HC Deb 20 June 2003 vol 407 cc468-70W
Andrew Mackinlay

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (1) what assessment he has made of the stability and security situation in the Presevo Valley in the former Yugoslavia; and if he will make a statement; [120117]

(2) what (a) peacekeeping forces and (b) recognised NGOs are present in Presevo in the former Yugoslavia; and if he will make a statement; [120118]

(3) what proportion of people of the Moslem faith who fled the Presevo Valley he estimates have returned to their homes; [120119]

(4) when a representative of the UK embassy in Belgrade last visited the Presevo Valley; [120120]

(5) what reports he has received from (a) the UK Mission in Belgrade and (b) peacekeeping forces and NGOs, as to whether residential properties in Lagja Skemdevbeg district of Presevo in the former Yugoslavia are (i) destroyed and (ii) occupied by others than the original, legitimate tenants and owners; and if he will make a statement. [120121]

Mr. MacShane

[holding answer 19 June 2003]: In recent years, the Presevo Valley in the south of Serbia and Montenegro (formerly Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) has experienced clashes between the Serbian security forces and armed extremist elements from the local ethnic Albanian community. The security situation has now improved following a peace settlement in May 2001, and a political process which has incorporated the Albanian minority more fully into local government.

Tensions re-emerged in February this year when there were renewed attacks on Serbian security forces from ethnic Albanian extremists, largely based in eastern Kosovo. With the support of the international community, the Serbian authorities brought the situation under control. There remains an increased security forces presence in the region but the situation is currently calm and stable, with only occasional isolated incidents.

Progress on refugee returns to southern Serbia has been good. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) estimates that 90 per cent. of ethnic Albanian internally displaced persons (IDPs) or refugees from Presevo have returned, 66 per cent. from Bujanovic district, and 70 per cent. from Medvedja district. The principal obstacle to further returns is the poor economic situation in the region. We have received no reports of destruction or illegal occupation of properties in any area of the PresevoValley.

The Serb authorities, through the Serbian Government's Co-ordinating Body for Southern Serbia (SGCB), and the International Community continue in their efforts to consolidate the rule of law and multiethnic democracy in the region. There are no international peacekeeping forces in southern Serbia itself. KFOR maintains a presence in Kosovo and in Macedonia, which borders with the Presevo Valley.

United Nations agencies, the OSCE and the European Union Monitoring Mission operate in southern Serbia, as well as a large number of NGOs. These include:American Refugee Committee (ARC); Development Alternatives Inc (DAI); International Rescue Committee (IRC); Medecins du Monde (MDM); Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF); Belgian Red Cross; International Organisation for Migration (IOM); United Methodist Committee of Relief (UMCOR); OXFAM; Cooperazione Internazionale (COOPI); CARE; CHF International; Action contre le Faim (ACF).

The UK continues to take a close interest in the democratic development and the security situation in southern Serbia. We have contributed financial assistance to projects aimed at stabilising the region, including the OSCE's Multi-Ethnic Policing programme. The last visit by officials from the British Embassy in Belgrade took place on 19–20 March 2003. We look forward to seeing progress in tackling the economic problems of the region, and in integrating ethnic Albanians more closely into the local state structures, both of which will help to stabilise the region further.

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