Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mr. Cook: I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for endorsing the concern that is shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House about this terrible atrocity. He is right: we have experienced great difficulty in securing compliance from both sides with the Holbrooke package. The Kosovo Liberation Army has repeatedly broken the ceasefire, and, last month, seized a number of Serb hostages. On the other side, we have achieved an outcome that is unsatisfactory from our point of view, in that there are far more Serb military units out of barracks than there should be. The agreement provides for three companies to be out of barracks in Kosovo; at the last count, there were 12.

We maintain exactly the surveillance that I promised the House last November--although, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman will appreciate, the extent to which NATO aircraft can fly and observe depends in part on the weather and whether it is possible to observe what is happening on the ground. The Kosovo verification mission has given us instant, rapid, accurate information about the situation on the ground. It took us several months to discover the full details of the tragedy at Srebrenica, but within 12 hours we were able to establish the facts of what had happened at Racak. That has greatly helped us to produce a swift and robust international response. We will, of course, continue to monitor the safety of those verifiers--we have a particular duty to the British members of the verifier teams--to ensure that their safety is not put at unacceptable risk.

What happened at Racak yesterday is that verifiers were deployed. They acted properly and reasonably on the assurances that they had been given by Belgrade that Belgrade would co-operate with them in assuring the villagers that they would stay. I regret to inform the House that the local commanders flagrantly refused to co-operate, refused the representations by General Drewienkiewicz that they should not enter the village in force, proceeded to do so and then proceeded to shell the village. In those circumstances, I believe that General Drewienkiewicz was entirely correct to order the verifiers to leave. The fault lies with Belgrade for its failure to comply and to co-operate with the verification mission. That will be a central part of the discussions that Generals Clark and Naumann will have tomorrow in Belgrade.

Finally, I repeat to the right hon. and learned Gentleman--and to President Milosevic--that the actiration order or the actord remains in being. The

18 Jan 1999 : Column 569

outcome of the decision in November is that it will require one political decision by the North Atlantic Council to trigger that actord. In the meantime, it remains in being and the planes remain on 96 hours' notice.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): The activation of the NATO bombing is unlikely to make any serious contribution to a solution because no military solution will do that. Is there not the prospect, alas, of even further atrocities from both sides? Expressions of horror, however justified, and demands that something must be done do not amount to a strategy.

If, as my right hon. Friend has said, the strategy is to ensure the autonomy of the province within Serbia, that will surely imply pressure on both sides to the conflict. Is he prepared to commit, with our allies, the necessary personnel and pressure on both sides to ensure that?

Mr. Cook: I can assure my hon. Friend that pressure has been applied to both sides throughout. Part of the complexity, though, of applying pressure to the Kosovo Albanian side is that there are different perspectives from the elected leadership of the Kosovo Albanians around Dr. Rugova and from members of the KLA, who do not regard Dr. Rugova as someone from whom they will accept leadership or as a representative of their people. That makes it difficult to build a meaningful negotiating team from the Kosovar Albanian side.

My hon. Friend makes a fair point: any military action needs to be tied to a clear political settlement and a strategy to achieve that political settlement. A political settlement is on offer. It would enable Belgrade to withdraw from the conflict without further cost, loss of life or continued isolation in the world community. It would also enable the Kosovar Albanians themselves to proceed to govern their own affairs, including their internal security.

That is a prize for both sides. It is deeply frustrating for the international community that, despite vigorous pressure on both sides, we have yet to secure a single negotiating session between teams representing both of them.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): The atrocity is appalling, even by the standards that we have come to expect in the Balkans.

Can the Foreign Secretary confirm reports that there is continuing military action against the village of Racak by tanks and artillery of the Belgrade Government? If that is so, is it not a clear breach of the Geneva convention?

Does not the refusal of entry to the prosecutor simply pile provocation on outrage? Does the Foreign Secretary share the view that the continuing failure to allow access would rightly be seen as complicity by the Belgrade Government in the massacre and would undermine any moral authority that Belgrade might have to govern Kosovo?

Will the Foreign Secretary make it clear that, although NATO will not become the air force of the KLA, all of NATO's assets are available to protect the innocent citizens of Kosovo if they are subjected to deliberate aggression by the Serbian Government, and that United Kingdom forces are ready to play their part?

Mr. Cook: First, I entirely endorse the right hon. and learned Gentleman's comments on the appalling character

18 Jan 1999 : Column 570

of the atrocity. I have heard of reports of military action today not around Racak itself, but around the neighbouring villages. I am not currently in a position entirely to confirm those reports, but I have to warn the House that they sound plausible. Regardless, we already know that there were vigorous actions by the Serb security forces on Friday and again--despite representations from the Kosovo verification mission--on Sunday. Therefore, already actions have twice occurred that are wholly unacceptable and are plainly in breach of the agreements that President Milosevic gave both to NATO and to the OSCE.

British forces are already playing a part in making those agreements a reality. We contribute aircraft to the air verification mission and the second largest national ground contingent to the Kosovo verification mission. General Drewienkiewicz is the chief of operations there, and our people are playing a key part in ensuring that the operation is successfully mounted. We also make a major contribution to the extraction force organised among European countries across the border in Macedonia, should we have to get the verifiers out.

In all those regards, Britain is playing a major part. We stand ready, of course, to consider what may be sensible in the future. However, any further military commitment in Kosovo must clearly depend on a political settlement between the two main parties. We cannot commit additional resources without knowing that both sides are committed to an outcome.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): As my right hon. Friend said, in all the time that we have been talking and using diplomatic methods, we have achieved very little. The peace talks have not yet even started, and I doubt that they will start. There would be very little agreement between the two sides, as there is very little agreement between them on anything. We have been patient long enough. Sooner or later, troops will have to go in. In my view, it should be sooner rather than later.

Mr. Cook: The position that the Government took--with much support in the House--was that, in the right circumstances, we would be willing to consider ground troops as part of the package that was brokered last autumn. Other countries within NATO said publicly that they were not prepared to make such a commitment. I do not think that the House would expect us to commit British troops in isolation from action by our major allies.

Currently, after the experience of the past three months--and as I just said to the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell)--I should be very hesitant about committing ground troops in Kosovo unless there was a clear commitment by both sides to a political track. If we were to commit forces in the current situation, there is a danger that we would end up being the people keeping apart two sides, both of which seem intent on carrying out war and undermining the ceasefire. Those are not circumstances in which peacekeeping can operate. We shall first have to see some evidence of good will, good faith and a strong commitment to a political negotiation.

If my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley(Ann Clwyd) studies with care the detailed paper prepared by the Contact Group, she will note that it contains much common ground for both sides. I commend Christopher

18 Jan 1999 : Column 571

Hill on the way in which he has patiently taken account of the views of both sides. Most of the argument rests on what will happen after the three-year interim period. I tell both sides, particularly the Kosovar side: for heaven's sake, let us not make what happens three years from now prevent us from getting on with seizing agreement that can secure stability in the short term and lead to the basis for peace in the long term.

Mr. Martin Bell (Tatton): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that perhaps the time has come--as it did earlier, in the Bosnia conflict--when we have a difficult decision to make, which is either we stay all the way out or we get all the way in? We either say to ourselves, "That is a far away country of which we know little and care less--let them kill each other to the last drop of blood", or, with the French and our other allies, seriously prepare an active intervention force.


Next Section

IndexHome Page