HL Deb 21 April 1999 vol 599 cc1160-2

3.1 p.m.

Lord Trefgarne asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in the light of the comments made by the Prime Minister to CBS News, it is now a British Government war aim to remove President Milosevic from power in Yugoslavia.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

No, my Lords. Mr. Milosevic has been a disaster for his country. However, it is for the people of that country to decide who governs them.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer and express total support for the military personnel in operation over Kosovo. Can the Minister say what instructions have been given to the Supreme Allied Commander with regard to the military objective of the operations currently under way?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I think that the objectives, in political terms, are very clear indeed. The objectives are a ceasefire, a verified withdrawal of Milosevic's forces from Kosovo, Kosovar refugees being able to return with the confidence of peace-keepers on the ground, and a political process built on Rambouillet.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that according to reports from Belgrade the effect of the NATO bombing has been to increase the standing of President Milosevic to the extent that he is in danger of becoming a national hero? Therefore, will the bombing be brought to an end as soon as possible?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, my noble friend must remember that, although there may be reports about the Serbs being united behind Milosevic, the fact is that Mr. Milosevic has silenced dissenting voices, including Radio B92. Part of the problem is that the Serb people genuinely do not know what atrocities Mr. Milosevic's troops are carrying out in their name. An important part of his strategy is that they do not find out.

Lord Blaker

My Lords, are not our present dilemmas over Kosovo a result of a failure by NATO leaders, including the Prime Minister, to think far enough ahead?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

No, my Lords. I cannot agree. I do not believe that it is fair to say that there has been a failure to think ahead. The objectives of this action have been clearly stated on a number of occasions. My right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are heavily engaged on the strategy for Kosovo. I have no doubt that they will discuss it further at the summit due to take place this weekend.

Nobody expected this military action to be over quickly. I have been astonished by the assertions made in some parts that it was all expected to be over within a few days. The military action will continue until the political objectives which I articulated to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, are met.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, I agree that the president of Yugoslavia must be the choice of the people of Yugoslavia, as the Minister said, but will she agree that the choice of the people of Montenegro, whose Prime Minister has pursued a somewhat different course and one that reflects the interests of his own country, should also he profoundly respected in our decisions in future on this matter?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

Yes, my Lords. The situation in Montenegro is extremely worrying. It has Her Majesty's Government's close attention. We are in regular contact with the Prime Minister of Montenegro. The EU foreign ministers decided on a package of economic support to those hit by the crisis and that support is extended to Montenegro. The Prime Minister of Montenegro is in no doubt of our support for his political and economic reforms. We and our allies have clearly warned Mr. Milosevic not to move against Montenegro.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for reciting the political objectives of the operation, with which I largely agree. Can the Minister say at what point in the military operations and at what point in the discussions on Kosovo she thinks that President Milosevic will agree to her proposals?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am afraid that I am quite unable to read Mr. Milosevic's mind. I doubt whether any of your Lordships are in a position to do that. However, I am able to tell your Lordships what Mr. Milosevic must do if he wants the bombing to cease. I hope I have made that clear. Throughout this whole unhappy business one of the problems has been that Mr. Milosevic has said one thing and promptly done another. I do not believe that any government minister or anybody in your Lordships' House has second sight over Mr. Milosevic. We need to see the withdrawal of those troops before the bombing stops.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, while our pilots are daily risking their lives in the NATO air campaign as they attempt to destroy the oil refineries in Serbia which are vital to President Milosevic's war effort, the concepts of the European Union common foreign policy and of NATO unity would be entirely stripped of their credibility, if Greece, one of our European NATO partners, continues to supply Serbia with fuel following the failure yesterday of the European Union to reach agreement on a common position banning the sale and shipment of oil and oil products to Yugoslavia?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, of course I join with the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, in his appreciation of what is being done by British servicemen and women. Of course we would like to see maximum unity in NATO. I have no doubt that the difficulties that the noble Lord describes will be discussed fully in the next few days.

Lord Skidelsky

My Lords—

Viscount Waverley

My Lords—

Noble Lords


The Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I think we have now had 30 minutes of Questions.