HL Deb 29 July 1999 vol 604 cc1674-7

3.30 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps are being taken to investigate the killing of 14 ethnic Serb farmers in Kosovo.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, members of the Royal Military Police investigation branch serving with the British deployment in KFOR are taking the lead in the investigation. We shall do all we can to assist KFOR, UNMIK and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in their investigations.

We wholeheartedly condemn the massacre and strongly endorse the statement of 26th July by the president of the UN Security Council expressing shock and concern and calling for a speedy and thorough investigation to bring to justice those responsible.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and congratulate her neighbour on her promotion to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, is sitting next to one of the finest models that she could find in this House of those who have had to answer Foreign Office Questions.

I am sure all Members of this House share the dismay and horror at the massacre of the 14 Serb farmers last week and will want to associate themselves with the Minister's remarks about the statement made on 26th July. She will know that Bernard Kouchner, the head of the civil arm in Kosovo, said that the cycle of violence must be broken. Can she therefore respond to two questions? First, is it correct that the number of international police officers in Kosovo still amounts to only a couple of hundred against the original target of 3,000? Secondly, what steps, if any, are being taken to bring about the disarming of the KLA? That is an important factor in trying to re-establish civic peace in Kosovo.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I join in the warm congratulations paid by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, on the promotion of my noble friend Lady Scotland. It is an excellent appointment.

Breaking the cycle of violence in Kosovo is a crucial factor in KFOR's deployment at the moment. The noble Baroness expressed concern about the rates of deployment of police in Kosovo; but it was always envisaged that KFOR would have to undertake such duties until the police force was established. According to the United Nations figures given at the Security Council briefing last week, 126 United Nations police officers were present in Kosovo to establish a headquarters and to do the essential initial liaison work with KFOR. A further 20 were due to arrive on or around 18th July and thereafter it is scheduled that 100 officers will be arriving every five days until 23rd August, at which point deployment will increase to 200 every five days until the full contingent of over 3,100 is in place. I hope that that gives the noble Baroness some specific figures on how we hope the police deployment will go.

The noble Baroness was also concerned about what is happening in relation to the KLA. The undertaking given by the KLA on 21st June is comprehensive. It provides for a ceasefire; it provides for disengagement from the zones of conflict and for subsequent demilitarisation and reintegration into civilian society. We understand that this is a difficult period, but full assessment of the level of compliance is in progress by NATO. It is watching the situation carefully. The general level of compliance is said to be satisfactory.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, the House will be well aware how richly deserved is the promotion of the noble Baroness the Minister and how great a loss I shall feel at not being able to continue our constructive, if somewhat combative on occasions, dialogue on foreign affairs. I can only congratulate the wisdom of the Prime Minister on appointing the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, who I am sure will match the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, in every respect.

Given KFOR's mandate to provide protection for all the inhabitants in Kosovo—Serb and Albanian alike—and our commitment to provide humanitarian aid to the people of Serbia, can the Minister update the House on the number of Serb refugees who fled Kosovo and on how many Kosovar Serbs requested refuge in the United Kingdom?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lord, I thank the noble Lord for his kind congratulations. I am sure that he will enjoy a fruitful relationship with my noble friend, in the best possible sense of the word.

The noble Lord asked what is happening with refugees. A number of Serbs left Kosovo, as the House has discussed before. The figures are not entirely up to date; I am not sure whether the exact figures for this week are available. However, the last time I looked, the figures were in excess of 100,000.

A number of Serbs came to the United Kingdom before the end of the fighting because some Serbs who felt that they could not do Mr Milosevic's work in Kosovo came here as refugees. I am unable to distinguish between the Serbs and the ethnic Albanians who came to the United Kingdom as refugees because we offered refuge in this country to people who were displaced by the Milosevic regime without fear or favour with regard to their ethnic origins. I doubt therefore that I shall be able to give that specific breakdown. However, if more figures become available, I am sure that my noble friend will be able to supply them to the noble Lord.

Lord Merlyn Rees

My Lords, has it been made clear to the officers of the KLA that they have a responsibility to help in bringing to justice the murderers of the Serb farmers?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, it has been made clear to the KLA. Your Lordships may have seen a number of press statements on what the KLA said in condemning this matter. I am unable to confirm those statements. I asked about the KLA's official position, but as yet I do not have official confirmation of what the KLA said; I have only the press reports which your Lordships will have been able to read as well.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Baroness on stepping into the frocked coat of Lord Kitchener and the cocked hat of Sir Winston Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty.

Many different people are making up the police force in Kosovo. It will not be a proper police force. Would it not have been more sensible to ask just one country to run and recruit a proper police force so that the culture of that police force is homogenous and not heterogeneous?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, uncharacteristically, the noble Earl asked a question based on a false premise. The fact is that there will be an homogenous police force because it will be under the control of the OSCE. The OSCE has been establishing a police training school. The United Nations and the OSCE together drew up the criteria for the selection of officers, and recruitment has begun. Therefore, the worries expressed by the noble Earl have been taken into account. It is important that it is a multinational police force so that no one side believes that the police force will have a specific preference in Kosovo. The training school will be establishing common criteria and be under common leadership. I hope that answers the noble Earl's point.