Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office(Continued)

  62.  On 5 March, the British and French Foreign Secretaries issued a joint statement designed to put on record their views on the goals for the next round of talks, emphasising that an invited international military force was an integral part of the package; that those who put obstacles in the way of the successful realisation of the Accords would be held responsible; and that any who had recourse to violence would contravene the commitments they had made to the international community and would have to answer for their actions. A series of international visitors, including Holbrooke, went to Belgrade in the week of 9 March, but none made any headway with Milosevic. With prospects for a deal looking bleak, planning in Whitehall focused increasingly on the possibility that there might be further atrocities by Belgrade's security forces, or a sustained military campaign against the Kosovo Albanians, or that the Serbs might blatantly refuse to accept the Accords.

  63.  When the talks reconvened at the Kleber Centre in Paris on 15 March, it rapidly became apparent that the FRY/Serbian side had no intention of negotiating seriously. Indeed, they resiled from their Rambouillet commitments to accept the principle of a political settlement and to discuss all aspects of implementation. The Kosovo Albanian delegation signed the Rambouillet Accords on 18 March. Against the backdrop of total Serbian intransigence and renewed offensives in Kosovo, with reports of up to 250,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), the UK and French co-chairs decided the talks were going nowhere. They were adjourned on 19 March. The British and French Foreign Ministers sent a joint message to Milosevic saying that the Accords remained on the table, urging him to accept them and warning him against any military offensive. At the same time, they wrote to Thaqi, welcoming his delegation's acceptance of the agreement and stressing the need for all provocations to be avoided in the critical period ahead.

  64.  On 19 March the OSCE Chairman-in-Office decided to withdraw the KVM the next day as, following the unsuccessful outcome to the negotiations in Paris, the situation in Kosovo had deteriorated to such an extent that it was becoming increasingly difficult for the Mission to carry out its task safely.

  65.  In the year leading up to 20 March around 500 ethnic Albanians had been killed in atrocities and over 400,000 people at various times displaced from their homes. Although during the deployment of KVM Serbian forces were to some extent constrained by the presence of observers, eye-witness accounts indicated that Serbian operations were frequently brutal and included many instances of beatings and torture followed by summary executions. There were also many instances of mistreatment of women and children. As noted above, there was a particular up-surge in violence around Christmas 1998 and again in January 1999, but Serb police and military activity continued throughout, including when the negotiations were going on in France. During the Kleber talks in Paris there were reports of forces massing in and around Kosovo and by 19 March there were reports that the offensive against the KLA and ethnic Albanian civilians had intensified significantly, driving thousands of Kosovo Albanians from their homes, carrying out summary executions and destroying property.

  66.  Holbrooke paid a final visit to Belgrade on 22/23 March, but failed to convince Milosevic to agree to a ceasefire and political process. On 23 March, Solana confirmed that he had given authority to SACEUR to begin the air campaign, which began the following night.

March 1999-June 1999

  67.  Before NATO's air campaign began on 24 March, a new Serbian offensive was underway. There were strong grounds for expecting that Milosevic was embarking on a further onslaught which would involve civilian casualties, the further destruction of villages and the displacement of their inhabitants.

  68.  As the Foreign Secretary told the Foreign Affairs Committee on 14 April, the UK was aware that a spring offensive against the KLA had been planned before the start of NATO airstrikes, and knew from previous experience that it was likely to be accompanied by ethnic cleansing. This had already happened in Summer 1998, when a quarter of a million ethnic Albanians were driven from their homes. It was precisely because there was good reason to anticipate that Milosevic's forces would intensify repression in Kosovo that NATO agreed unanimously that we had to act. In the event, the systematic and ruthless character of the ethnic cleansing, such as the mass deportation by shuttle trains of the population of Pristina, exceeded any reasonable anticipation.

  69.  NATO's air campaign began with airstrikes on air defences across the FRY and a limited range of targets in Kosovo and elsewhere in southern Serbia. As has been noted, the international community had made its demands to Belgrade clear in a series of public and private messages. Milosevic had the option at any stage of acceding to those demands. He failed to do so. His response was instead to continue at an accelerated pace his attempt to achieve the final destruction of the KLA and the up-rooting and expulsion of Kosovo's Albanian population.

  70  When Milosevic showed no sign of responding to the opening phase of air strikes, NATO decided in late March to widen the range of air strikes to cover carefully selected targets of high military value throughout the FRY. On 29 March, NATO warned that Milosevic and his military commanders would be held responsible for war crimes committed in Kosovo.

