties in the way of those of us who wish to ask questions about these statements?

I draw the Minister's attention to the fact that the only military protection for the 2,000 civilian monitors to be deployed by the beginning of next month is air cover. As we understand it, that air cover is already to be announced and indeed the flight schedule is to be given in advance to the Serbian authorities with a week's notice. Therefore the only protection the civilian monitors have is the possibility of armed action being taken should there be interference with their activities. This is the area that most concerns us. We understand that only two out of seven battalions have been partially withdrawn and that in the past 24 hours two UN convoys have been blocked. There is no information about the way in which the monitors will interact with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and with the humanitarian agencies.

We believe there is a real danger that the Achilles' heel in this agreement will lie in the failure to protect civilian monitors and to enable them to do a job. What reassurance can the Minister give us that the undoubted good intentions of this Government will be carried out on the ground and that we shall not again see what President Clinton so eloquently described as the cemeteries of Mr. Milosevic's broken promises throughout the former Republic of Yugoslavia?

5.6 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 welcome of the Statement, although I understand that that welcome is to some extent qualified by their concerns and doubts about the agreements before us. I add my congratulations to those of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, to Mr. Holbrooke on the undoubted hard work and commitment that have gone into negotiating the agreement which has been reached with President Milosevic.

Both speakers asked a series of questions and pressed me for further details. I shall do my best to answer the many questions which were put to me. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, mentioned the activities on the ground in Kosovo in the past 24 hours or so. The noble Baroness mentioned her concerns about these. We are aware of the reports of movements out of barracks by armoured units of Serb security forces and of overnight reports of the shelling in the Drenica region. The Kosovo Diplomatic Observer Mission (KDOM) is investigating these reports, as the noble Lord indicated. We have also been in touch again with the UNHCR this morning. I can confirm that the UNHCR decided not to send two convoys today along the road to Komorane, which is near the Drenica region, because of the reports of shelling. Other aid convoys are, however, proceeding normally. We do not have any independent confirmation of the shelling. As regards military movements, one company size unit of the security forces has been observed moving along the road towards Komorane and to Lapusnik where the KLA attack of 17th October occurred in which the Serbian policemen were killed.

A second Serb armed force has been seen moving northwards from Pristina away from the area of recent tension. I can assure your Lordships that we shall continue to work closely with the KDOM in monitoring the situation on the ground in advance of the full OSCE verification mission. We shall take extremely seriously any confirmed violations of the ceasefire no matter who is committing those alleged violations.

The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, expressed deep caution about what will happen next and asked about the 27th October deadline. NATO will consider on 27th October what to do in relation to the ACTORD. I stress to the House that the implementation of that has only been suspended. It is because of the serious doubts and worries that there are bound to be, given the history of President Milosevic, about his ability and willingness to stick to the agreement made. Meanwhile, we shall be pressing through the United Nations for the strongest possible wording in relation to the Holbrooke agreement. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, asked specifically about that point. Noble Lords would expect a great deal of behind-the-scenes activity to press for that wording. Negotiations will go ahead with the full force and robustness of Her Majesty's Government behind them.

The noble Lord asked also about the position of the KLA. It is important to remember that the ceasefire applies to the KLA as well. The KLA is not an entirely united force. Different parts disagree with each other. However, President Rugova was consulted about the Holbrooke agreement and has welcomed the OSCE advance party presently arriving in Kosovo.

The noble Lord asked about Russian support. The Russians supported Resolution 1199. We hope that the Russians will be willing to consider robust wording in relation to the discussions that are presently under way.

The noble Lord asked what assurance I could give that this was not "crisis averted, problem postponed". I cannot give an absolute assurance. The position is that we have done our best in the negotiations. As my right honourable friend's Statement in another place has made clear, this is not a perfect agreement. It was the best that could be negotiated. I am bound to say that it was the best that President Milosevic has been willing to say about the position in Kosovo for a very long time: with his commitments to withdrawing his troops and to free and fair elections within the next nine months; with his commitments on the rights of self-government for Kosovo. Those are statements that we have not heard previously. No one can know. No one trusts President Milosevic. That is why the ACTORD is only suspended; that is why we are seeking the fullest possible robust wording through the UNSCR.

