§ 11 am
§ Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con)
I am extremely grateful to Mr. Speaker for giving me the opportunity to raise this subject, which, I am afraid, has been rather sadly and mysteriously left off the list of Government priorities. I am delighted to see the Minister for Europe in his place, not only because it is always a pleasure to be in the company of such a charming and educated man, but because he has just returned from the region. I hope that he will be able to give us some news of what he found out there and assure us that Her Majesty's Government are trying to address the serious problems and the injustices that affect that poor, blighted, sad part of the Balkans. I know that the Minister is aware from his family background of the terrors that extremism, whether political or nationalistic, can inflict.
At the weekend we welcomed some new countries into our European family, including some that had been under the domination of the Soviet Union. We also welcomed Slovenia, which was a former republic of Yugoslavia. However, our delight at that must be tempered with the realisation that there is still an unresolved and serious problem in another area of the former Yugoslavia. That area, which was at one stage an autonomous region within the Yugoslav republic, is, of course, Kosovo.
Five years after the NATO intervention, the de facto UN or NATO protectorate is in a dire condition. Lawlessness and corruption appear to be the hallmarks of the area. I am afraid that that legacy was all too easy to foresee. It seems that some observers are beginning to examine what went on five years ago in a new light. After a weekend in which we have all begun to wonder whether we can really believe the evidence before our own eyes, such reflection is not before time. I read an article in the Canadian National Post from 6 April of this year, in which a Mr. Lewis Mackenzie posed the question whether we bombed the wrong side:Those of us who warned that the West was being sucked in on the side of an extremist, militant, Kosovo-Albanian independence movement were dismissed as appeasers.He also pointed out that, at the time,the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), was universally designated a terrorist organization and…receiving support from Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda".What makes Mr. Mackenzie's views particularly interesting is the fact that he was a major-general in the Canadian army and commanded UN troops during the Bosnian civil war of 1992.
I want to dwell not on what I perceive to be the mistakes of the past, but on the recent events in Kosovo and Metohija. Sadly, the media have turned their attention elsewhere, but there have been some voices. In September last year an article in Le Figaro Magazine described a victory for the Albanian extremists who dream of ethnic purification in the Serb enclaves, where the inhabitants live and die like condemned prisoners.
In March this year, horrific violence against the Serbs erupted, the pretext for which was the tragic drowning of some Albanian boys. Reports have now established that those unfortunates were not chased into the River 396WH Ibar by Serbs, but died in a horrible accident. However, the incident was a light that set off much violence. That violence was almost too spontaneous—it was as if it was premeditated. I wonder whether the Minister has any evidence relating to that or any reports from which he can ascertain what happened.
According to UN statistics, 50,000 Albanian Kosovans, in the presence of 18,000 NATO peacekeepers, drove 4,500 Serbs and other non-Albanians from their homes, injuring 900, including 150 peacekeepers, and killing 19, in 33 flashpoints. Kosovo was engulfed in flames, and more than 300 homes, many of which had been recently rebuilt by the international community, were looted and torched.
Human life is obviously the most precious commodity, but the destruction of much else, including 35 additional churches, took place. I say "additional" because, as most people aware of the region know, since 1999 there has been incredible destruction of churches and monasteries in the area. It is fair to say that, as a result of the desecration of churches in Kosovo, there were retaliations against a couple of mosques, including a very old one in Belgrade. The Kosovan-Montenegran Government have condemned those retaliations. I mention that because, as in so much of the region, these are more than very important heritage sites; they are symbols. The fact that there is a desire on both sides to eradicate such symbols shows the incredible feelings that still exist.
§ Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) (Lab)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of whether any single person has been arrested or held responsible for the burning and looting of the monasteries and churches in Kosovo?
§ Mr. Randall
The last time that a question on that matter was laid in Parliament, the answer was no. I would be interested to know whether, since then, and particularly since the recent attacks, any of the perpetrators have been caught.
§ The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane)
More than 200 people have been arrested. Their cases are being examined and charges will be laid. There is no question about that; I reported it to Parliament before the recess.
§ Mr. Randall
I am grateful to the Minister. If I have got the facts wrong, I will be the first to apologise to him.
§ Mrs. Mahon
The 200 have been arrested since the latest outbreak of violence. I was talking about the whole of the five-year period.
§ Mr. Randall
I am glad to see that we are getting somewhere. If 200 people have been arrested for the most recent outbreaks, I am delighted. That is a very positive move, which we should applaud. Without prejudging their guilt or innocence, we hope that at least some who are guilty will be found guilty and punished accordingly.
Last week, I and other members of the all-party group on Serbia and Montenegro, including the hon. Lady, met people who had just visited the area. Their witness statements were very telling. I hope that, in the near 397WH future, the all-party group will be able to visit the region to see what is going on and report back. We could also talk to our counterparts at parliamentary level, to see what they are saying and doing about this situation. In due course the Foreign and Commonwealth Office might be able to assist us on that.
One of the people who came and gave us their views was Her Royal Highness Princess Linda of Yugoslavia, who visited the area from 14 April to 23 April. I would like to read out some excerpts from the speech that she made, because it is difficult for us in London to understand exactly what is going on. The Minister has been there and we will want to hear whether he was able to visit some of these areas outside Pristina. The Princess said:The Serb enclaves are not properly secure, even with the presence of KFOR. Albanians have freedom of movement in most of the enclaves, while Serbs cannot go anywhere without escort, which is how I personally travelled between all the enclaves. The enclaves are heavily dependent on humanitarian aid, land cannot be farmed safely. In many areas, Serbs complain that KFOR rarely responds to kidnappings, stonings and physical attacks, or destruction of property…The people driven out on March 17–19 were not allowed to take anything with them, even personal documents, by the Kosovo Police Force … Most Serbs were in a desperate psychological state even before the March 17–19 events. There is no possibility of jobs. They've gone through the NATO bombing in 1999, and have spent the time since as virtual prisoners, behind razor wire.I shall not carry on with that quote, because it is one person's witness, and although I have no reason to doubt it, we have to try to resolve the problem, and to be as dispassionate as possible while understanding the real plight of people on both sides.
There has been some comment in our media but, strangely, the situation does not seem to have caught the imagination of the news desks. On 23 April, The Guardian reported that the International Crisis Group think-tank said:Kosovo is in danger of becoming Europe's West Bank, a destabilising source of unrest in the Balkans, because of five years of flawed and failed western policy-making and peacekeeping".
