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House of Commons

Tuesday 20 April 1999

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Madam Speaker in the Chair]


Imperial College Bill

Order for Third Reading read.

Queen's consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.

Read the Third time, and passed.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked--


1. Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow): When he next plans to meet his European counterparts to discuss developments in Kosovo. [79944]

19. Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde): When he last met his colleagues from other member states of the European Union to discuss matters relating to the current political and military circumstances in Kosovo. [79965]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): I speak nearly every day to Madeleine Albright and to Foreign Ministers of other major allies. Recent meetings of the Foreign Ministers of the European Union and of NATO have endorsed unanimously the objectives of our military campaign in Yugoslavia. Those objectives are a ceasefire in Kosovo with the withdrawal of all Serb forces from Kosovo, and the return of the refugees under international military protection.

The meeting last week of European Heads of Government confirmed that there can be no compromise on those objectives. Anything less would reward President Milosevic for his brutal and deliberate programme of ethnic cleansing and would be a betrayal of the right of the Kosovo refugees to return to their homes in safety.

Ms King: A constituent of mine, Fadil Dugolli, visited me on Friday. He is a Kosovan refugee. His mother has died since the conflict began, and his two sisters are currently unaccounted for in Albania. He said to me, "Tell them not to stop the bombing. Milosevic has been killing us--murdering us--slowly, for years." Does my right hon. Friend agree with those words? Does my right

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hon. Friend agree that, if we want a United Nations protectorate and self-determination for the Kosovans, we must be determined to use ground troops?

Mr. Cook: I said to the House yesterday that the international community would have to accept more direct responsibility for the interim administration of Kosovo than was previously envisaged. We want, if possible, to get agreement from the other permanent members to secure a UN resolution giving us a mandate for that administration. My hon. Friend is right to say that that would need to be backed up by ground troops to guarantee security and to underwrite a ceasefire.

However, I also echo the point with which my hon. Friend began. One of the issues that gives us the resolve and determination to see through this conflict is the solid support that we have received from the Kosovar Albanians. None of them has said that they fled the NATO bombing: all of them are clear that the military action must continue until they are able to go home.

Dr. Godman: May I remind my right hon. Friend that last week, in evidence to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, he said that the international community had the right to intervene to protect the human rights of individuals, communities and peoples against tyrants? However, does he agree that such intervention is out of kilter with extant international law and the modus operandi of the Security Council? In the long run, after peace has been secured in Kosovo, we must ensure that international law--which is itself out of kilter with the modern world--is brought into line so that it can cover the intra-state wars which are increasingly common.

Mr. Cook: First, we are confident that the action that we are taking is fully based on international law. However, I agree with my hon. Friend, and I echo the statement of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who has said that the rights enshrined by the UN should be enjoyed by peoples, and should not be confined to Governments. No Government have the right to defend, on grounds of sovereignty, oppression of their people and ethnic cleansing such as has occurred in Kosovo. For that reason, we are right to act, and it will be right to ensure that this becomes the basis for an approach to future conflict.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): Today, in Brussels, the Prime Minister said that the Government intend to see the matter through to the end. Does the use of such an expression not imply that, if the option of using ground troops arises, NATO will be willing to impose its will on Kosovo and will not rely on receiving the agreement of Mr. Milosevic before determining to put troops into Kosovo?

Mr. Cook: There can be no question of President Milosevic having a veto. I very much hope that we would be able to obtain UN backing for making sure that we can carry through a solution. However, we must be realistic. We have said from the start that we do not intend to fight our way into Kosovo. We cannot: to do so would require a much larger invasion than we have in that theatre at present. It would require agreement from countries in the neighbourhood that we do not have, and it would also mean that our troops would be taking part in an armed invasion in territory that was very inhospitable and did not lend itself easily to such an operation.

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We are willing to provide the ground troops to secure a ceasefire. We are also willing to put in ground troops at the point at which there may be no organised armed resistance, but an armed invasion would incur far greater casualties on both sides than the present military campaign.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey): Following on from what the Foreign Secretary said, is there not a danger that we are fighting a war in which we believe that no one can get hurt except the enemy? The right hon. Gentleman talked about a protectorate. Am I to understand that there would be troops on the ground under NATO command to give the necessary protection? Does that mean that he has ruled out the partition of Kosovo and independence for the Kosovars, even if there were safeguards for the very holy Serb places in Kosovo?

Mr. Cook: No one in the Government imagines that we can fight a campaign of this intensity without anyone getting hurt. The Prime Minister said at the outset that we cannot give a guarantee of no casualties on our side. Everyone will share our relief that there have been no allied casualties, but we cannot guarantee that that will necessarily continue.

On ground troops, we are committed, and have been ever since the Rambouillet talks, to committing forces as part of international military protection to Kosovo. Forces from NATO would be under NATO command, but I would hope that other countries would join us. I assure the House that we have no intention of consenting to the partition of Kosovo. To do so would be to legitimate the policy of ethnic cleansing and a new apartheid in Europe.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): Given that we have almost total air superiority and that the bombing has succeeded, or is succeeding, in cutting oil and other supply routes into Kosovo, will there not come a time when it is possible feasibly to introduce ground troops?

Mr. Cook: I think that I have already touched on that point in answer to the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell). It is possible to conceive of a situation in which it may be feasible to commit ground troops in circumstances in which they would not meet organised armed resistance and in which the Serb army would already be withdrawing from Kosovo. I repeat to the House: that should not be confused with any commitment, intention or capacity on our part to mount an armed invasion against organised resistance.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe): Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary said that, after the fighting, the administration of Kosovo would need to be placed in the hands of international bodies, including the United Nations, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the European Union. A few moments ago, he appeared to indicate that he had not yet obtained agreement to that among the members of the Security Council of the United Nations. Has he obtained agreement from our NATO allies, the neighbouring countries, the OSCE and the European Union?

Mr. Cook: I have to say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that, if it is to be a condition of making a policy announcement to the House that we first obtain the

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agreement of the 19 members of NATO, the 15 members of the Security Council and the 40-odd members of the OSCE, the House will not often hear a statement that will come as news to it. What I indicated is the preference and policy of the Government. We have shared that with close allies, and I am at present confident that it commands a consensus, but not unanimity.

Mr. Howard: It would inspire much greater confidence if, yesterday or today, the Foreign Secretary had been prepared to answer the question. The answer to the question is no. There is no difficulty about giving that answer, but it does not inspire confidence if the right hon. Gentleman does not give a clear answer. Concern was expressed yesterday in many quarters of the House about the lack of clarity in the way in which the Government were expressing their goals and methods of achieving their objectives. It would inspire much greater confidence if he gave straight answers to simple questions such as those that I have asked.

Mr. Cook: With respect to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who I know is trying hard to build bipartisan support for our case, my reply to him could not have been clearer. There is no doubt whatsoever about the clarity of our objectives. They have been restated in identical terms twice in the text of European Union meetings and of the North Atlantic Council meeting. They have been repeated in the House on several occasions. Indeed, I am now so familiar with them that they are etched on my brain like the Lord's prayer. There is no doubt about the clarity of our objectives. It is about time that the Opposition, if they really support our campaign, accepted that they understand and share them.

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