The noble Baroness asked a number of questions on the position in relation to monitors on the ground. I know from the debate that took place in this House last week that there has been considerable anxiety on that point. Perhaps I may remind the House that there have been monitors in Kosovo since April of this year and the number has reached 45. None has been taken hostage. However, that does not imply any complacency on our part. The point was specifically addressed in the agreement made with President Milosevic. A specific guarantee of their safety has been sought and attained. The leader of the Kosovo Albanians has also welcomed their arrival. Therefore it is to be hoped that there is no difficulty from that side. This issue will also be pursued in the UNSCR which is under discussion in New York today.

I would say in reassurance, not only to the noble Baroness but to other noble Lords who are concerned about this point, that planning in NATO and nationally in terms of measures to protect the force and to arrange for their extraction if necessary is going ahead. This is a very sensitive area. The noble Baroness will understand why I am hesitant on this point. I hope that the House will not press me for further details but will accept my assurance that the point she raised is naturally a matter of considerable concern and that planning has gone into that side and the possible difficulty that might arise.

The noble Baroness mentioned a statement by Mr. John Sandrock. I assure the noble Baroness that the OSCE monitors have the right to go anywhere at any time in Kosovo to pursue their mandate, not only in relation to the ceasefire, not only in relation to the withdrawal, but also on the strengthening of institutions such as the police force, which is an important part of the agreement that has been secured. I remind the noble Baroness that there will also be over-flights to monitor what is going on.

The noble Baroness asked about the basis of what was happening with Ambassador Hill on the political track. The Serbian government have undertaken to reach agreement on the political track by 2nd November. Ambassador Hill is presently on a mission, if I may so describe it, of shuttle diplomacy between Belgrade and Pristina. He reports that his most recent contacts with the Kosovo Albanians have been particularly positive. I hope that that gives the noble Baroness some reassurance. The Albanian negotiating team has been very constructive in looking at Ambassador Hill's proposals.

The noble Baroness said that the documents are not presently available. She is of course right; the documents are not in the public domain. I inquired about this matter because I believed that noble Lords would ask me about it and whether it was possible to have the documents placed in the Library of the House. I cannot presently give that reassurance because the documents are not in the ownership of Her Majesty's Government. However, I assure the House that I will press to ensure that they are in the public domain as soon as possible. I recognise how important it is for the whole House that documents of that importance are readily available. I hope that I have answered the majority of the questions put to me by the noble Lord and the noble Baroness.

5.16 p.m.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, we are grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement. However, she mentioned that the Foreign Secretary is to visit countries neighbouring Yugoslavia. Will she tell the House which countries those are? Is he to visit Greece, which has claims against Albania in regard to what is known as Northern Ipiros? Secondly, will the noble Baroness take this point on board? The Yugoslavs are not a light-hearted, easy to deal with group of people. They are capable of—if I may say so, being married to one of them—considerable obstinacy. The effect of threats will be to harden support for Milosevic rather than undermine him. Is it thought that air strikes could or would achieve anything other than to unite all the Serbs behind Milosevic?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the threat of air strikes has been enormously effective. It has brought President Milosevic to the point of making an agreement the basis of which seemed unattainable even some two or three months ago. I am as happy as anyone in this House that that threat has been averted, albeit temporarily until a further meeting of NATO on 27th October. We can all rejoice in the fact that the air strikes are not taking place and that there is the possibility of a peaceful settlement.

The noble Lord makes the point with considerably more authority than I can in regard to the Yugoslav national personality and the possibility of hardening support. It is clear that President Milosevic is only too aware of how far he has had to back off as a result of the threat of NATO air strikes in so far as he has dealt with his own local media in the way that he has. He is not willing to have the full extent of his backing off made evident to the people in Belgrade and elsewhere.

The noble Lord also asked which countries my right honourable friend will visit. I understand that he is leaving this evening and is to visit Romania, Bulgaria and Macedonia.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the British Government, with their determination and leadership, deserve a great deal of congratulation for what has been achieved so far? Does she also accept that many of us in this House will wish to express our profound good will to the verifiers as they undertake their dangerous and exacting task? Can my noble friend say a little more to the House about the further resolution to support the operation which is being sought from the United Nations? Surely it is imperative that the Russians are brought on board. Were the Russians to dissociate themselves from the resolution, let alone veto it, the authority of the operation would become questionable in the eyes of some around the world.

Secondly, I understand that for security reasons my noble friend cannot go into details, but does she agree that now the presence on the ground is so extensive it is essential that there is a readiness to put a military presence on the ground, if need be? The presence of unarmed civilians going about their work in such large numbers could become a complicating and inhibiting factor for the exercise of air intervention.