The Economist of 27 March quoted Mr. Javier Solana fulminating at the appalling and intolerable behaviour of people during recent events. The article went on to quote Harri Holkeri as saying that trust had been destroyed, and mentioned that one member of UN staff in Mitrovica said that she saw all her work go up in flames—literally. Also on 27 March, Christopher Caldwell wrote a piece entitled "NATO's Kosovo Dream is Dead".
The picture that I am painting is rather depressing, and that is not something in which I take any pleasure. One image presented to me has stuck in my mind; possibly it is not the most terrible, in terms of human suffering, but it could be regarded as the most upsetting. It is of the church in, I think, Pristina that has been turned into a public toilet. Elsewhere in the world, we are talking about winning over hearts and minds. Can we imagine what the world would say if a mosque were similarly desecrated? We would be rightly shocked if that happened.
The Minister has suggested that he came back from the area well educated—if that is possible for such an educated man. What is being done to repair homes and churches, and what input are the Government making towards the repair of churches and homes?
398WH Despite all the misery, and despite seeing human behaviour at its worst, I have heard reports of some exemplary behaviour, and I should like to report the exemplary acts of some Irish soldiers. The UK forces are also well respected, I understand. Also, although I know that the matter does not come under the Minister's brief, I am sure that he has an understanding of current plans with regard to UK forces in Kosovo.
§ Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab)
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would also like to mention—unusually for our Chamber—the role of the French troops, who were, I understand, instrumental in preventing an attack on Mitrovica, or at least a Serb part of it, by mobs in mid-March. They put their lives at risk, and one French soldier died, so we should recognise their role, too.
§ Mr. Randall
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that, and I am sure that there were many such examples. I have also heard examples of behaviour on the part of troops that was not so good, but I do not wish to dwell on them, and I certainly think that it would be invidious to name nations. Whenever a multinational force is involved, there will always be some with more experience than others in certain situations, and some will perhaps always behave in a way that is more sympathetic in the circumstances.
The Prime Minister of Kosovo, Mr. Bajram Rexhepi, declared recently thatif the final status for Kosovo is not resolved by next year, the Albanians are going to have a referendum and will declare independence.That is obviously a dangerous prospect; it would increase tension not just in the province but throughout the region. I hope that there will be swift action in response to that declaration, and that a clear message will be sent to the Albanians that the status of Kosovo can be resolved only under the terms of UN resolution 1244, and only through negotiation.
I also understand that the head of the United Nations interim administration in Kosovo approved the establishment of a Kosovo office for foreign affairs and dialogue. I understand—although I would be grateful for information on this—that it is not proposed that any Serb will be employed in that office. On 29 April the Serbian Parliament unanimously adopted a plan of autonomy for Serbs and other minorities in Kosovo. I should be grateful to hear the UK's view on those proposals.
I understand that a large amount of weaponry is still in Kosovo, and still coming in. The KLA has, of course, never disarmed, although it gave back a few weapons. Safety and security for all citizens of Kosovo might, obviously, be achieved if the area were to be disarmed. I wonder what progress is being made towards that.
The borders around Kosovo—particularly between Albania and Kosovo, and Kosovo and Macedonia—should be properly guarded. I understand that there are still holes along the borders. I knew the area pretty well and I know that it is easy to say that a border of that kind should be properly patrolled. Still, I think that even I could possibly have penetrated some of those borders, without SAS training. The matter is an important one, encompassing the need to give people confidence that the borders are secure.
399WH I am sorry that I must bring these matters to the Chamber; I have often said, as in 1999 when I was against what NATO did, that I want to be proved wrong. I hoped that everything would be sorted out, and it is a great sadness that things have gone as wrong as they have. Many people, and certainly the Serb community in this country, are bewildered and astonished by what little response has been made in recent years to the destruction and desecration of hundreds of churches, graveyards and cultural monuments, some going back to the 13th and 14th centuries. They even survived Ottoman rule, which was not always regarded as the most enlightened, although that is probably a controversial statement for which I shall get into deep trouble.
There might be an answer to all this, probably in the long term, with an even more expanded EU. However, even an avid Euro-enthusiast like the Minister would have to recognise that the admission of the countries in question is some way off. In the meantime, we must all work extremely hard to try to rid Europe of this potentially explosive problem—not least because of the huge number of refugees and internally displaced persons who are living in misery.
I ask the Minister not only to take the issue seriously but to make it a high priority of British foreign policy. Another tragedy is taking place in the Balkans before our eyes. It is an area where tragedies have become almost commonplace. I plead with the Minister to give all the people in the region hope of fairness and equality for the whole area.
§ Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) (Lab)
I thank the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) for securing the debate. I endorse what he said, particularly about last week's delegation to the all-party group on Serbia and Montenegro. Our visitors were three people from very different political, cultural and social backgrounds. One was a member of the Yugoslav Government in the 1980s and 1990s. Another was an American citizen who was born, brought up and educated in the United States but is a devout follower of the Orthodox faith. The third, as the hon. Gentleman said, was an English woman who married into the Serbian royal family, lives in Belgrade and does humanitarian work in Kosovo. All three had the same tale to tell: there has been widespread ethnic cleansing since NATO and the UN took over five years ago.
Some 180,000 refugees and displaced persons—Serbs, Roma, Gorani, and other ethnic minorities—are now living in Serbia and Montenegro. The hon. Gentleman and I visited some of them a year ago. They are living in camps in miserable conditions, often just a few miles from the border of Kosovo, and are desperate to return home. They are simple, by and large agricultural, people. Great events happened around them, but they did not understand why they could not go home. All this took place under the noses of UNMIK and KFOR. To many of us who followed these events closely, it seems that the UN and NATO have turned a blind eye to what has been happening. When I think of all the debates, statements and passionate speeches about the dreadful ethnic cleansing, albeit temporary, of the Albanians, 400WH who fled to Montenegro and Macedonia, I wonder where the sympathy is now for these people who, it seems to me, are permanently ethnically cleansed.
In my intervention, I mentioned the destruction of the churches. I add to that the fact that crimes that have been committed against minorities. Where are the people who have been arrested? Who has been sent to The Hague for climes against humanity? When will there be justice for people still living in Kosovo but in dreadful conditions in heavily guarded enclaves without any freedom of movement? It is a mockery to say that the elections held there are in any way fair and legitimate when minorities cannot get about and do the usual things that we all do in elections, such as canvas and move about safely without fear of death or injury.