  71.  There was a wide measure of international support for NATO's action. Evidence of this was the defeat on 26 March by 12 votes to 3 of a Russian draft Security Council resolution condemning the air strikes. As noted above, because of Russian and Chinese views, it had not proved possible to secure a Security Council resolution authorising use of force. The UK would have welcomed such a resolution as the clearest possible signal of the will of the international community. But the need to avert a humanitarian catastrophe provided a sound legal basis for NATO's air strikes. As the UK Permanent Representative made clear in the Security Council debate on 24 March:

    "The action being taken is legal. It is justified as an exceptional measure to prevent an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe."

  72.  NATO troops played a key role in the international community's response to the ruthless expulsion of 775,000 Kosovo Albanians to Macedonia and Albania, and a further 90,000 to Montenegro and Bosnia. Forces already in Macedonia, especially the initial elements of what was to become NATO's Kosovo Force (KFOR), quickly assumed a leading role in the management of the refugee inflow, feeding refugees and by early April had begun to erect large camps. In the first half of April, NATO established a new force in Albania—AFOR—under UK command, to respond to the humanitarian crisis there.

  73.  In concert with our EU partners, the UK took prompt action to ensure the protection of the refugees. On 3 April the Foreign Secretary called for the establishment of sanctuaries to provide places of safety in the region for refugees. The Development Secretary travelled to Macedonia and Albania on 4-5 April, where she secured Macedonian agreement that incoming refugees would be sheltered at a British-built camp at Brazde. By 10 April, British soldiers had established a camp of 17,000 tents, capable of accommodating 50,000 refugees. Other NATO forces established camps in Macedonia and Albania. The Prime Minister visited Albania, Macedonia, Romania and Bulgaria during May in order to bolster regional confidence in and support for NATO's efforts.

  74.  On 9 April, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a statement expressing his deep distress at the humanitarian tragedy taking place in Kosovo and in the region, and urgently calling upon the Yugoslav authorities:

    —  to end immediately the campaign of intimidation and expulsion of the civilian population;

    —  to cease all activities of military and para-military forces in Kosovo and withdraw these forces;

    —  to accept unconditionally the return of all refugees and displaced persons to their homes;

    —  to accept the deployment of an international military force to ensure a secure environment for the return of refugees and the unimpeded delivery of humanitarian aid; and

    —  to permit the international community to verify compliance with the above undertakings.

  The Secretary-General urged NATO to suspend air strikes upon acceptance by the Yugoslav authorities of these conditions.

  75.  The demands on Milosevic set by NATO Foreign Ministers, meeting on 12 April, closely reflected those set out by Annan. NATO demanded that Milosevic:

    —  ensure a verifiable stop to all military action and the immediate ending of violence and repression;

    —  ensure the withdrawal from Kosovo of the military, police and paramilitary forces;

    —  agree to the stationing in Kosovo of an international military presence;

    —  agree to the unconditional and safe return of all refugees and displaced persons and unhindered access to them by humanitarian aid organisations;

    —  provide credible assurance of his willingness to work on the basis of the Rambouillet Accords in the establishment of a political framework agreement for Kosovo in conformity with international law and the Charter of the United Nations.

  76.  On the diplomatic front, the Russians made an early proposal for a G8 Ministerial, but on the unacceptable condition that NATO airstrikes should stop, which would have allowed serbian repression to continue unchecked. A 7 April meeting of Contact Group political Directors in Brussels failed to establish sufficient common ground for such a Ministerial. Allied Foreign Ministers consulted regularly on how best to pursue engagement with the Russians and diplomatic strategy generally. This was matched by close coordination between Defence and Development Ministers.

  77.  The NATO Washington Summit of 23-25 April sent an important message of Allied resolve at a critical time: Belgrade's forces had expelled 600,000 Kosovo Albanians in the preceding month. If Milosevic had been counting on splits starting to open in the Alliance he would have been disappointed. The Summit produced agreement to intensify the air campaign, and demonstrated the unity with the Allies of all the PfP partners—42 nations in total—except Russia and Belarus. NATO undertook to respond to any threats from Belgrade to any of the neighbouring states resulting from the presence of NATO forces or NATO activities on their territories. NATO also commissioned planning work for supporting the EU oil embargo against the FRY agreed on 23 April. The Summit statement spelt out clearly that as long as Belgrade did not meet the legitimate demands of the international community and continued its repression, NATO air operations would continue. It reiterated NATO's demands on Milosevic:

    —  ensure a verifiable stop to all military action and the immediate ending of violence and repression in Kosovo;

    —  withdraw from Kosovo his military, police and para-military forces;

    —  agree to the stationing in Kosovo of an international military force;

    —  agree to the unconditional and safe return of all refugees and displaced persons, and unhindered access to them by humanitarian organisations , and

    —  provide credible assurances of his willingness to work for the establishment of a political framework based on the Rambouillet accords.