Finally, and perhaps most important, can my noble friend assure us that, with the extreme conditions of winter approaching, which she so well described, and the vulnerable position of these wretched people in their flimsy accommodation, we are satisfied that, should they not feel able to return to their homes, alternative arrangements are in hand to ensure that they receive all possible support and protection, not just against the enemy but against the winter?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his congratulations to the British Government. I shall ensure that they are conveyed to those of my colleagues who deserve them, not only Ministers but the many senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials who have striven night and day to ensure that we have agreements which have at least taken us forward. I shall not make any great claims or sound complacent. I believe that your Lordships have understood the significant worries that must remain in dealing with President Milosevic. This exercise has been remarkable for the amount of contact, co-operation and partnership that Her Majesty's Government have had with other groups, including the contact group, OSCE, NATO and the United Nations. We are dealing with a very complicated set of agreements and understandings brokered in a number of different fora.

The noble Lord raised the issue of the further resolution. I believe that I have said all I can about that. The wording is under discussion in New York today. It will, we hope, go as far as possible to reflect the Holbrooke agreement in as robust language as possible. It is extremely important that it commands the widest possible support from colleagues in the United Nations, and that includes our Russian colleagues.

The noble Lord talked about what he believed to be the essential element of ground forces. It is important to remember that the verifiers are there to verify and monitor; they are not there to enforce the agreement. That is why there is the suspension of the ACTORD until 27th October. At that point a further decision will be taken in NATO on the basis of whether enough progress has been made with the undertakings so far entered into by President Milosevic.

My noble friend asked about the extreme conditions of winter. We have been overwhelmingly conscious of the terrible humanitarian disaster which would have been visited on some 50,000 Kosovars who have been sheltering in the hills and countryside had there not been some kind of ceasefire and the possibility of returning to their homes. There is some limited evidence that a return has started. It is very early days; we are talking about only two or three days into the agreement. We shall monitor the position carefully over the next few days. The aid workers, those of the UN, the Red Cross and others, have been able to start their invaluable work in ensuring that they bring what relief they can to displaced persons in Kosovo. It will, of course, be very important that the monitors are able to continue to see that the aid gets through to those who need it. The importance of averting that humanitarian disaster was the basis on which NATO looked at the possibility of air strikes.

Baroness Ludford

My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister can help further those of us who seek to understand what will constitute compliance and what will constitute breach. I believe that there is general appreciation of the point she made about the sensitivity of NATO contingency plans for extraction; I certainly would not expect those to be made public. However, some of us agree with the point raised by my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby about the publication of the agreements. I have difficulty in knowing exactly what is the Holbrooke agreement and whether such a piece of paper actually exists. We are told that we cannot have the Hill proposals, which I would have thought were about political arrangements. I confess I have difficulty in understanding why they have to be secret.

I wonder whether the Minister can clarify the detail of what is contained in "the agreement", whatever that constitutes: first, with regard to the jurisdiction of the international criminal tribunal and whether an agreement by President Milosevic to accept the jurisdiction of the tribunal and to allow investigators, prosecutions and indictments is incorporated in that agreement and therefore would be incorporated in a new Security Council resolution; and, secondly, what the criterion will be for breach regarding the withdrawal of military forces and police.

The phrase used in Resolution 1199 was, the withdrawal of security units used for civilian repression". I am reliant on a commentary by NGOs. The commentary says: The agreement allows some 19,000 Serbian military and police forces to remain in Kosovo". I do not know whether that is a translation of what has been described as the March levels. I hope that the Minister can understand that some of us have difficulty with regard to knowing what is a breach. Can she clarify what will be in the Security Council resolution, or what the Government would like to be in the Security Council resolution? She made a point about the British Government not owning these documents. Journalists appear to have access to a great deal more information than Members of this House have. Perhaps I may press her further on that point.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I thought I had made my position clear about access to these documents. I believe that such documents ought to be in the public domain. It is not in my gift to put them in the public domain, but I have undertaken to the House that I will do what I can to ensure that your Lordships have access to them as quickly as possible—if it is possible. My hands are not free on this issue, but I shall do what I can in relation to the points which the noble Baroness raised.