In March, I asked the Minister questions about the recent outbreak of violence in Kosovo. He was not very reassuring. He could not even go so far as NATO did and condemn what was happening. Since then, I have waited for the Government's condemnation of what happened. Frankly, it is not good enough to say, as was said then, that inter-ethnic violence is to be condemned while studiously ignoring the main source of the violence. Can the Government bring themselves to say that the KLA orchestrated and perpetrated the violence? Not to do so is an insult to the people who are suffering at the hands of the Albanian terrorists, and undermines our position. It also flies in the face of utterances about the war on terrorism to ignore a bunch of thugs, terrorists and Mafiosi who have just purged another 4,500 Serbs and other minorities. I know that the Minister visited Kosovo recently. I hope that he talked to the same people on the ground to whom the hon. Gentleman and I talked and was not cosseted from the real situation. The hon. Gentleman and I hope to go there in the near future, and we will not let the issue go.
What is happening in Kosovo is incredibly serious; it is an attempt to eradicate a whole culture and a whole history. We must ask ourselves why. We cannot simply pretend that it is not happening. In the short time left to me, I shall concentrate on some of the most salient points that form the background to the latest series of attacks. First, the scale of the violence lends credence to the claims that it was systematic and planned by Albanian extremists. Amnesty International, for example, says that 33 violent incidents took place throughout Kosovo in mid-March and involved 51,000 people. Dozens were killed and hundreds injured. Amnesty International also takes seriously claims about the Kosovo police service. I am all for peace and reconciliation, but I do not understand the decision to put Agim Ceku, who led the KLA pogroms of Serbs and other minorities during and after the NATO bombardment, in charge of that police force. That is obscene.
In March, a senior UN spokesman, Derek Chappell, said:This is planned, co-ordinated, one-way violence from the Albanians against the Serbs. It is spreading and has been brewing for the past week. Nothing in Kosovo happens spontaneously.Others have said similar things.
It has been reported in the British press and elsewhere that the violence was sparked by an incident in which Serbs drove Albanian children into a river, so that they were drowned. Those claims are being investigated by 401WH an international prosecutor. Will the Minister explain what happened? I find it difficult to conceive that Serbs were playing on the Albanian side of the Ibar river—I have been there two or three time;. There were early witness accounts that those claims were not true, and that it was a tragic and dreadful accident. Perhaps the Minister can put us right about whether those claims are true. Even if they are, it stretches credulity to say that the co-ordinated attacks involving 51,000 people were spontaneous.
As Amnesty International and others point out, the violence is related to talks on the future of Kosovo, which are to due to begin next year. If there are no Serbs or other minorities left in the province, it will be considerably easier to make it independent, which is, of course, what the KLA wants. The KLA never disbanded; it simply took another name, and was allowed to keep all its arms. If we give in to such action, we will have deliberately encouraged and rewarded terrorism.
Many authorities have reports from a variety of sources, which establish that the KLA is sustained by organised crime. In my view, that occurs with the tacit approval of the United States and its allies. Some of us, including people far more exalted And knowledgeable than me, warned that that might happen. The hon. Gentleman quoted Major-General Mackenzie, who commanded UN forces in Bosnia during the civil war. In a recent article, the major-general wrote:The Kosovo-Albanians have played us like a Stradivarius. We have subsidized and indirectly supported their violent campaign for an ethnically pure and independent Kosovo … When they achieve independence with the help of our tax dollars combined with those of bin Laden and al-Qaeda, just consider the message of encouragement this sends to other terrorist-supported independence movements around the world.
Christopher Hill, America's chief negotiator and architect of the Rambouillet agreement has, in the past five years, been a strong critic of the KLA's drug dealing. As late as last year, Robert Gelbard, America's special envoy in Bosnia, which is part of the Albanian drug and people trafficking route, described the KLA as terrorists with links to the drug trade. As a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, we are undertaking a study on people trafficking in the Balkans, and on the links between the drug trade, people trafficking and terrorism. A visit to Interpol confirmed that bin Laden had strong links with the KLA; while we were acting as the KLA's air force, it retained its links with known terrorists.
The US Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that 4.6 tonnes of heroin leave Turkey for western Europe each month, passing through the Balkans. Some 80 per cent. of heroin arrives in Europe through Albanian channels via the Balkans. We have a serious problem on our hands.
Drugs are not the only trade in which those people are involved. They also trade in arms and traffick people. A recent Amnesty International report deals with the trade in women and girls for forced prostitution. I understand that there will be a press conference on Thursday in Pristina, the capital city of the Kosovo province, and I hope that the Government will pay it as much attention as it deserves.
Will the Minister assure us that he will consider and respond to these points, particularly to the criminality in the region, which will destabilise the whole area if we do 402WH not get it right? An ethnically cleansed Kosovo is not the answer to anybody's dream of a peaceful Balkans. We need an international inquiry. I believe that some people in UNMIK have been involved in some irregular transactions, and that needs to be inquired into. On the issue of ethnic cleansing and the right of the people to return home, why is it right that Albanians are deemed to have an absolute right to return home but Serbs and other minorities are not? There seems to be a huge moral discrepancy there.
I should like to think that Britain is capable of taking all the facts into account, and of ensuring that a multi-ethnic community can live in peace in Kosovo and that the people who have perpetrated the violence and ethnic cleansing are finally brought to account, arrested and taken to The Hague. I am fully in favour of dealing with war criminals and those who commit crimes against humanity—be they Serb, Albanian or whatever nationality—but it is obscene that we concentrate on only one set of war criminals and not the other.
§ Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab)
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) not only on obtaining this debate but on his timing. The events that took place in March, which he outlined, have made everybody reconsider their views on what is taking place in Kosovo.
I visited Kosovo in February of this year. Although there is no doubt that Kosovo is a depressing place, at that stage there was limited progress. It was not great progress—I do not think that anybody would pretend that it was overwhelming—but it was progress. For example, people said to me that at that time it was possible for Serbs to walk through Pristina. It was significant that things had moved on in that direction. There were also individual communities where people were working hard to operate properly on a cross-cultural and cross-ethnic basis. Later, I will refer to at least one individual who has some significance in that connection. I do not pretend that that progress was uniform throughout Kosovo, but in February things appeared to be moving in a positive direction, if very slowly.
