§ The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook)
With permission, Madam Speaker, I will make a statement on the crisis in Kosovo.
On Monday, I chaired a meeting of the six-nation contact group, which consists of Britain, the United States, the Russian Federation, France, Germany and Italy. The group met in London at my invitation. We issued a comprehensive statement, copies of which have been placed in the Library.
The whole House will share the grave concern expressed by all nations at the contact group meeting about the events in Kosovo of the past two weeks. The security operations around Dreniza in the last week appear to have left at least 80 dead. It is simply not credible that all those killed were terrorists. Of the 51 corpses released yesterday by the Serb police, less than half are believed to have been men of military age. The local press reports that 12 were children, 13 were women and four were elderly men.
Belgrade cannot claim that such extra-judicial killings are a purely internal matter. The international community has a legitimate right and a duty to condemn such gross violations of human rights. Europe has a particular responsibility to reduce violence in the Kosovar region before it produces instability in neighbouring countries.
I visited Belgrade last Thursday. I made it clear that I did so not just on behalf of Britain, but as the presidency of the European Union. I regret to tell the House that President Milosevic sought to present the events in Kosovo as a legitimate police response to terrorism. Britain's record against terrorism is firm and resolute. We strongly condemn the use of violence for political objectives, including the terrorism of the self-styled Kosovo Liberation Army. Terrorism, however, cannot be used as a pretext for the indiscriminate use of force against the civilian population.
While I was in Belgrade, I spoke to leaders of the Kosovar people, including Dr. Rugova. That leadership advocates a peaceful pursuit of legitimate political views. The international community does not support separatism in Kosovo; we do demand that Belgrade provide enhanced and real autonomy for Kosovo, without which the demands for independence are only too likely to grow. It is the tragic irony of Kosovo that its people enjoyed more autonomy under the communists than they have under President Milosevic.
On Monday, the contact group approved a lengthy statement expressing our dismay at the current repression and condemning the excessive use of force. We approved a 10-point action plan to stabilise the security position in Kosovo. Let me highlight four key objectives.
The first is justice. We urged the prosecutor of the war crimes tribunal to investigate the recent violence in Kosovo, and we invited independent forensic experts to investigate the allegations of extra-judicial killings. Those responsible for repression in Kosovo are now on notice that they cannot act with impunity.
The second objective is international monitoring within Kosovo. We called for access to Kosovo for the Red Cross and for all embassies of the contact group in 318 Belgrade. We also supported a new mission by Felipe Gonzalez as the personal representative of the chairman of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. If Belgrade has nothing to hide, it has nothing to fear from an increased international presence.
The third objective is regional security. The contact group agreed to arrange an early meeting with representatives of neighbouring countries, in particular to determine how to enhance the monitoring of their borders. After yesterday's meeting, I phoned the Prime Minister of Albania and the President of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. Both expressed strong support for the contact group statement, and President Gligorov gave a warm welcome to our commitment that an international military presence must continue on the border with Serbia after the current United Nations mandate expires in August.
The Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd), will tomorrow visit Tirana and Skopje as a representative of the presidency of the European Union in order to discuss what more can be done to strengthen their security.
The fourth priority of our action plan is sanctions against Belgrade. The contact group resolved to take specific sanctions to underline our condemnation of its acts of repression and to encourage it to co-operate with the action plan. We endorsed four measures for immediate action.
The measures are: a resolution in the UN Security Council for a comprehensive arms embargo against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, including the supply of weapons to terrorists; a refusal to supply equipment that might be used for repression or terrorism; denial of visas for senior Ministers and officials responsible for repressive action; and a moratorium on official credit for trade and investment, including privatisations, which are currently vital in maintaining the Yugoslav budget.
Five members of the contact group agreed to all those measures with immediate effect. I spoke by phone at the end of the meeting to Mr. Primakov, the Russian Foreign Minister. He agreed that Russia could support with immediate effect the arms and equipment embargo and would be willing to consider the denial of visas and the moratorium on official credit if there was no progress in Kosovo within two weeks.