There are three points here: the Hill negotiations, the United Nations Security Council resolution and the contents of the Holbrooke agreement. It is difficult for me to discuss in greater detail than I already have either the Hill negotiations or the negotiations taking place in relation to the United Nations Security Council resolution, for the simple reason that we are negotiating. It is not sensible to broadcast negotiating positions when one is still trying to persuade colleagues to come to a certain point of view. I do not believe that the noble Baroness can sensibly expect those involved in such negotiations to expose their full negotiating position. Further, Ambassador Hill is negotiating on those issues with different parties as between Belgrade and Pristina. The position is not straightforward because of the number of parties that must be consulted, for example Mr. Rugova and the KLA. As I said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, the KLA is not entirely united in this respect. A number of matters must be taken into consideration in these very difficult negotiations. I do not believe that we strengthen the hand of negotiators if we demand to know everything that they are talking about before they are in a position to reveal such matters themselves.

As to the political track negotiations, we hope that those will be open to some kind of public scrutiny by 2nd November. The noble Baroness asks what is the Holbrooke agreement. To help the noble Baroness a little further, Mr. Milosevic has committed himself to full compliance with UNSCR 1199: a ceasefire; the withdrawal of heavy weapons and the return of the Serbian security forces to pre-March deployment; full co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, so that those who have committed atrocities can be brought to justice; and genuine political processes to sort out the very dispute that lies at the heart of this conflict. The Serbian statement commits Belgrade to seek agreement with those elsewhere in Kosovo by 2nd November. But, important as anything else, the deal means that aid will be available on a humanitarian basis to avoid the catastrophe that so many people feared. President Milosevic has agreed to full access for the humanitarian agencies.

We are not complacent about it. We recognise that real progress has been made in respect of these issues but that there is a need to sustain it. That is what we shall be monitoring over the next nine days or so until the 27th October. That is what NATO will look at when it meets again on that date.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Merlyn-Rees

My Lords, when repeating the Statement, my noble friend referred to the fact that Milosevic had accepted the principle of self-government for Kosovo. What has he accepted? Is it a different principle or a different interpretation on the part of the KLA?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, President Milosevic has accepted that there will be free and fair elections within nine months, a Kosovan assembly and a police force that is somehow not subservient to Belgrade. I believe that in three very important respects there has been a major breakthrough in relation to self-government. However, negotiations will continue on the political track, and that is what Ambassador Hill will be pursuing in his discussions up until 2nd November.

Lord Eden of Winton

My Lords, can the noble Baroness say a little more about Russia's position? Is it possible that this agreement would have been in place much earlier, and therefore probably many lives saved, if Russia had taken a more constructive and positive attitude? Is there any evidence available to Her Majesty's Government to show that Russia has supplied or sold arms and equipment to the forces at the disposal of President Milosevic?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, to deal with the last point raised by the noble Lord, I do not have any information. It is very difficult to deal with the hypothetical realms into which the noble Lord tempts me to enter. The "what if'' scenario is neither here nor there at the moment. We are where we are. Russia agreed with the rest of the contact group on 8th October that Mr. Milosevic had not complied sufficiently with UNSCR 1199. The Russians supported the return of Dick Holbrooke to Belgrade to secure full and lasting compliance and joined with the rest of the contact group in endorsing the negotiating track that is being pursued by Ambassador Hill. Therefore, we have enjoyed a degree of co-operation from the Russians on this issue, which perhaps surprised one or two people. We shall try to maintain the maximum possible agreement with the Russians in pursuing the United Nations Security Council resolution which is under discussion in New York today.

Lord Craig of Radley

My Lords, some difficult and dictatorial regimes have made use of civilians as human shields, as Saddam Hussein did during the Gulf War. The Serbians also captured United Nations servicemen at an earlier stage in the conflict in Bosnia. Can the Minister explain to the House the views of the Government about the risks to the 2,000 civilians who may possibly be exposed to such use, which in turn may detract from the value of the air threat that so far has proved so useful?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I do not believe that I can add a great deal to what I said to the noble Baroness Lady Williams who raised a similar point. Perhaps I may recap. Her Majesty's Government and others have been acutely aware of the possibility of the use of civilian and military monitors as a human shield. It was for that reason that a specific guarantee was sought and gained by Richard Holbrooke from President Milosevic in the agreement that we have been discussing. The issue is being pursued in relation to the United Nations Security Council resolution which is being discussed today. It is in the agreement. Further reassurance is being sought through the United Nations Security Council.

Without trespassing on the patience of the House, I should like to refer again to one matter on which I touched earlier. There has been planning in NATO and nationally on measures to protect monitors and to arrange for their possible extraction from Kosovo if that proves necessary. I ask noble Lords to consider whether it is wise to draw me further into details on this point. I put it to noble Lords that it is not in the interests of the monitors to enter into further public discussion of the issue.