HL Deb 23 March 1999 vol 598 cc1140-3

2.40 p.m.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are their reasons for considering the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe the most suitable body for establishing peace in Kosovo.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, the OSCE is one of a number of organisations, including the UN and NATO, which have a role to play in establishing a peaceful settlement in Kosovo. The OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission played an important role in reducing tensions on the ground in Kosovo until its withdrawal on 20th March in the face of mounting security problems. The Rambouillet Accords set out the framework of an eventual interim political settlement for Kosovo. As the House will know, US Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke has been involved yesterday and today in a last-minute attempt to get the Yugoslav Government to agree to the accords. The accords envisage the OSCE establishing a mission to implement the civil aspects of this agreement. A NATO-led military implementation force will be required to underpin this agreement given the level of distrust between the two sides and the security situation on the ground.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her complete reply. I add my support to her comments about the bravery of the unarmed OSCE observers in Kosovo who have tried to resolve the conflict there but who have had to be withdrawn. I realise that my Question arises at an awkward time as there is to be a Statement later this afternoon on this matter in which doubtless many military questions will be asked and, I hope, answered. Against the very dangerous background at the moment, what continuing role do the Government envisage for international bodies such as the UN and the OSCE in the resolution of the crisis in Kosovo, given that that is within the Serbian borders, and perhaps in other consequent Balkan conflicts, bearing in mind that we do not wish the whole burden in terms of odium and cost of lives and material to fall on just a few NATO members?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a valid point about which the Government have been conscious from the beginning; namely, that the resolution of the situation in Kosovo has to be based on the maximum possible international support and co-operation.

The noble Lord is well aware that the Contact Group includes the United States and Russia as well as NATO members. It has been one of the prime movers in seeking to resolve the situation. We are conscious of the fact that it is not a matter that can be resolved by one, two or a handful of powers. We all have to share responsibility for resolving the issue.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, perhaps we may add our warm tribute from these Benches to the work done by the verifiers. A remarkable degree of courage and common sense has been shown by them.

Can the Minister tell us whether the verifiers' information is being kept carefully in a form which will enable them to return at the first appropriate moment? Can the noble Baroness inform us whether they are being repatriated or kept as a group in readiness for their further usefulness?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, the noble Baroness and the House will understand that at the moment everything is in a slight state of freeze. We do not yet know the outcome of Envoy Holbrooke's discussions in Belgrade. However, the KVM, the monitors, have been withdrawn from Kosovo and are at present in Macedonia. At the same time, the NATO extraction force has also been kept there. They are all in Macedonia on standby for whatever is decided is the next appropriate action.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, we understand that air strikes are under consideration. Can the Minister say that the Government will not be a party to, nor support, any proposal to bomb Belgrade?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, the House would not expect me to comment on whether, in the eventuality that bombing takes place, we would or would not bomb somewhere. I would rather leave that point.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, does the Minister agree that these events may well be turned against ourselves and Ireland if we once lost our veto in the Security Council?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, in my answer to the supplementary question by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, I indicated that we would only go forward on the broadest possible international front. Therefore I do not foresee a situation where we shall be isolated, if I understood the noble Earl's question correctly.

Viscount Waverley

My Lords, has Milosevic manipulated for his own end the conflict between OSCE principles of self-determination and territorial integrity? If so, what guidelines do the Government advocate on that contradiction?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, the Rambouillet Accords respect the territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia while providing for greater self-determination for Kosovo. Those accords have been accepted by the Kosovar Albanian leadership.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, do the Government have clear long-term political and military strategies if President Milosevic refuses to back down following a possible NATO campaign of air strikes?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, the Contact Group has put forward a long-term and carefully worked out strategy for the future of Kosovo. That is the subject of negotiation in Rambouillet and Paris. It provides in great detail for the future development of Kosovo. It is the long-term strategy for resolving the issue. However, it requires acceptance by both sides. So far only one side has accepted it.

At this precise moment in time, our energy has to be directed towards persuading President Milosevic, Belgrade and the Serbian leadership that the only possible sensible outcome for themselves and their own people, as well as for the future of Kosovo, is to accept the Rambouillet Accords, to allow into Kosovo the force that we think essential to oversee it, and therefore to sign the accords as the Kosovar Albanians have already done.

Lord Vivian

My Lords, against the background of the OSCE observers and our commitment of 9, 000 troops if a ceasefire deal is achieved, can the Government say how we can sustain that level of troops in the Kosovo area for longer than one year?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, the House will not be surprised to know that the military logistics have been extremely carefully worked out by Her Majesty's Government, the MoD and everyone else involved. If we make commitments which will require military forces and resources, your Lordships can rest assured that the Government will undertake only those commitments that we shall be able to fulfil along with all our allies.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, will the Minister accept that the development of events is causing much concern to people who are deeply interested in the use of military power? Does she agree that it is rare for the use of air power alone to solve any problems? Does she further agree that air strikes against Yugoslavia and Serbia, especially Belgrade, might strengthen the position of Mr. Milosevic?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, whatever tactic is considered—air strikes or any other—must be weighed up carefully. There could be mixed responses to it. However, one must examine the situation in Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo and ask what can be done to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Iraq is not a perfect example of a previous situation, because there are so many differences, but it is not true that air strikes and the threat of them have not brought people to a political solution. They do not in themselves solve the whole problem, but they can sometimes be an extremely effective and useful tool.