The events in March that the hon. Gentleman has already outlined were horrific in their own right. The loss of Albanian children in the river is not immaterial, because it is human tragedy at any level. However, whether it happened by provocation or by accident, and I am not sure that anybody has come up with an answer to that, it really is not the issue. The previous day, a young Serb boy—again, nobody quite knows the background—was shot. Those are not provocations that should allow anybody to justify a launch into mob violence of the sort that was seen over the following three days, when between 40,000 and 50,000 people stormed various parts of Kosovo and, in effect, almost anywhere where there were Serb minorities. That was almost certainly first whipped up by the media.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take on board the poor role played by the media. It is something that we will have to consider: who controls the flow of information? Who whipped up the incident of the deaths of the Albanian children in a way that allowed terror and mob rule to run amok? Of course, both the hon. 403WH Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) were right to point out that there were almost certainly political minds behind the actions of the mob. My hon. Friend mentioned the KLA specifically. I do not have the same certainty about that. However, what is certain is that the motives were political; this was an attempt at ethnic cleansing.
I was in Kosovo—or rather on its borders—in 1999, and I witnessed the ethnic cleansing of Albanians. It was no more acceptable to me to witness Albanians being cleared from areas of Kosovo at that time than it is to see that happening now to the Serbs or the other minorities. It is as much of an outrage that ethnic cleansing is taking place against those minorities in Kosovo as it was that the Albanians were the victims five years ago.
The brutal truth is that we must say that we are not prepared to accept this; there can be no retaliatory balancing of things by settling old scores. We must recommit ourselves to creating a Kosovo that disbars and punishes that. If people are guilty of crimes, they must be brought before the courts because their crimes are just as serious and heinous as those committed elsewhere in the region.
If we simply say that in all circumstances one community is good and the other is bad, we will fail to address some important issues. Even in the days of madness, there were significant examples of individuals behaving differently. Lutfi Haziri, the Albanian mayor of Gnjilane, attempted to stand up against the mob to protect the Serbs in his community. People like that deserve recognition. There are Kosovar Albanians who are fighting for a humane solution that includes people of all ethnic backgrounds. Prime Minister Rexhepi also went out to the mob outside Pristina, and two thirds of the people turned their backs on mob rule by following him back into the town. In the midst of all the savagery, such acts should be recognised.
Some 4,000 people were chased away; 19 people were killed—eight of them Albanian, so this is not a completely one-sided situation; 900 people were injured; and, from the figures that I have seen, 700 houses were destroyed, as well as the churches that the hon. Gentleman referred to. The destruction has been crass, but it has also had a pattern: it has been an attempt to prevent people from returning. However, there are individuals who represent beacons of hope by working for a better solution.
As we have moved on to other issues, the international community's eye has not been properly fixed on the situation in Kosovo. Last week. the special representative, Harri Holkeri, was in Strasbourg talking to the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly. He said that he did not have the necessary resources. Of course, we must look into what those resources are for, but there is a real issue there. If the head of our international mission says that he does not have enough resources, we must take that seriously. We as parliamentarians must acknowledge that our Governments—the people who act in our name—have not been concentrating as much as they should on the situation in Kosovo.
404WH We must accept that we have failed in our primary duty. KFOR and UNMIK are there, and their primary duty is the security of the men, women and children in Kosovo, in so far as it is possible to deliver that. We have failed in that duty because so many people were up against mob rule. We would not be able to accept that in our own cities without major questions being asked about what happened, and we cannot accept it in Kosovo without asking the same questions.
The first priority must be to guarantee security for all people living in Kosovo. I accept that that is difficult, but without it nothing else—investment, the returns policy, the justice system, the building of the infrastructure—will happen as it should. Without security, it would be a waste of time to try to secure those things. Security is central, and I want the Minister to say what he can about the role of KFOR and its capacity, because it is clear that in March KFOR was either not prepared or not able to act quickly enough or in a way that would have deterred the violence that ensued.
The second aim must be a quest for justice, and it is not simply an idle one. My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax has made this point already, but I must endorse it. The Minister is right to say that some of those involved have been arrested, and without prejudging the proper judicial process, which we must have in Kosovo, it is desperately important that a proper investigation is carried out, people are brought before the courts and those who are found guilty are sentenced to exemplary punishment. The signal must be given throughout Kosovo and to the wider world that those involved in such wanton and politically motivated violence will not be allowed to get away with it. That is a central point.
The intriguing question is always that of Kosovo's status, but I join those who say that the slogan "Standards not status" must be given meaning. Until we establish proper standards in Kosovo, any talk of status is almost irrelevant. Whoever inherits a Kosovo with no standards inherits a kind of desert, which is in nobody's interest.
Within those terms, we have a long way to go to build up capacity. That is another area in which the European Union, which is charged with the process of rebuilding the infrastructure, has not been as committed as it should have been. We need to tell the Commission, through our Government, that it must redouble its efforts. I say that while recognising that laying down a new infrastructure in a situation in which it could be trash tomorrow can work only if we recommit ourselves to the security equation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax has already mentioned returns. Even before the events of March, about 200,000 people had fled Kosovo. My hon. Friend gave the figure as 180,000, and I would not argue with that, but whatever the number, she was right to say that those people are entitled to return. We have said that throughout the region. I have stood in places such as Srebrenica and said that we must allow a policy of returns. We have made that demand of the Governments in Belgrade, Sarajevo and Zagreb, and we must make the same demand in Pristina. Only the right to return will show that we are underpinning a future for Kosovo as a multi-ethnic community that—these words may seem casual, but they are necessary—gives equal respect to people, whatever their background. The right to return can work only if the security equation is dealt 405WH with. If we were to ask people to return to a place from which they were driven at gunpoint, many would tell us that it is impossible under the current circumstances. I underline the fact that everything that we want for Kosovo depends on the re-establishment of a proper security presence.
Although this may sound arbitrary considering the recent violence, there needs to be a return to some sense of normalcy. Capacity and power must be transferred to local communities. That has not taken place at the speed that it should have, and the international agency UNMIK must consider its role and how quickly it has been prepared to transfer that power. Some of those things would help us to get over issues such as the parallel structures supported by Belgrade. One legitimate demand that we should make to the authorities in Belgrade is for them to cease supporting the parallel structures. In return, if we are to begin to rebuild the structures of Kosovo from the ground up, it must be clear that people at the community level have the proper capacity to take control of their own destinies.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to speak briefly in this debate, because the issue has not gone away. From 1999 till the present, the situation in Kosovo has been chronic. It may not have been acute for the most part, which has meant that it has drifted off the agenda. However, it became acute in March, and, to be brutal, if we do not give it consistent attention, as we should have done from 1999 onwards, it will deteriorate.