We have given President Milosevic 10 days to withdraw the paramilitary forces from Kosovo and to commit himself to a process of dialogue with the leadership of the Kosovar community. If President Milosevic takes those steps, we will immediately reconsider the sanctions that we have adopted. If he fails to do so, the contact group will take further measures, including a freeze on the funds held abroad by his Government. The contact group meets again on 25 March to assess the Belgrade Government's response.
While I was in Belgrade, I also met representatives of the Serbian opposition, and gave an interview to the independent B92 broadcasting station, which has had material support from Britain. It is important that we recognise that many people in Serbia also reject the police action over the past two weeks, and want their country to accept the human rights standards of a modern European democracy.
We also want the day to come when we can welcome the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia into the family of democratic nations of Europe. We cannot do so, though, 319 unless Belgrade starts to behave by the standards of modern Europe. It is for President Milosevic now to decide whether the future of his state and its people will be deepening isolation from Europe or enhanced co-operation. I ask for the backing of the whole House for a firm message to President Milosevic and his Government that the essential first step must be to stop the violence now.
§ Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)
May I thank the Foreign Secretary for making his statement, and echo on behalf of the Opposition his condemnation of the appalling violence of the past few days? We join him in condemning the continuing repression that has caused such suffering to the majority Albanian community in Kosovo.
Like the Foreign Secretary, we condemn all violence, including that of the Kosovo Liberation Army, and welcome Dr. Rugova's continued commitment to peaceful negotiation. Will wider economic sanctions, along the lines of those that were in force before the Dayton agreement was reached, follow if Serbia does not abide by the terms proposed by the contact group? Does the Foreign Secretary consider there to be a role based on the Macedonia model for United Nations monitors in Kosovo? What progress has been made in securing access to the affected area of Dreniza to allow medical and humanitarian aid to be given?
What prospects does the Foreign Secretary see for a return to the autonomy enjoyed by Kosovo before 1989? Does he agree that Kosovo's unique position makes it crucial to the stability of the region, and, given recent remarks by President Tudjman of Croatia, does he share my anxiety at reports that Serbian Croats have also been rounded up? Can he confirm recent reports that there is growing evidence of ethnic cleansing in the Sandzak area—not in Kosovo. but on the Serbian side of the border with Bosnia east of Sarajevo? Has he had reports that women and children are arriving in Tuzla, in buses, from that area?
Will the Foreign Secretary say what steps are being taken to keep the situation under review so that the suffering of the majority population in Kosovo is brought to an end, and the danger to the stability of the region is kept to a minimum?
§ Mr. Cook
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his support. It is welcome to be able to speak for both sides of the House when discussing an issue of such importance in international forums, and President Milosevic should not underrate the degree of unity in the western community.
It is indeed the case that we shall consider wider economic sanctions if there is no progress on the matter between now and 25 March, when the contact group meets again. We have specifically committed ourselves to examining a freeze on the assets of the Governments outside Serbia and Montenegro.
Other steps must be considered. One of the criteria by which we shall judge on 25 March whether sanctions should be further imposed is whether President Milosevic has co-operated with the action plan, a key part of which is increased monitoring throughout Kosovo, particularly in the most affected areas. That is why our statement calls for Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe 320 monitors and representatives of contact group embassies in Belgrade to be admitted to the region. I hope that we can at some stage secure a European Union presence in Kosovo, which would increase the openness of the region.
We have not at present managed to put medical and humanitarian assistance into Kosovo, which is a matter that we want to pursue in a broader dialogue with the Belgrade Government. We are pressing to put monitors in to find what can be done.
We have not had reports of an exodus from Sandzak. Our ambassador to Belgrade frequently travels throughout the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and was in Kosovo last week. We shall keep the situation under close review, and report to the right hon. and learned Gentleman as soon as we receive evidence of any such exodus, but he is right to say that ethnic cleansing continues throughout the former Yugoslavia.
While I was in Banja Luka, it was confirmed that a significant number of refugees from eastern Slavonia continue to arrive, where we wound up the United Nations mission on the ground that we had achieved stability and security for the minority Serb population there.
