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Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks): We should never forget that in order to achieve peace and security in Kosovo, British service men now risk their lives every day. We should salute their courage and we join the Prime Minister in doing so. On the basis of the Government's assurances about the military situation and what could be achieved, the air strikes have been supported by the Opposition and, three weeks later, we continue to give our support. The Prime Minister will no doubt agree that for the campaign to be successful the strategy must be clear and consistent. I wish to ask him three sets of questions about how we will now proceed.

First, do the objectives of the action remain those that were set out at the start of the campaign? The Prime Minister said in his statement that the Rambouillet accords are still being treated as the basis for a political settlement. Does he believe that the Kosovar Albanians

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will now require something more than the degree of autonomy set out in those accords if they are to agree to return to their homes? Following this morning's meeting, can the Prime Minister set out in more detail the role that he sees Russia playing both in helping to reach a settlement and in enforcing it? Is it still his view that a peacekeeping force must be a NATO force? The Prime Minister has rightly described President Milosevic as a dictator and spoken of the need for war crimes investigations. How does he view the likelihood of us now being able to negotiate a political settlement with Milosevic?

Secondly, there is the central issue of the Kosovar Albanians. What information does the Prime Minister have on the fate of those who have not crossed the border and, in particular, about the terrible reports of massacres of young Kosovar men and systematic rape of Kosovar women by Serbian forces? What steps is NATO taking to break through the wall of propaganda and to ensure that the Serbian people are made fully aware of the atrocities being conducted by Milosevic and his thugs? The aid agency workers, many of them volunteers, are doing a fantastic job. Can the Prime Minister confirm that it is Government policy, wherever possible, to support the refugees in the region--as they themselves wish--rather than to move them to other parts of Europe? Does he agree that Macedonia needs more assistance, bearing in mind the large number of refugees who remain there and the implications that may have for its stability?

Thirdly, the announcement by the Prime Minister on the deployment of 1,800 more British troops puts the issue of ground forces into even sharper focus. He has said that there was no question of committing ground troops to an invasion of Kosovo in advance of a political settlement. More recently, he stated that he is keeping all options under review. Was the second of those statements intended in any way to modify the first?

Can the Prime Minister give the House any information about reports in the past hour that Serbs have attacked two villages in Albania and abducted three Albanians? Can he make it clear that, if such an incursion were confirmed, it would be treated with the utmost seriousness on both sides of the House?

As the Prime Minister has said, it is vital that this campaign is successful: it is vital for NATO and for the stability of the Balkans but, above all, it is vital for the Kosovar people.

The Prime Minister: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support, and I shall answer the questions that he has set out.

The objectives remain exactly the same as NATO set them out. In respect of a political accord based on Rambouillet, as I have made clear, the present situation obviously changes the degree of trust--if there ever could be any trust--that the Kosovar Albanian people feel towards Milosevic. However, it is still important that we understand that the basis of an agreement is as set out at Rambouillet.

I hope that Russia's role will be to play a part in bringing Milosevic to the terms set out by NATO. We have kept in very close contact with our Russian counterparts in the past few weeks: my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has been in touch with his counterpart; I have had conversations with Prime Minister

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Primakov and I have been in touch with President Yeltsin. We are well aware of the need to emphasise to the Russians that we have no quarrel with them, but that the objectives that we have set out must be secured. In our view, the force that goes in must be NATO led. As has been made clear throughout, of course we want to ensure that that international force is allowed to guide people back into their homes in Kosovo, but its core must be NATO led. As for Milosevic himself, I do not think that it is a question of negotiating a settlement, but of him meeting the terms that NATO has set out. There will be no compromise over those terms; they will be secured in full.

In respect of information on the fate of the Kosovar Albanians, we obviously try to obtain the best intelligence as to what is happening inside Kosovo at the moment. In a sense, our concern has shifted. During the first period of time, our concern was for those people flooding across the border and how we could make provision for them. Our concern is now for those displaced inside Kosovo. As I indicated in my statement, we are examining every option for getting help to them. The most important thing is for us to make it very clear to Milosevic, to his generals and to people on the ground that they will be held responsible for anything that they are doing inside Kosovo.

As for breaking through the wall of propaganda, I agree that it would be good if we could do so. However, the media in Serbia are state run and there is no proper news service for people inside Serbia; they are given a wholly one-sided account of what is happening. I believe that many Serbian people would be utterly disgusted if they knew what was being done in their name to innocent ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman says about the refugees in the region. Macedonia is being given as much assistance as possible, as are Montenegro and Albania. They all need assistance and they all need to know that the international community is behind them in the efforts that they are rightly making to deal with the refugees.