There are good people in all the communities of Kosovo, and we can see signs of reconstruction and the implementation of proper standards. We can also see that there is a European ambition—hon. Members in different parts of the Chamber can interpret that how they like—for the people of Kosovo and the wider region. However, that ambition will be fulfilled only if we are prepared to recommit ourselves to Kosovo—to recommit the resources and, in particular, the political will to make Kosovo change.
§ Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) (LD)
Like other hon Members, I, too, extend my congratulations to the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) on securing the debate. Like him. I think that it is worth putting the issue in the context of the great celebrations that we had at the weekend to mark the expansion of the European Union. While the Minister went to some very glamorous celebrations on the continent, I was at a more modest affair in Galashiels, in my constituency. People throughout the United Kingdom and elsewhere are pleased at how Europe has been developing, and although there are no doubt problems ahead, the fact that so many countries—particularly those from the former communist bloc—are now part of the European Union sends the outside world a strong signal about the state of Europe.
Our focus on Kosovo reminds us, however, that the situation in Europe more broadly has not yet been sorted out. The tragic outbreak of violence has brought the province back into the headlines in the most appalling way, albeit briefly. At least 19 people died, and about 900 were injured, in the recent violence. As a 406WH result, it was necessary to call on NATO reserves to assist in re-establishing order, which rather underlined the seriousness of the situation.
It appears that the objectives of restoring calm and preventing the spread of violence to neighbouring areas have been successfully met, and we should pay tribute to members of the forces from the United Kingdom and elsewhere who put their lives at risk and carried out their task successfully. However, we should not ignore reports that sections of the international forces in Kosovo were not seen to do well when the violence broke out. In its report of 22 April, the International Crisis Group was highly critical of aspects of KFOR's performance:KFOR stood revealed as a paper tiger, and will have difficulty redressing its credibility deficit.The Minister's comments on the issue will be listened to with great care.
Even the most casual observer of the Balkans will be sensitive to the difficult situation in Kosovo and to the region's terrible history. As the different parties there tiptoe towards elections, which we hope will be in the not-too-distant future, the ugly face of ethnic cleansing has once again shown itself. Whatever the rights and wrongs of each side's claims, historic and otherwise. the international community must ensure that all parties understand some basic messages. Political aspirations depend on dialogue and negotiation, not violence and ethnic cleansing. All communities must be able to live in their homes, and the rule of law must prevail. A stable. democratic and multi-ethnic Kosovo will never be achieved by inter-ethnic murder and violence.
The recent deaths and terrible disturbances sit in a wider, troubled context. The International Crisis Group report highlights the relationship between Kosovo and Serbia and, to some extent, blames the months in which the nerves of Kosovar Albanians were shredded by Belgrade for causing the tensions that gave rise to the violence. Alongside the problems with Serbia, long-running issues are still hanging over from the terrible events of 1999. I refer, in particular, to missing people. The United Nations interim administration mission figures suggest that about 2,500 Albanians and 1,000 Serbs are missing in Kosovo.
Identification of bodies in unmarked graves from earlier conflicts is a parallel and gruesome task. That problem was focused on by my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley), when she highlighted in a debate in December the anguish of those families who were affected and the circumstances that gave raise to those deaths, as Milosevic and his regime carried out wholesale ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and dumped hundreds of bodies in mass graves. If he has the opportunity, will the Minister tell us what progress, if any, has been made since that debate?
The issue is perhaps the most emotive that exists, but it sits in a wider context of international efforts to regularise the situation in the country. The Minister will be aware from the ICG's report—however briefly he has been able to examine it—that its criticisms go more widely than despair at the experience of KFOR. The report highlights the failure of the UN civil administration to kick-start the economy and provide the necessary development assistance. It is critical 407WH especially of local institutions when dealing with law enforcement and, in particular, organised crime, a theme that has been highlighted by the hon. Members for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) and for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd). It focuses on the confusion over the steps that are necessary to move towards the final status discussions about Kosovo and says that that is having a serious destabilising effect.
Last November, the Minister announced a new mechanism of reviews for Kosovo to allow progress towards international standards and final status discussions to be monitored. To what extent has the recent violence knocked that process off track? Is it still the intention to complete the first formal review in mid-2005?
The crisis group has made 14 recommendations to the parties with an interest in Kosovo. Like others who have contributed to the debate, it focuses heavily on the need for enhanced security without which no progress can be made. It urges that there should be preparatory work for final status talks, in particular extended support for the development of the key institutions of government, which are failing. The group argues that it is most important for the international community to acknowledge that UNMIK needs to be restructured and given adequate resources to undertake its job.
The Minister's reply to my contribution and to the points made by the crisis group and others who have contributed to the debate will be listened to with interest. Kosovo is in a parlous and fragile state. This country has played a major part in stabilising it, and such action will undoubtedly continue. I hope that he will explain how.
§ Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk) (Con)
I, too, warmly thank my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) for securing the debate. He has taken a consistent interest in the part of the world under discussion and has huge personal knowledge of it. I wish to applaud the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon), who equally has consistently raised such issues at Westminster and enhanced our understanding of the whole region. I welcome the opportunity to debate the situation in Kosovo.
One point has been echoed by everyone this morning, most powerfully by the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd), and that is that the horrific and controversial events in Iraq and the middle east have pushed Kosovo out of the international news, save when tragic events such as those in Mitrovica occur. We hope, however, that it has not fallen entirely out of view—I know that it has not so far as the Minister is concerned. It is important that the Prime Minister, also, should accord a priority to Kosovo and to the Balkans in general, even though the cameras of the world are focused elsewhere.
None of us can forget the terrible events of 1999, which saw the security forces of Milosevic ramp up the pressure on the Kosovan Albanians and engage in violent large-scale ethnic cleansing just hours after the commencement of NATO's bombing campaign. At the 408WH same time, we witnessed the radicalisation of the demands of the KLA, coupled with increasing violence, often against innocent Serb civilians. The combination of NATO's air campaign and economic sanctions halted the violence in Kosovo. That, coupled with domestic opposition in Serbia—to which the credit must go—precipitated the fall of Milosevic in October 2000.