While in Sarajevo, I deeply deprecated the speech made by President Tudjman, which suggested a return to the politics of ethnic hatred and ethnic confrontation. My hon. Friend the Minister of State will visit Zagreb on his tour of the Balkan countries, and will make it plain that the way forward for the Balkans is through ethnic reconciliation, not ethnic cleansing.
§ Mr. John Austin (Erith and Thamesmead)
My right hon. Friend will be aware of the warm support from the Albanian and Kosovar communities in London for his swift response to and condemnation of the ethnic violence of the Serbian authorities. He referred to the actions of President Rugova, who has used every constitutional and democratic means, and has been an advocate of non-violence. Is he aware of President Rugova's intention to hold elections on 22 March? What action will the contact group take to ensure that those elections proceed peacefully, so that the democratic wishes of the Albanian majority may be determined?
§ Mr. Cook
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his words about the speed with which we have responded. We have all learned lessons from the period in 1991 when the international community failed to respond with determination and speed; for that reason, we are anxious to try to ensure that we bring pressure to bear when the situation can be contained, rather than when it has deteriorated.
My hon. Friend is also absolutely right to say that Belgrade is fortunate in the leadership of the Albanian community in Kosovo. I met several of them while I was in Belgrade, and I was humbled by the moderation, reason and good sense of many of them in situations of intense provocation.
The elections on 22 March are what are termed parallel elections, which is to say that they are not official elections: we do not recognise those elections; we are turning a blind eye to those elections. While I was in Belgrade with President Milosevic, I urged him also to 321 turn a blind eye to such elections, in order that they may be organised and may go forward among the local people without disruption from Belgrade.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)
May I from these Benches support the right hon. Gentleman's determination to send a firm message to President Milosevic? However, does he agree that, in spite of his best efforts, there is unwelcome gap between the legitimate and robust language of condemnation used by himself and Madeleine Albright at the weekend and the measures adopted so far by the contact group?
Does the right hon. Gentleman further agree that it would be unfortunate in the extreme if we were to allow the achievements in Bosnia over the past two years to be undermined in any way by instability in the region? Has NATO made any assessment of the consequences for Bosnia if there is continuing unrest in Kosovo? Has NATO made any assessment of the steps it might take, if invited by the UN, to assist in the restoration of order in Kosovo?
§ Mr. Cook
I met the Secretary-General of NATO, Javier Solana, yesterday, and discussed the situation with him. However, at a time when we are trying to de-escalate the violence and promote peaceful political dialogue, it may not be helpful to escalate what consequences may be necessary some way down the track, if the situation were to deteriorate. We are all focusing now on finding a diplomatic and political solution. If NATO has a role to play, it may well be in the follow-on force in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, when the UN mandate expires in August. That is currently the only military commitment that might be in contemplation.
The hon. and learned Gentleman pointed to a gap between rhetoric and action. I should be the first to say that it is important that we are not complacent about how much has been achieved; indeed, the situation in Kosovo remains as disturbing as it was when we called the contact group.
One of the tragedies of the events of the past two weeks is that their legacy will make it more difficult to achieve the reconciliation which is our objective. However, in the 10 points of the action plan, the four points of sanctions are a robust response—much more robust than the response of the international community in the early days of the collapse of Yugoslavia, and possibly a more robust response than I would have been prepared to put money on before we had the meeting on Monday.
That meeting was five hours of intense talks, which produced substantial support, not only for robust rhetoric, but for a clear statement of our resolve expressed through specific action. I urge hon. Members not to underrate the extent to which that will increase pressure on Milosevic, especially if he is unable to finance future privatisations.
§ Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)
As one of the many people who took part in relief work in Bosnia and who witnessed scenes that were a disgrace to European civilisation during four dreadful years, before NATO took a grip on the situation in that country, I urge my right hon. Friend not to allow time for any further atrocities to take place in Kosovo. Can we depend on him 322 to insist on firm, urgent and resolute action, and, if necessary, intervention by the European members of NATO?
