Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): Earlier today, we heard a welcome statement from the Secretary of State for International Development about a package of aid for refugees coming out of Kosovo, including, I think, aid for Montenegro. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that if we are giving aid to Montenegro, we shall not be bombing it any further?

Mr. Robertson: Where Montenegro is part of the integrated air defence system of the former Yugoslavia, clearly we are driven to certain conclusions if we are to ensure that allied planes will be safe. Much more serious than that are the reports that appear to be coming out of Montenegro about the position of President Djukanovic, and the threats to him and to his position by Milosevic sitting in Belgrade. We treat those reports with the utmost seriousness. I would warn Mr. Milosevic--sitting in his bunker--that he would be ill advised to tamper with the democratically elected Government of Montenegro.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West): If we reach the stage, as the whole House prays that we will, where the insertion of an international peacekeeping force becomes a real possibility, and if the only stumbling block is the composition of that force, would my right hon. Friend be willing to be open minded on the composition, as long as its effectiveness could be guaranteed?

Mr. Robertson: We have always thought that an international implementation force could include troops from beyond the immediate membership of NATO. The Stabilisation Force in Bosnia includes troops from Russia, Ukraine and a number of other non-NATO countries, so I would hope and expect that an implementation force in Kosovo would have a similar broad composition.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle): Is it not sadly obvious that the right hon. Gentleman's statement makes no practical sense, even in purely humanitarian terms, unless NATO intends to send in a large army--which the experts estimate would have to be about 200,000 men--to occupy Kosovo and hold it thereafter? As he has ruled that out completely, and bearing in mind the experience, which the world saw, of the French in Indo-China and Algeria, and the Americans in Vietnam,

31 Mar 1999 : Column 1215

does he accept that, even if we were able to occupy Kosovo, we would be committed to years and years of guerrilla warfare, in terrain that lends itself to that sort of attack, among a violently hostile people who have been resisting foreign occupation for 2,000 years?

Mr. Robertson: The hon. Gentleman seems to be suggesting that if we cannot put together a force of 200,000, we do nothing, stand back and watch people being slaughtered. That is not a view that I take; nor is it the view of my military commanders. Although he has been around for a long time, and has been a Member of this House for even longer than I have, if it comes to his advice or the advice of the Chief of the Defence Staff, I do not have much trouble deciding which to take.

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): In all the horror of killing and ethnic cleansing that is Kosovo, the Secretary of State will be aware of growing disquiet about whether bombing, and bombing alone, can deliver any of the objectives that he set out to the House. Will he give the House an assurance that if he were to be persuaded by the growing speculation that the presence of ground troops is the only way to make military progress, he would not act before the House reconvened and was told, in precise terms, the basis of a plan for such involvement, its limitations and its objectives and terms?

Mr. Robertson: We are engaged at the moment in air assaults on military targets in Kosovo, which we believe are succeeding and which are already damaging the military capability that is repressing the Kosovar Albanians. We are confident that that will produce a result. I point out to my hon. Friend that, last night, President Milosevic gave an offer--it may have been spurious or worthless, but it was an offer none the less--to the Russians to carry to the European Union and to the international community. We are having an effect on what is his behaviour pattern at the moment. It is not enough at present, but the pressure will increase with every day.

My hon. Friend talks of disquiet. Of course there is disquiet about air strikes, which are one military mechanism that can be used. They are being used at the moment, but if anybody can come along and tell us a more sensible, more practical and better alternative that will quickly stop the carnage that is going on in Kosovo, let him do so. I have not heard one that is plausible.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray): The Secretary of State and I are contemporaries. We grew up believing that we would never see ethnic cleansing ever again in Europe. That was an aspiration. All of us share the anger at the behaviour of Milosevic and we all extend our support to the troops who are there in the front line, and to the various organisations, including the Department for International Development, which are working so hard to bring humanitarian aid to the refugees. The refugees make all of us deeply concerned about what is happening because we seem to be experiencing almost virtual reality as we watch the news broadcasts.

How will the Secretary of State respond to the letter, which I know that he received today, from Action of Churches Together in Scotland, which is united and deeply concerned about the fact that observers had been pulled out of the area? It is also worried about how the UN will be involved in future developments. Our deepest

31 Mar 1999 : Column 1216

concern is to protect all the unprotected Balkan civilians. Will he respond to that letter from the churches in Scotland?

Mr. Robertson: I have not yet received a letter from Action of Churches Together in Scotland, although I saw some reference to it in some of the Scottish media today. I will address it as quickly as I can. I understand the anxieties of the churches. However, an anxiety about taking out the verifiers is not well founded. The verifiers told us of the build-up of forces, and they warned the international community that the violence was escalating and was soon to become systemic. I think that I will be able to persuade them on that matter.

I do not know whether the hon. Lady goes along with the views of the national convener of her party; I can only doubt it. She represents a constituency with one of the biggest RAF bases in the country, and I do not think that she could subscribe to the sickening views of her party leader the other night. On the very day that our pilots were flying into danger and planning their operations in Kosovo to stop the ethnic cleansing that the hon. Lady quite rightly says that she and I are united against, her party leader told the people of Scotland that the answer was economic sanctions.

I do not think that the hon. Lady, or any other sensible person, believes that stopping the bombing and imposing economic sanctions at this time would stop the carnage. If she does not believe that, I hope that, in the interestsof her constituents and the RAF personnel in her constituency, she will speak out and denounce the crazy views of her party leader.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Governments of Ukraine and Azerbaijan are insistent that they maintain a continuing strong and supportive relationship with NATO? Will he confirm that, despite the rebuke of Russian rhetoric and the reprimands from the Duma, the Russian Foreign Secretary Igor Ivanov is insistent that phase 2 of the strategic arms reduction talks be signed without delay? Will he assure the House that, unless the Milosevic Government accept unconditionally, and implement fully, the terms as proposed at Rambouillet, no gesture of abatement will be considered until phase 2 of the NATO mission has been fully prosecuted, so as to eradicate the large-calibre weapons and heavy armour assets that have wrought this inhumane havoc and to ensure that no repetition can be conducted on a similar scale of callousness?

Mr. Robertson: My hon. Friend speaks with authority, as a vice-president of the North Atlantic Assembly, and we listen carefully to him. He mentioned the role of Ukraine. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary met the Foreign Minister of Ukraine yesterday, and the Minister had been in Belgrade to give a strong message. My right hon. Friend is in regular contact also with Foreign Minister Ivanov of the Russian Federation. There is no interest for any of them in allowing Milosevic to get away with what he is doing. It is a danger not just for the Balkans, but for the wider area that would be affected; ourselves to the west, and Russia and Ukraine to the east. I hope that that is a message which they will put powerfully to Milosevic in Belgrade.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): May I thank the Secretary of State for the detailed statement that he

31 Mar 1999 : Column 1217

has given to the House this evening? He has provided as much information as it is appropriate to give, and I know that the House and the people of this country are grateful for that.

May I associate myself with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames)? It is clearly appropriate for military action to be intensified against Mr. Milosevic, the Serbian army and the Serbian police, but does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is important to intensify the political negotiation involving Russia, Ukraine and other countries referred to tonight?

Next Section

IndexHome Page