Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey): The Foreign Secretary will be aware that Western European Union has been considering the establishment of a paramilitary police force to deal with situations such as that in Kosovo. Will he confirm that it is still Her Majesty's Government's policy to resist such a formation? The right hon. Gentleman said that once law and order is restored it will be up to the civil police to maintain it. If they cannot do so, troops--preferably under NATO command--will have to go in to give them the support that they need.

The Foreign Secretary mentioned humanitarian aid. Will he take this opportunity to congratulate those--such as Mr. Bernard Sullivan in my constituency, with his Operation Angel--who continue to take humanitarian aid to that beleaguered province of Serbia under particularly difficult circumstances?

Mr. Cook: I congratulate all those who have shown courage in taking humanitarian aid to those who most need it in Kosovo. Had it not been for the international humanitarian effort, there would undoubtedly have been many more casualties among the refugees over the past month. I particularly welcome the courage and dedication shown by the staff of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Red Cross in returning immediately to Kosovo without necessarily waiting for the removal of the authorisation of air strikes. It is important that they get on with their work as quickly as possible.

On Albania, I agree that we would look, and look positively, at any way in which we could assist the Albanian Government--it would have to be at their request--in securing law and order. There is a new Government of Albania, and we are in dialogue with them. If there are reasonable things we can do to assist, we shall consider them, but it must be with their agreement. Which agency provides that assistance is a matter to be considered then.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): What would be the purpose of anyone in this House denouncing the crimes committed in Kosovo if those crimes could continue to be carried out by Belgrade? With the threat of force being applied, Belgrade knows what will happen if it continues its recent policies. Would it not be wise for any criminal dictator--whether in Belgrade or Baghdad--to bear in mind what is happening to Pinochet in this country?

Mr. Cook: I counted three separate international issues in my hon. Friend's question, and I congratulate him on

19 Oct 1998 : Column 960

that. If he will forgive me, I will stick to the narrow question of Kosovo and Yugoslavia, which is quite enough to sort out in one statement. I strongly agree that there is no point in our lamenting the behaviour of President Milosevic in Kosovo if we are not prepared to show resolve in making it clear to him that the action is not an internal matter for Yugoslavia. It is a matter that concerns the rest of the international community, and we are therefore entirely correct in putting pressure on him. Secondly, if President Milosevic was convinced that he was doing the right thing in Kosovo, and that his regime had nothing to be afraid of, he could simply reopen the four newspapers and the independent radio station that he has closed and let the people of Serbia know the truth.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the Government had intelligence last year--not least within the Ministry of Defence--that there was likely to be violence in Kosovo? Will he explain why he has led the international community in setting its face against the aspirations for Kosovar independence, not least in the conclusions of the Cardiff summit? Does he agree that the delay in international action has radicalised the Kosovar people into supporting the Kosovo Liberation Army, while the moderates in Kosovo are now frankly politically irrelevant? Will he confirm that the KLA is not a party to the international agreements, and that the path down which we are going--with the use of unarmed international monitors--is likely to lead to us needing host-nation support from Serbia to protect the monitors from the KLA during the next six months?

Mr. Cook: I am not entirely clear what conclusion the hon. Gentleman draws for action by Her Majesty's Government. First, we never comment on intelligence reports, and I have no intention of doing so on such fraught circumstances as those pertaining to Kosovo and Yugoslavia. Secondly, it is absolutely plumb flat wrong to say that Britain led the argument against independence for Kosovo. There is not a country in the region that favours independence for Kosovo, and all three countries that I will visit this week would be deeply alarmed by independence for Kosovo because of its destabilising effect on the wider region.

On the question of the moderates being marginalised, that is precisely why we attach the greatest importance to the holding of free and fair elections in Kosovo to see who has the support of the Kosovar people. The last time there were elections in Kosovo was only three months ago. The KLA urged the people of Kosovo to boycott the elections, but 80 per cent. voted--and voted overwhelmingly for Doctor Rugova.

Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South): In welcoming my right hon. Friend's statement and the robust position taken by the British Government over the agreement, may I say that I share his view that this is only the beginning of the process? That being the case, what consultations will take place with the Governments of Greece, Albania and Bulgaria over the implementation of the agreement? Does my right hon. Friend feel that there is enough in the agreement to create a political situation in the Balkans that will prevent further destabilisation?

Mr. Cook: I will visit Bulgaria later this week, when I will hold discussions with the Prime Minister and Foreign

19 Oct 1998 : Column 961

Minister about how we take forward this agreement and about wider questions of Balkan security. We are, of course, in constant dialogue with Greece, which, as a member of NATO, was present at all the NATO discussions and contributed to them, but I agree with my hon. Friend that one of the important aspects of trying to achieve a stable, secure outcome is to put it in the context of the wider security of the Balkans.

What is particularly distressing about President Milosevic and one or two of the other leaders who came to power in the post-communist period is that they appear to imagine that, by rebuilding ethnically based nation states with large borders against their neighbours, they are joining the modern Europe. They are not. They are going back to an ancient Europe that the rest of Europe is leaving behind. We wish to see what ways there are of constructing a Balkans that recognises that the way forward is to bring down borders between us and to avoid building statehood on ethnic identity alone.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is extremely important that the observers and monitors get out into the countryside as quickly as possible, and that they stay and take up place in the villages and hamlets around the countryside, so that they become, for the purposes of the next few months, part of the community, to ensure that these poor people are not further abused?

Will the right hon. Gentleman investigate what help could be given, perhaps via what was the Overseas Development Administration, to provide building materials? People are going to come down from the mountains and face increasing cold in houses that have been brutalised beyond anything that one can possibly imagine. What they need is the ability to build roofs. Money will not do them any good. They need building materials.

Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman raises two important points. I assure him that we agree with him on both. First, it is vital that the monitors should be able to go anywhere they want to in Kosovo. The urgent priority must be to verify that refugees are free to come out of rural high-lying areas and into the valleys and sheltered settlements.

Secondly, when the refugees do so, they will return not to their homes, but to homes that have been blown up by the Yugoslav army. It is therefore vital that, within the next month, they have an adequate supply of corrugated iron, cement and bricks, so that they can make those places habitable to see them through the winter. We agree on both those as being high priorities.

Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West): Does my right hon. Friend agree that, whatever those on the Opposition Front Bench may say, the Kosovo conflict is amenable neither to quick solutions nor to clear-cut victories? Does he agree that the immediate priority must be to enforce the international agreement by whatever means are necessary to bring humanitarian relief to a quarter of a million refugees, to end the murder and mayhem and to allow a political process for a long-term solution to be put in place?

Mr. Cook: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that there is no short cut to achieving a solution to the crisis.

19 Oct 1998 : Column 962

It will take us a long time to reconstruct Kosovo and it will take us some time to achieve the self-governing status that is provided for in the agreement, but although there is no short cut to it, I assure my hon. Friend and the House that we are determined to ensure that there is maximum momentum towards that goal. That is why the agreement has set up a very tight timetable for the early stages of that political process. I hope that, within the next few months, we will be able to put in hand successful free and fair elections in Kosovo, which should change the political reality.

Next Section

IndexHome Page