We know how complicated the history of the Balkans is. However, the tragic economic state of the region, the large number of displaced people, and the psychological scars of conflict, civil war and inter-ethnic tension bedevil Kosovo in particular. Sadly, five years on, much remains unresolved in Kosovo and the post-Yugoslavia region lingers on in limbo, with a security situation that is not conducive to the economic investment that is crucial, given such huge unemployment. I agree with the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore), who said that security is crucial if all else is to flow from it.
Kosovo's ethnic tensions simmer just below the surface. Questions have been asked about the circumstances leading to the tragic deaths of the three Kosovan Albanian children in Mitrovica in March. What have been clear are the consequence of those deaths—the almost immediate inter-ethnic violence—the Serbian Kosovans being the victims on this occasion.
The violence in March left 28 Serbian Kosovans dead, some 20 churches and 350 houses burned and destroyed and—most ominously—six Serbian enclaves ethnically cleansed with about 3,500 Serbs displaced. That recent violence raises a number of profound questions about the real state of law and order in Kosovo and the prospects for any sustainable long-term settlement.
Too little notice has been taken of the ethnic cleansing and violence directed against Serbs in Kosovo in recent years. While I pay tribute to the dedication and work of NATO and UNMIK in Kosovo. it is clear that sufficient troops on the ground are a prerequisite for a stable security environment and that the performance of the troops stationed there appears to vary according to area and nationality.
Serbians living in Kosovo are reduced to living in what amount to Serbian enclaves surrounded by Kosovan Albanian areas. It is estimated that since 1999, about 350,000 Serbs have fled Kosovo, and that many of them remain too frightened to return. Those who have returned live in dread of violence such as that which occurred in March and fear that the more radical of the Kosovan Albanians—KLA supporters—have the broader agenda of forcing them out to create an ethnically pure Kosovo. However, there is fear on the Kosovan Albanian side too. It sees Kosovo as a large enclave surrounded by an even larger Serb regional presence. Such fears of domination by other ethnic groups, unless reduced, threaten to enflame the region once again—the potential is always there.
A deeply saddening consequence of the tension and violence has been the burning and destruction of many sacred sites, particularly churches and monasteries dating back to the Byzantine era, which represent an irreplaceable architectural heritage and are important sites of religious devotion for many. Their destruction has been a tragic loss for European civilisation.
409WH I was moved by a letter that I recently received from an artist, Barbara Dorf, who has spent many years visiting the area to paint. She vividly described the appalling destruction of Byzantine churches and the like. She suggested that there should be abody to make certain that these sacred sites are preserved … I suggest safe havens around these monasteries".What is the Minister's response to those suggestions?
§ Mrs. Mahon
Does the hon. Gentleman think that UNESCO should not ignore pleas from the Orthodox Church to highlight what is a wholesale destruction of a way of life and culture?
§ Mr. Spring
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for making that point. If UNESCO has any role in preserving the architectural heritage of anywhere in Europe, those churches and monasteries must be preserved. They are part of our entire civilisation and their destruction is a tragedy for everyone concerned, not only those of a particular religious persuasion.
As the Minister will know, I recently visited Slovenia. While there, I had several interesting; discussions about the Balkan region and Kosovo. It is clear that Kosovo is in dire need of investment and economic growth to provide incomes and employment for its people. Unemployment is high—about 60 per cent.—and privatisation has stalled. A vast number of people without means of employment provide easy pickings for those seeking to stir up resentment against other ethnic groups. However, investment and economic growth must be pursued in parallel with a focus on creating a secure and stable environment in Kosovo. Its regional neighbours are well placed to assist in those respects. However, although the UN and NATO can do much, a desire for reconciliation and respect for the rule of law must ultimately come from Kosovo.
Following the welcome accession of many former eastern bloc countries to the EU at the weekend and the similar steps being taken by others, such as Bulgaria and Romania, the prospect of regional involvement and support should be further explored. Similarly, there are opportunities for those countries to build trade links with Kosovo, given that some 80 per cent. of its trade is with Serbia. Such reliance on one trading partner suggests a need for trade diversification outside Kosovo. What steps are the Government taking to encourage the economic development of Kosovo and persuade its neighbours to assist? What steps do they believe that the EU can realistically take to assist Kosovo's stabilisation and transition as new countries move towards membership?
I shall touch on the possible eventual status of Kosovo, although I know how difficult that will be. As I read it, UN Security Council resolution 1244 is ambiguous. What is the Minister's response to those who argue that a form of partition would eventually lead to intensified pressure on those communities still on the wrong side of any line and risk an unravelling of previous regional accords, such as Dayton and Ohrid? What position does he advocate in respect of Kosovo's final status and how does he envisage the situation developing?
410WH My conversations in Slovenia strengthened my view that the possibility, however distant, of NATO and EU membership could be an important incentive to stabilising the post-Yugoslav republics and clamping down on human rights abuses. Croatia is on the path to EU membership. Does the Minister agree that by offering that carrot, including to Serbia, the aspirations of politicians in the region would be lifted and it would be clear that membership implies proper European standards of justice and governance, including respect for cultural diversity? I truly believe that that would provide a long-term political framework to replace the political vacuum, not least in Kosovo.
§ 12.4 pm
§ The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane)
I am more than grateful to the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) for securing this debate, because it enables me to set out Government thinking on Kosovo and the region and to announce to the House today some changes in policy and some discussions that we are having with partners and with our friends in Belgrade and Pristina. I use those words deliberately because I will not seek to get into a blame game for today's activities. It is important that all hon. Members approach this in a balanced way.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) who has taken a deep personal interest in the plight of the Serb people over a number of years. She has done so in conditions of exemplary solidarity, and I hope that her successor as hon. Member for Halifax will maintain that interest. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd). He is one of the most distinguished members of our Council of Europe delegation and a predecessor of mine as Minister of State at the Foreign Office. His commitment to the region is of the highest order. As he reminded us, his visits to different sites in the region have informed all his contributions. I disagree with nothing that Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members said. They asked the right questions and approached the matter with the right tone.
The hon. Member for Uxbridge is right to secure this debate because it is five years almost to the week since the British Government, under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, helped to put together the international coalition that ended the killing fields of Kosovo initiated by the Serb leader, Slobodan Milosevic. During too much of the 1990s Governments in Europe found reasons not to intervene in the western Balkans, and we know the price because we see it in our surgeries. More than a million asylum seekers have flooded into the rest of Europe from the former Yugoslavia.