§ Mr. Cook
As I said in answer to the previous question, any question of military intervention has not been contemplated, and is not on the agenda. We seek to ensure that we achieve progress that averts the need for military intervention. Nor would such military intervention, if it were to happen, have a simple or uncomplicated impact on the region as a whole. It is much better that we make progress on the strategy that has been adopted by the contact group, but I agree with my hon. Friend: if we had intervened earlier in the conflict in Bosnia, we might not now be dug in for several years' presence, putting together a country that we allowed to fall apart.
§ Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar)
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the methods used by the security forces bear a sad resemblance to things that we have seen before? However, does he agree that perhaps one significant difference is that the war crimes tribunal is now well established? There was much cynicism about it 18 months or a year ago, but there can be no doubt about how effective it is going to be. Does he believe that a clear message must go out that, no matter how high or how low a person is in a particular country, people who have committed or ordered these atrocities will eventually face justice?
§ Mr. Cook
I am delighted to agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. At Dayton, President Milosevic signed up to an obligation to co-operate with the International Court in The Hague. Its writ runs throughout the whole of former Yugoslavia, including Kosovo. There is therefore nothing to prevent the court from seeking to indict people who it believes may have committed an offence under its terms.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we have managed to make serious progress at The Hague. One third of the people who have been indicted by the prosecutor have been arrested and brought for trial at The Hague. That is more progress than we could have dared hope for a year ago, and I echo his words. People who remain indicted and have not yet been brought to justice should consider surrendering themselves, because there is no hiding place in the international community for those who break the law of that community.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Is the Foreign Secretary aware that even those among us who are most cautious about military intervention must recognise the appalling complexity and, indeed, peril of the situation that we have to face? In the light of the Minister of State's visit to Skopje, I recall that, two years ago, when the all-party arts and heritage group went to Thessalonika, we were harangued on the issue of greater Macedonia. What will be said about the Macedonia position? Are we talking to the Government of Greece, a European partner, which has an immediate stake in this, and what is it saying?
§ Mr. Cook
My hon. Friend raises a point that is an important part of the complexity of the situation, which is why I keep using the tortuous mouthful, "the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia"; if I did not, I would receive a letter from the Greek ambassador, so I am very 323 happy to stick to the terms of that agreement. I am pleased to say that, over the past year, relations between Greece and the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia have considerably improved. They would be at one on the issue of ensuring that instability in Kosovo does not spill over the border.
My colleague the Foreign Secretary of Greece was in Belgrade. I will meet him on Friday when he attends the meeting of European Union Foreign Ministers in Edinburgh, and I am arranging to have a bilateral with him to discuss the position. In the meantime, I seize with delight the opportunity for my hon. Friend and me to bat on the same side again.
§ Mr. Martin Bell (Tatton)
Is the Foreign Secretary aware of the effect of broader sanctions on the Serbs last time, which was to reward the black marketeers and racketeers and to punish and sometimes to kill the poor, the sick, the weak and the old? Can we be very careful before going down that road again?
§ Mr. Cook
The hon. Gentleman's words are wise and fair. It is not just the ordinary people of Serbia but Serbia's neighbouring countries who have concern on that matter. We have received representations from one or two of them expressing their deep concern that the effect of sanctions was to promote smuggling and black marketeering in their countries. That is a down side that must be fairly reflected in any decision that we make.
We must seek to impose sanctions that do not hit the poorest but hit the elite to whom we are trying to get the message across. That is why the initial list includes an arms embargo, a denial of visas to top people and the withdrawal of credit for the financing of privatisations. That is crucial to the Government of Yugoslavia, but is not so important to the daily shopping list of its people.
§ Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester)
Further to the earlier remarks about the Macedonian problem, does the Foreign Secretary agree that the key task now from the west's perspective is to stop the spread of this conflict throughout the region, and that Macedonia is the linchpin in that task? Does he think that 700 front-line troops—the UN troops at present in Macedonia—are remotely enough to protect Macedonia from the spread of the conflict? Does he support the urgent request that President Gligorov has often made in public and in private that the UN presence be replaced by more sizeable NATO forces at the key strategic points on the frontier with Kosovo?
§ Mr. Cook
There may be only 700 troops and they may therefore be of limited immediate military effect on a very difficult border, but they are overwhelmingly American troops, and that immensely concentrates the minds of Belgrade if they ever think of doing anything on that border.
