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3.30 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): With permission, Madam Speaker, I shall make a statement on recent developments in Kosovo. Before I do so, however, the House would expect me to say a few words about the tragic death of Derek Fatchett. Along with all the workers at the Foreign Office, I am shocked at his sudden loss. Our thoughts today are first for his wife and family. I spoke this morning to Anita, who told me how proud she had been of what Derek had done. She and her sons had every right to be proud of him. Over the past two years, he had proved himself to be an effective and creative Minister--from the early days, when he helped to broker a ceasefire to provide relief during the famine in Sudan, until last month, when he paid a brave visit to East Timor. His early death cruelly deprives the whole House of a Member who had so much more to give. It robs many of us of a friend whom we will always remember as cheerful, whatever the difficulties.

Last Thursday, I attended a meeting of the G8 Foreign Ministers in Bonn. That meeting reached agreement with Russia on the principles on which any settlement of the Kosovo conflict must be based. They parallel the objectives that NATO requires to be met as a condition of ending the military campaign: the withdrawal of Serb military, police and paramilitary forces from Kosovo, an international interim administration for Kosovo, a political process on the basis of the Rambouillet peace accord, and the free return of all refugees under the protection of an international security presence, capable of achieving our common objectives.

From the start of the conflict we have maintained regular dialogue with Russia, and have made sure that the door is kept open to Russia. The agreement on common ground between us exposes as a lie the repeated promises of Milosevic to his people that one day Russia would come to their rescue. Work can now proceed this week between officials of our countries to turn those principles into the draft text of a Security Council resolution.

On Friday night, the Chinese embassy in Belgrade was destroyed during a NATO attack on sites in the city. It appears that the missiles hit the building on which they had been targeted, but the building had been wrongly identified in the targeting plans as the federal directorate of supply and procurement for the Yugoslav army. The review continues into how the error could have occurred, and the procedures that gave rise to it. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has written to Zhu Rongji, the Chinese Premier, expressing our deep regret at the error, and assuring him that there was no deliberate intent on the part of the allies to attack the Chinese embassy.

Mr. Alan Clark (Kensington and Chelsea): Did he enclose a cheque?

Mr. Cook: That was a very tasteless remark about what is a very grave and serious situation.

Yesterday I spoke to our ambassador in Beijing, who confirmed that the embassy had been blockaded by demonstrators who had hurled stones through the front windows of the embassy building. I am pleased to report that no member of the embassy staff has been injured, and

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we are not aware of any other British citizen in China having been attacked. We have amended our travel advice in respect of China to recommend against all non-essential visits to China at the present time.

My noble Friend Lady Symons saw the charge d'affaires of the Chinese embassy this afternoon, and recorded our concern about the safety of our officials and other nationals in China. We welcome the appeal by the Vice-President of China, Hu Jintao, for the demonstrators to behave peacefully, and the apparent increase in the efforts of the Chinese police to protect the embassy.

On Saturday, after the news broke, I spoke to the Russian Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, who confirmed that Russia was firmly committed to the principles that we had agreed in the G8, and that there would be no let-up in the search for a settlement. We continue vigorously to pursue any opportunity for progress on the diplomatic track. After this statement I shall meet Carl Bildt, who has been appointed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations as his special envoy. Tomorrow Viktor Chernomyrdin, the special representative of President Yeltsin, is meeting Mr. Talbot, the United States Deputy Secretary of State.

Our best hope of success on the diplomatic track is to keep up the military pressure. If Milosevic felt any reduction in our air campaign, or sensed any weakening of our resolve, there would be no prospect of his agreeing to meet our demands.

On the ground in Kosovo over recent days, we have destroyed tanks, heavy artillery, military convoys and command posts. In total, we have eliminated within Kosovo the equivalent of the weapons and equipment of an entire brigade, but we cannot ignore the fact that the Serb forces in Kosovo are controlled and co-ordinated from Belgrade. Striking at their command headquarters in Belgrade is vital to breaking their military capability in Kosovo. On Friday night, we destroyed in central Belgrade the Hotel Yugoslavia, which had been taken over as the war room for Arkan's paramilitaries, who have killed, burned and raped their way across Kosovo. By any test, that war room was a legitimate military target and could not be ignored if we were serious about reversing the ethnic cleansing that was planned from there.

We want a settlement and we would welcome a diplomatic solution, but we will not accept a settlement at any price. It must meet our objectives--in particular, it must provide for the Kosovo refugees to go home under our protection. Anything less would condemn the refugees to a life in exile and refugee camps, and would reward President Milosevic for the butchery and brutality with which he has evicted them.