In respect of ground forces, the situation remains the same as it has done from the beginning.

The right hon. Gentleman's final point was about the report--I think that it surfaced at lunch time--about Serb forces going into the border region of Albania. We are trying to get correct information, but my understanding is that there was an incursion into one village that was driven out by Albanian forces. It is another border incident and such incidents have been continuing for some time, but the warning given by NATO yesterday in respect of any attempt to invade the integrity of neighbouring areas remains the same, and our commitment to see it through also remains the same.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil): I am grateful to the Prime Minister for his statement. As he knows, NATO has received steady and unwavering support from those on the Liberal Democrat Benches and will continue to do so.

The Prime Minister has said that President Milosevic is hurting. I imagine that he is, although I am bound to say that I have not yet seen any evidence that he has been

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forced to do something that he did not intend to do. I say that not because I believe that that situation will continue, but because we have not yet forced him to take such actions. Is it not the case that these operations still have a long way to go and that there will be setbacks, inevitably including casualties, among them no doubt unintended civilian casualties? As we regard those with deep regret, is it not proper that we should nevertheless remember that NATO is not targeting civilians, President Milosevic is? Is it not true that President Milosevic has, over the past year, systematically and brutally used the weapons of state and one of the most powerful armies in Europe to brutalise, rape and murder, and to remove Kosovar Albanians from their homes? Is it not correct to say that three quarters of Kosovar Albanians are homeless, and perhaps 700,000 at President Milosevic's mercy in the forests of Kosovo? Will the Prime Minister give an undertaking that NATO will do everything practical to assist those desperate people?

May I raise three specific points? First, we surely cannot expect Kosovo to remain under Serbian rule. That would be morally repugnant and practically impossible.

Secondly, while it would of course be better to send in ground troops with agreement, will the Prime Minister assure us that President Milosevic cannot have a veto on whether or not we send in ground troops? To give the ethnic cleanser a veto over whether those who have been ethnic cleansed may return would be totally unacceptable.

Thirdly, will the Prime Minister tell us what exactly is meant by a phrase being used by the Ministry of Defence, that ground troops may be used in a "permissive environment"? Does that mean when the risks are permissible? Or does it mean when President Milosevic permits? If it means the former, it is perfectly understandable. If it means the latter, it is intolerable.

The Prime Minister: First, on the air strike campaign against Milosevic, we must be aware of two risks--overstating the case and understating it. It is true that we have not yet secured our objectives. That is why the action continues, and it will continue until we do achieve them.

It would be a severe mistake, however, to say that no damage is being done to Milosevic, or that he is not hurting as a result of the campaign. Enormous damage is being done: half his aircraft are unusable, his fuel supplies are extremely low, a huge range of targets has been hit all over Serbia and Kosovo, and his lines of communication and supply are largely down. We are able, particularly as the weather clears, directly to target his troops on the ground. British forces have been part of the sorties that have been successful in that regard.

We must be persistent and patient if we are to see this through, and we have those qualities. I agree with what the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) said about civilians: we will do everything that we can for people inside Kosovo, consistent with the effectiveness of our action.

The right hon. Gentleman asked three specific questions. On the status of Kosovo, I have said what I have said, and people will understand how much more difficult the position becomes as the world sees exactly what has happened to the ethnic Albanian people in Kosovo. It is important to recognise that Rambouillet sorted a lot of potential problems about how a long-term settlement would work. We are carefully considering how

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that could fit into an overall settlement of stability and peace in the Balkan region. All those matters are being considered in detail.

On ground forces, there is no question of Milosevic having a veto. He has no veto over what we do. However, there is a difference between a land force invasion meeting organised resistance in highly difficult circumstances and a force that goes in to allow people to return to their homes in Kosovo.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me finally about the circumstances in which we use ground forces. I have set out those circumstances clearly. However, sometimes, when I read our newspapers, I fear people may think that all the options are not constantly considered, reviewed and worked on. They are worked on all the time. We have advanced our plans and proposals because we believe that they are the best way forward and the most secure way in which to achieve our objectives.

It is not possible for us--nor should it be expected of us--to go into every last detail of military tactics, strategy and capability when we are trying to conduct a campaign. I am standing in the House of Commons to answer questions, and I hope to give as much information as I possibly can. In Belgrade, there is no Parliament in which Milosevic is being questioned. He is giving no television interviews, and no interviewers are putting questions to his generals about how to proceed. That is one of the great differences between a democracy and a dictatorship, and long may it remain so. Without in any way taking away from what I have already said--I have set out clearly our position on ground forces--it is important that it is recognised that we have considered all the right options, and I genuinely believe that the strategy that we are pursuing is the right strategy for us and for the Kosovar Albanians.

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