HL Deb 20 March 2000 vol 611 cc2-5

2.38 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What machinery has been established by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe to assess its experience in reconstructing civil society in Kosovo, and to reform and reduce the bureaucratic delays that have damaged its effectiveness.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, the mission of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe in Kosovo is doing a vital job under difficult circumstances as part of the United Nations-led international effort to lay the foundations for democratic stability. Management of the mission is primarily the responsibility of its head, who provides weekly reports to member states and regularly reports in person to the Permanent Council of the Organisation. However, participating states routinely feed in comments and advice gathered in particular from their offices in Pristina and from senior officials who visit the mission to review its work and operations. The combined effort has helped to ensure that the mission continues to make a vital contribution to the efforts of the international community in Kosovo, particularly in the area of human rights, preparing for elections, police training and establishing an effective judicial system.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, the Minister has my sympathy for what is an extraordinarily difficult operation. Does the noble Baroness accept that the relative slowness of the establishment of the civilian mission meant that the PBTK, the political wing of the KLA, was able to establish itself in a great many parts of the local administration in Kosovo? First, can the Minister inform the House whether the lessons learnt at the Istanbul Summit about the need for rapid reaction forces in the civilian as well as military spheres is being taken on board? Secondly, will the OSCE now work more closely with local NGOs, local women's groups and others so that the people of Kosovo feel that they themselves own the process of democratisation and that it has not been largely brought in from outside?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I reassure the noble Baroness that, the Istanbul Summit having agreed with the OSCE that a civilian rapid response mechanism known as Rapid Expert Assistance and Co-operation Teams should be developed, the point has been taken on board. Those teams will be operational by 1st July and will link an operations centre in Vienna with matched national databases.

The noble Baroness is right to say that the OSCE has faced a huge challenge in the work that it has undertaken. The systems in place have had to be modified as time has gone on to try to meet the changes in the situation. The matter has been taken very seriously to try to ensure that the process is as smooth and seamless as possible, but we are challenged and those challenges are being met.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is unfortunate, to say the least, that this situation has occurred? Does it not strengthen the developing view that the entire NATO operation against Serbia was a mistake?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, it does not. Kosovo creates huge difficulties for all of us. I do not need to remind noble Lords that for 10 years Kosovar Albanians lived in fear under the menace of Serb repression. They lost their jobs, institutions and, in many cases, their lives. In 1998 and 1999 innocent civilians were subject to systematic violence reminiscent of Europe in the 1940s. The international community had a choice: to intervene or turn away. Both were difficult; either would have led to controversy or criticism; and neither would have avoided further violence. There was no simple solution which we chose to overlook. Notwithstanding the challenges that Kosovo made us all face, we could not but have done what we did. Otherwise all of us would have been covered with shame.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

My Lords, does the Minister agree that effective policing is an important part of civil society? Has the UN contributed only 2,000 of the promised 6,000 policemen? Do many of them speak neither the local language nor English? Since it will take time to train local policemen, what is being done to fill that gap?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, we have responded to the request regarding provision of police officers. Another 60 police officers are likely to go from the MoD. Twenty police officers will be helping. Your Lordships will know that 40 are already training. Training of the police service is essential. We are putting a huge amount of energy into ensuring that we make an effective and proper contribution.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, the Minister says that we had a choice of turning away or intervening. That is accepted by, I think, all noble Lords. The next question is: how do we do that? Does the noble Baroness agree with the implication of the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, that what we did might have been done rather better?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I cannot agree with that. Noble Lords in this House will know how keenly all the issues were considered during the period. The reaction and response undertaken by Her Majesty's Government, together with our partners, were cogent and sound. We did that which was necessary to meet the needs of the circumstances as they then appeared. It is too easy to forget that what we did was in fact successful. Milosevic did withdraw.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is the Minister aware that not everyone will agree with her version of the history of intervention in Kosovo. However, is not the problem at present that the KLA is determined that it will have an independent Kosovo, possibly attached to Albania as a single country? Because of that, it is increasing the violence against its Serb neighbours in the hope that NATO will once again come to its rescue and fight the Serbs to ensure that the KLA achieves its objective—an independent Kosovo?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says. But we have done everything within our power to make it plain that we do not agree with that. KFOR, including General Jackson, is satisfied that demilitarisation was genuine and effective. KFOR continues to seize illegal weapons when it finds them. The Kosovo protection corps is there to support UNMIK and specified humanitarian tasks. We are facing that issue squarely.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, in the week of the anniversary of the start of NATO's campaign against Serbia there is worsening violence in the northern state of Mitrovica, where KFOR troops are targets. There is a law and order vacuum. There are not enough police, as noble Lords made clear today. There is no justice system to speak of. Organised crime is increasing. The UN Secretary-General has pleaded with the international community to provide funds and resources. Can the Minister say when this Government—they rightly prided themselves on taking a lead in winning the war—intend to take a lead in winning the peace in Kosovo before it is lost?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, we have already taken that lead. We are working very energetically with our partners to ensure that we do not, as the noble Lord said, lose the peace. In most of Kosovo the security situation has improved since last year. Mitrovica is a particular problem but the population movements have polarised that city—largely the Serb north and Albanian south. Tensions are being exploited by extremists on both sides. The goal of UNMIK and KFOR is an undivided Mitrovica in an undivided Kosovo; and the first step is enhanced security. We are doing much to ensure that that takes place.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, I admire the contribution Her Majesty's Government are making to the police force. However—it is possible I did not hear well—I felt that the Minister failed to answer whether Her Majesty's Government were satisfied with the total response of the United Nations.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, we are satisfied that we are taking all the steps necessary to meet our commitments. We are encouraging all our partners to do likewise.