In 1989 Yugoslavia was the richest country in the then communist world. Its citizens, from the Greek border to the Slovenian alps, could travel freely in Europe without visas. In that sense, it is my ambition to try to help all the people of the regions to get back to 1989. They have just become citizens of our common European Union. Along with the flow of asylum seekers in the early 1990s from Croatia, Bosnia and then Kosovo came the networks that helped to move them. They easily became the networks that could smuggle cigarettes, drugs and today, alas, prostitutes, arms and money. Those criminal networks exist throughout the region. They are not exclusive to Kosovo and we need to deal with that.
411WH The decade of destruction and warfare unleashed by Milosevic in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and then in Kosovo is a dark chapter in Europe's history. Five years after the end of the formal Milosevic fighting, Europe has a responsibility to help all the western Balkans back to the community of European nations. We have had an uneasy peace in Kosovo since 1999. The weapons are mainly silenced, but the words from both sides are still too full of hate.
It is the power of verbal violence that we need to consider. Reference has been made to the three children who were drowned in the river at Mitrovica. The reporting of the incident by the Kosovan mass media was a disgrace by journalistic standards. I speak as a former president of the National Union of Journalists. It was outrageous how tensions were whipped up by Kosovan journalists to create the climate that then exploded into violence. Those are not just my views. The official at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe who is responsible for media standards reported that to the Berlin conference of the OSCE last week. I will be encouraging the OSCE to see what it can do to set much higher standards for reporting in Kosovo.
Words from political leaders are also extremely important. If I may reveal a bit of private Foreign Office discussion to hon. Members, I remember how my heart sank when I got the reports of the programmatic speech made by the newly elected Serbian Prime Minister, Kostunica, to the Parliament in Belgrade on 2 March. A huge chunk of his speech was not about the problems facing Serbia and Montenegro, working out ways in which it could discharge its obligations to the international tribunal in The Hague or the new economic initiatives that were needed; it was devoted to raising the issue of Serb status in Kosovo. Describing what his Government wanted, he said:Substantial autonomy for the Serb population in Kosovo includes territorial autonomy, the division of Kosovo into entities or the cantonisation of Kosovo … and a corresponding cultural and personal autonomy.I asked my officials why on earth Mr. Kostunica was making a formal speech calling for Serb territorial autonomy in Kosovo, how on earth every Kosovan would react and whether he thought I should condemn it; it is like Germany reclaiming parts of the Czech Republic, Silesia or Pomerania. I said no, however, because I like and trust Mr. Kostunica and I have had many good conversations with him; I like his new Government and I have worked in the region for a number of years. I said that I would not put out an official expression of concern by the British Government and that we should move away from a hectoring approach, preaching against statements by leaders in the region. However, I was sure that there would be a reaction.
Well, the reaction came, because words have consequences and so does announcing unacceptable policies. Although the drowning of those three poor Albanian children and the way that it was dealt with in the Kosovan mass media undoubtedly led to that explosion, and undoubtedly there were extremists in 412WH Kosovo who fanned the flames, the time has come for everyone, including Members of this House, to measure their words very carefully.
§ Mr. Randall
The Minister is absolutely right. In that context, I wonder whether he will reconsider the combination of the idea of the annexation of Sudetenland and the issue of Kosovo. After all, Kosovo is still regarded by the international community as part of Serbia and Montenegro.
§ Mr. MacShane
In Germany, right up until recently, there were giant football stadiums full of people organised by the Bund der Vertriebenen—the league of the expellees—who, under a giant slogan, would have monster meetings and say, "Silesia belongs to us. We will return." People may wish what they want, but to my knowledge no German Government figure would endorse that or bring it into German Government policy. The parallels are never quite exact, but we will have to accept—I will develop this point a little later in my speech—that the time has come in which there can be no question of a return to 1999, 1989 or 1979 in terms of Serb control over Kosovo. If we do not say that honestly and on the record, as I am doing today, in my judgment we will encourage the wrong approach. The terms of any final settlement need to be debated and I will come on to that.
§ Mr. MacShane
I do not really want to have a conversation, because there are some important points that I need to put on record, but I will give way to my hon. Friend.
§ Mrs. Mahon
My hon. Friend draws attention to one side's words during the recent pogrom in March. Did he take note of some leading nationalist Albanian speeches, both leading up to that and since? The first words of the pacifist Rugova after the pogrom were that it showed that Kosovo must have independence. There are two sides to every argument.
§ Mr. MacShane
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to those remarks. That is why it is time for Europe to rethink its policies, and for our country to find new words and new ideas to help move Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo forward to a new relationship with each other, the rest of Europe and the world. We need a new approach in Belgrade and Pristina, as well as new thinking on how UNMIK, KFOR and the other international organisations carry out their duties. We need more investment and more encouragement for those trying to do good, including the mayor of Gnjilane who works collaboratively with villages in Macedonia and Serbia to try to offer local leadership to both communities. We need more condemnation of those who use words to stir up hatred and resentment, rather than to build, if not full reconciliation—that might be too much to ask for—then a modus vivendi that allows tolerance, or at least an absence of hate that spills over so easily into bloodshed.
I appeal again to all hon. Members not to take sides. Ten years ago, it seemed easy: as a new MP I recall listening to speeches in the House, and it seemed clear 413WH that the Albanian Kosovans and their way of life were persecuted. The distinguished Serbian politician, Biljana Plavšić, who was one of the three top Government officials in the Republika Srpska, said that Muslims in Bosnia were agenetic mistake on the Serbian body",and that to eliminate them was a "natural phenomenon", not a war crime. That language is on the record, and we have not yet seen any reconciliation from Serb leaders, particularly the Church, for what took place. There has been no equivalent of Willy Brandt kneeling in front of the Warsaw ghetto to apologise for the crimes that Germans committed against the Jews. There has been no formal denunciation or apology in Parliament or in the media for that kind of remark. That is not the position of the Serbs with whom I deal, but we must find clear new language. Today, in Kosovo at least, the Kosovan Albanians are in the majority, not the minority. I say to them here, as I said to them there, that they must not make the same mistake that Milosevic made in thinking that ethnic cleansing or violence could ever provide a solution to the difficulties between the two communities.