Fresh evidence continues to pour in of that brutality. In one single day last week, we received reports from refugees of three further atrocities. At Djakovica, 19 people, mainly women and children, were found by the Serb forces hiding in a basement. They were all shot in that basement and the house burned over them. At Kotlina, Serb police threw 20 villagers down a well and then threw hand grenades down after them. At Suva Reka, around 100 residents were herded into the shopping centre and shot. None of those people was killed as a result of tragic error. Every single one of them was murdered at close range, deliberately and callously.

I understand and share the concern of hon. Members on both sides of the House at the loss of civilian life when there is a tragic error in our bombing campaign, but I

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cannot understand those who focus on the tens who have been casualties of NATO's military campaign, to the exclusion of the tens of thousands who have been butchered by Milosevic in Kosovo.

I invite hon. Members to visit the exhibition space at the Foreign Office, where they can see on display drawings by children from the refugee camps. I defy any Member not to be moved to discover that the children have often drawn the guns bigger than the people and the tanks bigger than the many burning houses. It is not just the dead who are the victims of ethnic cleansing; the living also are traumatised by what they have had to see. The least we can do is enable them to return and to rebuild their homes in safety. We will continue and intensify both military and diplomatic campaigns until we succeed in doing so.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe): First, may I associate myself with the Foreign Secretary's comments about the tragic and most untimely death of the Minister of State, the news of which will indeed have shocked the whole House. Whatever our political differences, he will be greatly missed, and our thoughts and sympathy are with his family.

As the Foreign Secretary is aware, the Opposition have throughout supported the decision to take action in response to the atrocities of the Milosevic regime. Likewise, we supported and continue to support the original objectives of the action taken by NATO. Nevertheless, he will appreciate that it is our role to scrutinise, to question and, where necessary, to criticise the actions of the Government. Rarely is that role more vital than during times of armed conflict.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade was not only a tragic mistake, but an act of gross incompetence? Can he confirm that almost any street map of Belgrade clearly shows the location of the Chinese embassy? Will he tell us whether NATO has a list of targets to be avoided? If there is such a list, why did the Chinese embassy not feature prominently on it?

Will the Foreign Secretary also tell the House what measures are being taken to protect the lives of British citizens and British property in China? What consideration is being given to the wider diplomatic implications of the latest events for our relationship with China, and with Russia?

Are there not a number of other aspects of the planning and implementation of the military action that give rise to grave disquiet?

How can the Foreign Secretary reconcile the original objectives of the action stated at the start of the campaign with last week's fudged G8 Foreign Ministers' communique, which--in relation to the peacekeeping force, for example--contained no reference at all to NATO?

How can the Foreign Secretary justify the fact that it was not until five weeks into the air strikes that the NATO Heads of Government asked for advice on whether an oil embargo could legally be imposed? Will he confirm reports this morning that NATO is now backing away from threatening the use of force in its proposed

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visit-and-search regime, and intends instead to rely on a naming and shaming of countries that do not co-operate with a voluntary embargo?

What response does the Foreign Secretary have to General Naumann, the outgoing chairman of NATO's Military Committee, who has lamented the inability of NATO to use surprise or sufficient force, as a result of which, he said, the campaign has "undoubtedly" been prolonged? Does the Foreign Secretary agree with Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon that

but have their root in the political parameters that were set?

Will the Foreign Secretary also clarify the position on the number of refugees that Britain has agreed to accept. Other countries have specified the total number to be admitted; will the British Government provide a similar figure?

Do not all those unanswered questions give the impression that action is being made up as we go along and has not properly been thought through?

The Foreign Secretary will be aware that there has never been any doubt in our minds that it was right for NATO to take action to deal with Milosevic's atrocities. The Opposition supported that decision, and we support it today. The international community must do all that it can to bring the unspeakable suffering in the region to an end. However, does he accept that the strength of our conviction on that matter makes us all the more concerned at the apparent lack of clarity in NATO's objectives and in the means employed to achieve them? Does he agree that clarity and consistency are now required more urgently than ever?

Is it not most regrettably the case that, seven weeks into the military action, we appear to be no nearer to achieving the primary objective set out by the Prime Minister, that of averting a humanitarian disaster? Indeed, is it not unhappily the case that the humanitarian disaster--the responsibility for which, of course, rests firmly and unambiguously with Mr. Milosevic--gets worse with each day that passes?

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