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Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Why does the Defence Secretary think that Belgrade families, the intelligentsia, trade unionists and others, 200,000 of whom demonstrated two years ago against President Milosevic, are this week demonstrating in similar numbers in favour of him? Can a people such as the Serbs be bombed into submission?

Mr. Robertson: The people of Serbia are, by and large, decent people with a fine tradition. If they knew, or were allowed to know, what their Government are doing in their name, they would not countenance it for a moment. They are being lied to, so perhaps it is not difficult to understand why they are demonstrating in the streets. We have no contest with them at all. No bombs are falling on them; bombs fall only on the military installations and apparatus that keep the terror going. I hope that if my hon. Friend has the chance to get that message across, he will do so.

To those who might be listening in Yugoslavia, I say that there are internet sites that are difficult for the secret police to get hold of. Yesterday, 1,400 people hit the Ministry of Defence and Foreign Office websites. They are trying to find out the truth; if they do, they will not support Milosevic for very long.

Mr. Martin Bell (Tatton): As someone who knows a little about the realities on the ground, I wonder whether the Secretary of State will consider, if not full military intervention, at least the establishment, by force if necessary, of a relief corridor or safe area to save the lives of some of the tens of thousands of Albanians in Kosovo which, without such action, will surely be lost.

Mr. Robertson: I bow to the hon. Gentleman's knowledge of the area, but I have studied, along with the military commanders in the area, some of the possibilities to which he alluded. We shall continue to examine what we can do to help relieve the refugees, without ruling out those options. However, we should not delude ourselves that the time that it would take to put together a ground force organised for forced entry into Kosovo would not be exploited by Slobodan Milosevic in the bloodiest

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possible way. Instead of seeking the simple solutions, we must continue down a difficult road that the majority of military commanders still believe will produce results.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): Does the Secretary of State agree that to blame NATO for the latest crimes and atrocities being carried out by the Serbian warlords makes as much sense as blaming the Allies for Nazi crimes in the last war? Is it not perfectly clear--as it should be to critics, in the House or outside--that the full responsibility for the mass murders, rapes and atrocities lies entirely with the dictator in Belgrade and his fellow murderous thugs?

Mr. Robertson: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I get angry, with some justification, I think, at people suggesting that NATO air attacks started the violence that Milosevic was meting out to his people. Night after night on television, the Kosovar Albanian refugees themselves give ample testimony to the fact that the violence started before the NATO bombs began to fall, and that only the NATO air attacks are likely to stop them.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): Can the Secretary of State for Defence name a single independent commentator who believes that NATO's military strategy will deliver the political objectives laid out by the Prime Minister to the House last Tuesday? If he cannot, will he undertake urgent consultations with our NATO partners to change the military strategy so that we can have the expectation, not just the hope, that we will deliver the political objectives that we all share?

Mr. Robertson: The hon. Gentleman was in the Army some time ago. I say to him in all reasonableness that he may have a point of view, but I am not concernedwith independent commentators. There are military commanders in this country with experience, a Chief of the Defence Staff with one of the most outstanding records of service in the British Army, who is now at the head of all of our defences, and 18 other chiefs of defence in NATO who all came to the same conclusion. Their political masters have also agreed that this is the correct strategy. We do not lean on them, but their advice is quite clear. Frankly, if it came to a choice, I would trustthem rather than the average, so-called independent commentator.

Mr. John Austin (Erith and Thamesmead): The whole House owes a debt of gratitude to my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Defence and the Foreign Secretary for the political skill that has enabled them to ensure a unified international response to the atrocities that have been perpetrated by the Milosevic regime.

Last night, the Grand Committee Room was filled with Kosovars who live in London, many of them with families still in Kosovo, and some of whom do not know where their families are. I assure my right hon. Friend that they not only gave their full and absolute backing to the action that has been taken, but said that now is not the time for hesitation or pulling back from that action. I would add only one reservation. While accepting the view of the 19 defence chiefs that the use of ground troops at this stage may not be practicable, there was some concern that that had been announced to the world in advance--that may be one of the problems of living in a democracy.

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Does my right hon. Friend share my view that, by his actions, Milosevic has forfeited any right or claim that he may have had to sovereignty over Kosovo, and that the time has come for the international community to consider making Kosovo an international protectorate?

Mr. Robertson: I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words of commendation for my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and me. We are doing our best, but I cannot say that this is the easiest or least troubled period of our political lives. It is made all the more difficult by the complexities of the situation, or perhaps by the normality that has been the Balkans in recent years. We are doing what we believe to be right, and we are doing, as my hon. Friend says, in the words of the Kosovar Albanians, what is vital and necessary, there being no alternative.

I take what my hon. Friend says about ground troops, but there are those who say that without considering the implications: the time that it would take to assemble such forces, where those forces, properly trained and equipped, would come from, or how they are to fight their way into the country which surrounds Kosovo, and which has a unique topography. Those were the reasons that were pretty obvious to our military commanders and probably to President Milosevic as well. In a democracy, we are right not to hide those facts from the people or to raise false expectations of what can be done by that kind of military power. That is why we took the route that we did. I still hope and believe that it will produce results.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): The right hon. Gentleman has described what is happening in Kosovo as premeditated murder, and I agree with him. In response to the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), he made it plain that he regards President Milosevic as the principal instigator of the premeditated murder, and I agree with that, too. Given that, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what is his policy? Is it to make an agreement with President Milosevic or to arraign him as a war criminal?

Mr. Robertson: The right hon. and learned Gentleman is a Queen's Counsel. It is not for me to arraign anybody on a charge of war criminality. It is a fact that is not known or appreciated by very many people that there is an International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. There is a prosecutor, and it is for that prosecutor and nobody else to assess the evidence and to make the decision about indictments. I have no doubt that she will consider all the evidence of what is happening today and the evidence that is being provided daily by refugees and by Governments, and come to a conclusion.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): In parallel with the increased intensity of NATO activity, will my right hon. Friend ensure that there is also increased intensity of activity in trying to communicate the truth to the people of Serbia? He has mentioned the use of the internet site, and obviously we can strengthen our radio communication. Will my right hon. Friend look for alternative ways of strengthening our message? It is

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important that people throughout Serbia understand the strength of determination of the House and of the NATO allies.

Mr. Robertson: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. We are spending a lot of time examining how best we can get the truth through to Serbia. Serbia is not Iraq, distant from other countries. It is in the heart of Europe and the footprints of satellites and other communication systems should not leave it isolated from information. The internet is one way in which people inside the country can get information. Only this week, the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence websites started to publish in Serbian, so we will get information to people directly in that way. The World Service performs its usual admirable task in relaying the news in an unbiased way and unaffected by propaganda. As my hon. Friend rightly recommends, we will continue with our efforts to ensure that the truth gets through. Milosevic keeps telling lies, we will keep telling the truth.


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