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Mr. Cook: I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for associating himself with my comments about Derek Fatchett. It may be of some help to his family to know that respect for Derek was felt on both sides of the House.

I have already said to the House that what happened was a tragic error, and that there must be a review of what happened and of whether procedures have to be changed to ensure that it does not happen again. However, the right hon. and learned Gentleman went on to share criticisms that have been expressed about what he described as "the political parameters" of the bombing campaign. The political parameters of the bombing campaign are there precisely to seek to minimise the risk of civilian casualties and of other non-military properties being destroyed.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot have it both ways. He cannot, on the one hand, insist that we should be more careful to avoid civilian casualties, and, on the other hand, suggest that we should lift the political parameters that very clearly try to minimise those casualties by focusing on military targets.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked for clarity. The NATO objectives could not be clearer. We require some clarity in the Opposition's support for them.

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We have repeatedly stressed those objectives: first, a ceasefire; secondly, the withdrawal of Serb forces; thirdly, the return of the refugees; fourthly, a credible international presence to protect those refugees, which will have a NATO core; and finally, a political process based on Rambouillet. Those objectives have been stated clearly, repeatedly and in the same terms for seven weeks. I wish that the Opposition would not keep shifting the basis on which they express their support for them.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to General Naumann. He is behind the times. General Naumann followed the statement that the right hon. and learned Gentleman quoted by saying, when he met President Clinton, that he could not think of any change that he would make to NATO's military campaign.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk): Holding on to his pension.

Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman says that General Naumann was hanging on to his brief. He resigned the next week because it was his retirement date. He was not speaking to hold on to office. The hon. Gentleman should know who he is speaking about, because I understand that he claims to be a defence spokesman. General Naumann retired at the agreed date with his consent and that of the allies. He could speak freely and he said that he would make no change to the military campaign, which was achieving its objectives.

We are fighting an immense and great evil in Kosovo. It would have been helpful if the right hon. and learned Gentleman had endorsed any of the statements that I made about the nature of that evil. [Hon. Members: "He did."] With the greatest respect, there was not a single reference in what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said to the immense burning, looting, killing and raping that we have witnessed throughout Kosovo. We are determined to show the necessary resolve to ensure that those policies are reversed and the refugees return. It is disappointing that it has taken seven weeks, but I can think of nothing more feeble than if our resolve and determination ceased after seven weeks. We are determined to continue until we reverse the ethnic cleansing. I ask all those in the House who share our concern to support us in seeing that through.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): Is it not clear that the intelligence community, particularly in the United States, will have to be far more accurate than it was over the bombing of the Chinese embassy? I hope that the allied Governments, including Britain, will make that clear. On the wider issue, while every effort should be made to find a diplomatic solution, and Russia is to be congratulated on its efforts, was there not a simple choice at the beginning of the allied military campaign? Either we accepted the ethnic cleansing, the crimes and the rapes that were taking place in Kosovo, or we took action. If we had not taken action and merely accepted the situation, it would have been a shame and humiliation for this country. As a Labour Back Bencher, I make no apology for supporting what has been done.

Mr. Cook: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his clarity. There is a review of what went wrong and of the

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procedures. If improvements can be made to the procedures, they must be implemented to minimise any possibility of such a tragic error recurring.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): May I begin by associating myself with the remarks made by the Secretary of State about his colleague Derek Fatchett. In opposition and in government, he had a sure touch on foreign affairs, and his family's loss is our loss.

Does not the incident involving the Chinese embassy reveal certain blunt but unpalatable truths? First, there was a simple but inexcusable error. Secondly, as a result, we have handed to Mr. Milosevic's regime an unparalleled propaganda opportunity. Thirdly, we have offered a public and, to some, persuasive justification for the Chinese Government's opposition to NATO's actions in the Balkans. Finally, regrettable though the incident was and sincerely though we must apologise for it, does not the catalogue of atrocity that the Secretary of State has just read to us confirm that we have no option but to see the matter through? If no settlement can be achieved, if necessary we will have to do so by deploying ground troops in a hostile environment.

Mr. Cook: I agree absolutely with the right hon. and learned Gentleman about the need to pursue the matter. All of the mounting evidence from those who have spoken to any of the refugees who have left Kosovo over the past seven weeks confirms the importance of continuing with our campaign. We cannot allow such evil to triumph. We will at every possible opportunity seek to minimise civilian casualties and to make sure that we minimise the opportunity of ordnance going to the wrong target.

However, I must be blunt with the House; one cannot wage a military campaign of this intensity without mistakes. There have been 6,000 bombing sorties over the past seven weeks, and very few have resulted in the wrong target being destroyed. However, it would be dishonest of me to stand at the Dispatch Box today and promise the House that there will never again be any mistakes. If we were to make that a condition of the military campaign, we could not wage a military campaign of the intensity and duration that is necessary to secure Milosevic's agreement to our objectives.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): Is not it the case--as my right hon. Friend has clearly said--that the way to end the war is for Milosevic to meet the conditions that my right hon. Friend has spelled out this afternoon? Was not the way in which the Opposition behaved this afternoon a clear case of their trying to undermine the Government's resolve, in exactly the same way that right-wing opposition in the United States Congress and Senate has tried to clip the wings of the President at a time when he personally--like the British Government--would prefer to commit ground troops? Would it not be the worst of all worlds if the refugees were to return to Kosovo without the situation being properly and finally resolved?

Mr. Cook: I associate myself with most of my hon. Friend's comments. May I clarify a point in relation to ground troops? We have always been committed to providing ground troops to underline a ceasefire and to make sure that any agreement would stick. That remains our position. The whole of the alliance in Washington--not just one member--agreed to task Javier Solana, the

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alliance's Secretary-General, with reviewing the circumstances in which it might be appropriate for our forces to enter and to escort the refugees back in security.

Sir Alastair Goodlad (Eddisbury): We on the Back Benches would like to associate ourselves with what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) said about Derek Fatchett, who was a greatly respected and admired colleague in the House.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that, at the moment, the Prime Minister's expression of regret for the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade has not been reported in the Chinese media and that, in China, it is universally assumed to have been a deliberate act? The talk there is of an acknowledgement of a breach of international law, and of compensation and apologies to the families, who will be receiving the bodies tomorrow. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House that his mind is not entirely closed to a further gesture--perhaps by way of an apology from NATO--to improve what is a dangerously fissile situation in China?

Mr. Cook: My mind is certainly not closed to anything that would help us to reassure the Government of China that what happened was not a matter of any deliberate intent. I am aware, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, that that is a view widely held within China, although we are not convinced that it is a view necessarily believed by the Government of China. Nevertheless, we will seek to do anything we can to get that point across and to rebuild bridges with China. NATO has already recorded its deep regret, and we would be happy to consider what further statement might be of assistance. However, let us be clear: this was a tragic error, and there was no deliberate intent on our part. It should not deflect us from our intent and objective, which is to secure the return of the refugees to Kosovo.


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