I spoke to President Gligorov yesterday after the contact group meeting. I am pleased to say that he said several times that the result was a good one. He was particularly pleased that we had obtained a commitment to a follow-on force after August. For the first time, Russia raised no objection to that. In the current state of Kosovo, that is an important step forward. Precisely what 324 that follow-on force might be has yet to be resolved, but we now have strong international commitment to making sure that it continues.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the main objective of policy, at least for the present, must be to re-establish the autonomous status that Kosovo enjoyed before 1989? Will he take every opportunity in his discussions with Dr. Rugova and others to stress that the separatist solution would not receive the backing of the western community, and that the western community would not support an independent state of Kosovo or any union between Kosovo and the adjoining states, other than, of course, Serbia?
§ Mr. Cook
I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that there is no map for a greater Croatia or a greater Serbia, and equally there must be no map for a greater Albania. We said in the statement of the contact group yesterday, and I repeated in my statement this afternoon, that it was not our position to support an independent Kosovo. Of course, if Belgrade does not respond to the legitimate political demands of the people of Kosovo—for instance, to have control over their own education and to be taught in their own language—that will fuel demands for independence.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned restoration of the pre-1989 autonomy. When I discussed that with some of the younger Albanians from Kosovo, they said that, while that would be welcome, for it to work there would need to be changes within Serbia. A successful solution to the crisis does not simply require greater autonomy for Kosovo. It also requires more freedom of expression, more pluralism, more democracy and more participation of the people within Serbia in the political process.
§ Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)
I thank the Foreign Secretary for speaking to the independent radio station B92, as I have been involved with its efforts to maintain independence during the period of repression. While I in no way condone the actions of the Serbs, I urge that we remember the importance to the Serbian national identity of the whole region of Kosovo. The battle of Kosovo is as important to Serbian history as Magna Carta is to England.
§ Mr. Cook
Yes, I have had that view expressed to me several times in Belgrade. The battle was fought in 1389: the Serbs lost. The case was made to me by President Milosevic that Kosovo was the spiritual home of the Serb kings. I respect people's identity with their cultural history—it should be handled with dignity—but that is a difficult basis on which to found a territorial claim so many hundreds of years later.
When I was interviewed by the people at B92, I was impressed by the fact that they were as lively, cosmopolitan and pluralist in outlook as young people in any other country of Europe. In that generation there is hope for the future of Serbia and the Balkans—but they must be given the opportunity to express themselves.
This week, the Belgrade Government make an important series of decisions about the awarding of radio frequencies for the independent stations. I very much 325 hope, particularly at this moment in history, that they will not close down any of the independent stations by denying them a frequency.
§ Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)
The Foreign Secretary has referred to mistakes made in the past. I welcome the broad thrust of his remarks this afternoon, but does he agree that one mistake made by politicians on both sides of the House and by certain parts of the Foreign Office in the past was to regard President Milosevic as a moderating force on the excesses of the Bosnian Serbs? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, far from being a moderating force, he was an instigator of those excesses? Would he further agree that it is unwise to say "never" to the use of force, because, if the atrocities get worse, force will have to be used?
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
The Foreign Secretary is to be commended on his prompt response in going in person to Belgrade to confront the malign reality in power there. Can he state unequivocally that, for a settlement to endure, it will ultimately have to be based on the fundamental democratic principle of self-determination for the people of Kosovo?
Is it not that principle which distinguishes our system in the free part of Europe from what has existed in the Republic of Yugoslavia in the past, be it under communism or under the rump that remains? Can he assure the House that he will keep together the contact group—not least the Americans, who should maintain a military presence in whatever force is located in Macedonia in the medium and longer term?
§ Mr. Cook
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: it is important to maintain unity, and we shall work hard to do so. I felt that yesterday's discussions, particularly my phone call with Foreign Minister Primakov, demonstrated the extent to which peer group pressure now produces a much more common front among nations in the international community. I am pleased that we managed to achieve that much agreement.
The hon. Gentleman is also right to say that there is a long way to go; we must watch the situation with the greatest of care. I assure the House and the hon. Gentleman that we will do so.