§ Lord Bach
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Geoffrey Hoon) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
NATO has requested the deployment to Kosovo of the United Kingdom spearhead land element (SLE), which currently provides the ready battalion for the NATO Balkan-wide over-the-horizon operational reserve force. The battalion currently fulfilling the role of SLE is the lst Battalion the Royal Green Jackets.
The deployment, which was requested by NATO late in the evening of Friday 4 March, was made in order to demonstrate the alliance's resolve and capability in the run-up to a number of important local anniversaries, including that of violent demonstrations last year on 17 March. The Kosovo Prime Minister, Ramush Haradinaj, has also announced today that he is to resign following his 28WS indictment by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. We welcome his decision to go voluntarily to The Hague.
Following the request from NATO, troops began to deploy to Kosovo over the weekend. A total of around 500, in all, should deploy by early this week. We anticipate recovering the battalion back to the UK within 30 days, as we did with the UK element of the operational reserve force that was deployed last March, unless there are compelling operational reasons to consider leaving this capability in Kosovo for longer.
I shall keep the House updated of any significant developments when they occur.