HL Deb 15 July 1999 vol 604 cc541-4

3.19 p.m.

Lord Hurd of Westwell asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they are taking to build up the United Nations civilian administration of Kosovo, recently authorised by the Security Council.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, we believe that the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) should exercise fully its authority under UNSCR 1244. We are actively supporting efforts to build up the capacity of UNMIK.

British personnel already hold key UNMIK positions. We have offered up to 60 British police officers and continue to identify personnel with specialist skills in other areas for urgent secondment to UNMIK.

Lord Hurd of Westwell

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Kosovo is now virtually an international trusteeship with NATO acting on the military side and the UN on the civilian side, which she mentioned. Does the Minister accept that it is essential that the UN civilian efforts should be built up so that the UN can re-establish public services, the rule of law and all the elements of a civil society?

Perhaps I may raise two points. First, I am grateful to the Minister for her reply regarding police officers. As I understand it, the UN needs 3,100 police officers, but 2,000 have been pledged. Can she tell the House how many are already in place in Kosovo? Secondly, experience in Bosnia showed that some kind of independent radio and television was highly desirable. Can anything be done, perhaps by a British initiative, to set up in Pristina some kind of independent radio and television so that people can receive more objective news than that which is pumped out of Tirana or Belgrade?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I agree with a great deal of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd. The UN has been asking for a number of member states to provide people with specialist skills in 10 priority areas which they have outlined. I am happy to tell the House that one of those priority areas is the postal service, which was mentioned in your Lordships' House yesterday.

The noble Lord asked how many policemen have been deployed so far. An advance party of over 100 UN police officers has now been deployed to Kosovo to establish a headquarters and to liaise with KFOR. The main body, which the noble Lord mentioned, of just over 3,100 police officers, is expected to begin arriving in a few days time.

The noble Lord also asked about supporting what might be described as indigenous media in Kosovo. The Foreign Office has already given £66,000 to enable Koha Ditore, the Kosovar-Albanian newspaper, to begin printing. DfID has agreed funding for a second-hand printing press, to the tune of about £150,000. I can also tell the noble Lord that DfID has given some 150,000 dollars to the exiled Kosovar-Albanian Radio TV21 for equipment and staff costs. The grant has two aims; that is, to enable broadcasting from Skopje and to re-establish it in Pristina. The point raised by the noble Lord has been recognised. Funding has been provided by the United Kingdom.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, first, can the Minister tell the House the number of British police officers among those now about to be deployed in Kosovo? Following the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, does she agree on the urgency of this matter? In some areas of Kosovo it is fairly obvious that the KLA is establishing a kind of para-police force presence, which is unfortunate in terms of trying to be seen to be utterly even-handed. Secondly, can she tell the House about the serious problems of refuse collection and sanitation in the province? I understand that in some cities and villages this problem is leading to a public health catastrophe.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I remind the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, that it was always recognised that KFOR would have to assume responsibility for law and order during this initial phase; probably even for the first few months. After all, it is more difficult to deploy police officers quickly than those already formed into military units. Currently, of the 100 British policemen I mentioned, seven are assisting United Nations with planning for civil policing; that is, the operation and establishment of the police headquarters. The United Kingdom Government have also offered to supply up to 60 British officers to recruit, train and monitor a local Kosovo police force. So, the offer of 60 has also been made.

The noble Baroness mentioned refuge collection. This comes under one of the 10 priority areas I mentioned, under which United Nations has asked a number of member states to try to provide some specialist skills. One of those is in the area of municipal authorities.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the disarmament of paramilitary organisations in Kosovo is a prerequisite for establishing peace in what will undoubtedly become, for many decades, a joint UN and NATO protectorate? Does she agree that that precept in Kosovo also applies to other places?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I recognise what the noble Viscount alludes to. I am hound to say that the cases he is comparing, which I recognise, are very different and have very different histories. A comprehensive undertaking was given by the KLA on 21st June. It provides for a ceasefire and for the weapons to be submitted within 30 days, with the exception of automatic small arms, which have to be handed over within 90 days.

The Earl of Carlisle

My Lords, does not the Minister agree that the UN aspirations on recruiting of policemen for Kosovo have been superseded by the reality of the situation? Is not what is needed armed policemen or gendarmerie? Can the Minister encourage the UN to call upon those Mediterranean nations, such as France and Italy, who have gendarmerie to send armed policemen to make up the numbers as quickly as possible? Failing that, would she consider asking the central European nations which have border guards and armed police, to join in?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, as I indicated, the main body of the UN peace corps is expecting to start arriving in Kosovo over the next few days. The UN secretariat has recommended that all UN police officers should have the possibility to be armed. I hope that answers the specific point raised by the noble Earl. However, the United Kingdom has a tradition of unarmed community policing. Therefore, most of the British police officers will be used in training, specialist skills and in democratic policing where they have particular skills to deploy.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House the role of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in all of this? What is likely to be the co-operation between the OSCE and the UN in this field? What specific functions can the OSCE perform, particularly in restoring Kosovo to a modern democratic society?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the United Nations is in charge of the overall framework. As I am sure the noble Lord knows, the OSCE, the EU and the UNHCR are all taking responsibility for different parts of the administration, reconstruction and civil implementation, which are so important. The OSCE mission is taking the lead role in institution and democracy building and in human rights within the overall framework set by the United Nations. That will include the organisation and supervision of elections; the development of civil society; non-governmental organisations; political parties and the local media. The OSCE mission will also establish and run a police training school.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, the Minister has been helpful in responding in part to the question raised by my noble friend Lord Cranborne as regards what is required from the KLA in terms of demilitarisation. Can she inform the House what progress has been made on this subject? To date I understand it to be very little. I hope she can report otherwise.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I can report that the KLA undertakings appear to be going reasonably well. I am told that we assess the level of compliance by the KLA to be satisfactory and that those on the ground who are reporting back to the United Kingdom on this important issue—I accept what the noble Lord says in that regard—are happy with the position.