Last month, I met President Rugova, and told him that I did not want to hear talk of independence. I said that in today's Europe we are all interdependent and Kosovo must find a model of interdependence that allows it to live in harmony with all those who live in its territory and with the rest of the region. I firmly oppose the notion that partition politics arc possible or would make any sense in Kosovo. I visited the Irish troops who behaved with commendable bravery on St. Patrick's day, 17 March, when the rioting broke out and spilled over to 18 and 19 March. They took me to a Serb village called Dubrotin, which was a sad sight, where the people live in some fear. Suddenly, on the same road, with nothing to mark a change, was the Albanian village of Slovenje, with similar houses and people, in the same fields. In the cemetery there were 18 wooden grave markers: they were graves of men born in 1912, men born in the year of my birth and men born in the 1960s, and all killed on the same day in 1999, when 27 Kosovans were taken out by Serbs and shot dead. Only 18 bodies were recovered to be buried. The hatred is still there, just as the appalling attacks on the churches of Kosovo upset every Serb who sees the destruction wrought.
I told President Rugova that I did not want to discuss final status, because I believe that the only final status is when we are all dead. I said that the Kosovan authorities and Belgrade need to enter into a dialogue to find mechanisms to address the status issue on the basis of European values and European interdependence. They must realise that it is not the status of the state that matters, but the status of the citizens who live in a region.
The rioting of 17 and 18 March was inexcusable; I assure hon. Members that violence will not be rewarded. The international community will stay in Kosovo as long as is necessary—for 100 years if that is what it takes—until Kosovans accept their responsibility to stop the violence engendered by some criminal elements among them. I am glad that the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, with the help of KFOR and the responsible Kosovan authorities, has ensured a transfer to The Hague of three Kosovan 414WH Albanians—Haradin Bala, Isak Musliu and Fatmir Limaj—who have been charged with serious crimes. However, it is important too that Republika Srpska and its authorities make earnest efforts to secure the transfer to The Hague of Karadzic and Mladic. We are barely one year away from the 10th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacres, when 7,500 Europeans were taken out, separated from their wives and families, herded together and executed in cold blood. The judges in The Hague defined that 10 days ago as an act of genocide. There are too many people in Republika Srpska who know where Mladic and Karadzic are and who are not persuading them to report to the authorities for transfer to The Hague or helping in their transfer. There has been no clear, decisive condemnatory public language from responsible people in the Serb Government, and no parliamentary declaration, making it clear that it is the duty of those gentlemen to go to The Hague.
The riots were terrible; I saw the video and digital camera footage of the Irish soldiers. They showed children of about 17 or 18 who looked as though they should have been carrying school satchels; they were not KLA-trained people from the 1990s. It is a plain fact that 75 per cent. of Kosovans under 25 are unemployed. There is no economic hope, and Belgrade does not seem able to find a way of letting Kosovo be Kosovo.
The British Government want to move policy forward; we want less UNMIK, a strong KFOR, and more Kosovan economic control and responsibility for policing and security. The only way to make people responsible is to give them responsibilities. In the five years after the military interventions, the international institutions have been too slow and cumbersome in giving responsibility to Kosovans and requiring them to behave responsibly. That must change, but equally it must be understood in Belgrade that there cannot be a return to the past.
I had good, warm meetings with the Serb Government leaders when I was in Belgrade, and I asked them to discuss their ideas for decentralisation and helping the Serb people in Kosovo with Pristina. If we want to decentralise and build from the bottom up, we have to discuss from the bottom up, not issue programmes or plans from the centre and then expect others to fall into line with them.
That is why I find the proposals that have come forward from Belgrade in recent days very hard to accept. From the British Government's point of view, those proposals are simply unacceptable as formal policy. They may be a basis for discussion, but I have read, for example, references to Serbs in Kosovo claiming entitlementto parts of the territory that links in a natural way Serb-dominated settlements, in which they previously did not make up a majority".I really do not understand what that means. I saw a village that was made up of completely contiguous Serb and Albanian parts, on the same road. The notion that they can be separated, which is what seems to be indicated in the plan from Belgrade, simply will not work.
I understand the fears and the needs of the Serbs in Kosovo, but Belgrade must discuss, in depth and continuously, its concerns with Pristina. Policies cannot 415WH be decided in Belgrade or in New York and then announced as decrees to be obeyed. Dialogue is necessary. Political dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina must be direct, personal and continual, and should be aided by the Governments of Europe and the EU directly, via the European Commission and the high representative of the Council of Ministers. That process of dialogue should be separate from, yet parallel to, the administration of UNMIK.
We need to get political movement in the region, rather than just firefighting when a crisis breaks out. We have examples from which we can learn lessons. In Croatia the hatred has died down. Croatia is firmly on the path to the EU, and, if Croatia's alleged war criminal, Mr. Gotovina, is in The Hague, where he is wanted, by the end of June, I am sure that we shall be opening accession talks with Croatia. To the south, in Macedonia, Albanians and Macedonians have learned to build a political system that allows two communities to go forward together. We can take comfort from other examples in the region.
As I said, we shall need new policy and new thinking. I took Mr. Rugova to St. Nicholas' church in Pristina, where he said that what had happened there was an assault on European cultural and religious traditions. The next day I was in the mosque in Belgrade, which had been attacked by a Serb mob, and in the library there I found books, 200 or 300 years old, which had been put in a pile to be burnt. I need not remind hon. Members of the last time we saw people burning books in a European capital city, but it is not something that we ever want to see again. We have to move away from such hate.
416WH Certainly the Government need to get more of a grip on UNMIK. The special representatives do an excellent job, but the UN in New York needs to devolve more real power to those on the ground and allow changes that will see UNMIK transfer more economic competences in Kosovo. We need KFOR operations to re-examined. The troops do an excellent job, but some national contingents cannot even be deployed without permission from their national Government. The commanding officer told me that he had about 17,000 troops, of which only one tenth—1,700—could be deployed on the ground. That needs to be changed. Those troops must be trained in riot control mechanisms. They do not use water cannons or tear gas, so there is nothing between having a shield and a baton and opening fire with heavy weaponry. That needs to be revised.
Kosovo needs economic movement. It has to import 70 per cent. of its food, but it is in one of the richest agricultural regions of Europe. We have to urge, at the highest political level, Serbs and Kosovans to discuss their problems. We would like to see a new special envoy shuttling between Pristina and Belgrade to facilitate that process. We need more engagement by European Foreign Ministers. The Foreign Secretary is fully committed to that policy. We need the stars and stripes to be present. We also need Russia to be actively involved at the UN level in finding a way forward.
I can only assure the Chamber that we shall continue to be engaged. Her Majesty's Government realise that, five years after the end of the military conflict, we need new energy and new policy. I am deeply grateful to those hon. Members who have made such constructive speeches, and for the chance to announce what I hope will be a new turn in British policy towards the region.