  78.  Shortly before the summit, Solana had said that NATO military planners would be updating their assessments and plans for all contingencies. Reporting on the Summit to the House of Commons, the Prime Minister said there had been discussions on the circumstances in which ground troops would be deployed to Kosovo, and made it clear that Milosevic had no VETO over NATO's actions. The build up of NATO forces in the region as the basis for a peace implementation force continued and was later accelerated as a result of NATO's revised plans.

  79.  What proved to be a key breakthrough on the diplomatic front came on 6 May when G8 Foreign Ministers, meeting in Bonn, agreed principles to resolve the Kosovo crisis, fully consistent with NATO's conditions for ending airstrikes. The principles provided a solid foundation for continuing engagement with the Russians. Work began to develop a road map to end the conflict and a draft Security Council resolution (both UK drafted), which underpinned the round of talks in Helsinki and Moscow between President Yeltsin's special envoy for Kosovo Victor Chernomyrdin, US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and Finnish President Ahtisaari whose role in the diplomatic effort on behalf of the European Union was confirmed by EU Foreign Ministers on 17 May.

  80.  After a week of intensive meetings, Ahtisaari, Chernomyrdin and Talbott agreed on 2 June a text specifying withdrawal of "all" FRY/Serbian forces from Kosovo and "substantial NATO participation" in an international security presence, under unified command and control. Ahtisaari and Chernomyrdin flew to Belgrade to present the text to Milosevic. Milosevic informed them on 3 June that the Serbian Parliament and the Federal Government had accepted the text. Ahtisaari then travelled to Cologne to brief the European Council. G8 Foreign Ministers gathered in Bonn on 7 June and, in a long session, made substantial progress towards agreement on the draft Security Council resolution. The meeting was suspended overnight to allow Ivanov to consult President Yeltsin. When Ministers reconvened in Cologne the following morning the remaining issues were speedily resolved with agreement being reached on test incorporating the G8 principles of 6 May and the provisions of the Ahtisaari/Chernomyrdin text agreed by Milosevic on 3 June.

  81.  On 9 June KFOR and the FRY signed a Military Technical Agreement (negotiated by KFOR Commander Lieutenant General Sir Mike Jackson with FRY military representatives) on the terms of and timetable for withdrawal of serb forces from Kosovo. Withdrawal began on 10 June. Following verification that Withdrawal was underway, the NATO Secretary-General suspended the air campaign, and UNSCR 1244 was adopted on 10 June, demanding FRY co-operation in implementing the G8 principles and the Ahtisaari/Chernomyrdin text; authorising the establishment of an international security presence (now KFOR) to create secure conditions for the safe return of refugees and of the interim civil presence in Kosovo (the UN Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK) to provide a transitional administration, and outlining the main responsibilities of the two presences. The first NATO troops entered Kosovo on 12 June. Despite Russian assurances that they would not deploy forces to Kosovo before joint command arrangements with NATO had been agreed, on the night of 11-12 June a small Russian force moved to Pristina airport. There was concern that this might complicate KFOR's overall deployment. In the event, arrangements for the inclusion of Russian forces in KFOR were agreed, after further negotiations in Moscow and on the ground, in Helsinki on 18 June.

  82.  The withdrawal of FRY/Serbian forces from Kosovo was completed on 20 June, ahead of schedule, when the NATO Secretary-General terminated the air campaign. On 21 June, the KFOR Commander accepted a demilitarisation undertaking from the KLA Commander-in-Chief Hashim Thaqi, and on 30 June the FARK (Armed Forces of the Republic of Kosovo, a smaller Kosovo Albanian armed faction) declared they would demilitarise on the same terms.


  83.  There were probably several reasons for the rapid capitulation by Belgrade in early June. First, Milosevic had almost certainly calculated that NATO unity would crack, that neighbouring countries would collapse under the pressure of refugees, that airstrikes would halt and that he could complete unconstrained his programme of ethnic cleansing. He must have realised that he had miscalculated. As the conflict continued, and confronted by the full horror of Milosevic's brutal agenda, Alliance unity strengthened, bound together by a constant round of contacts at Ministerial level.

  84.  NATO demonstrated willingness to increase the pressure through the intensification of airstrikes (from around 100 sorties a day in late March to 500 sorties a day in late May). Damage from the NATO airstrikes would have been a significant factor. Well over 400 static targets were attacked, and more than three hundred suffered moderate to severe damage. There is clear evidence that airstrikes against Milosevic's forces in the field were successful in restricting their operations. But an account simply of targets hit cannot capture the deterrent effect of the air action—the extent to which Yoguslav tanks and other assets had to remain immobile. Nor can any purely numerical assessment judge the wider impact of the military campaign in influencing Milosevic's decisions and, ultimately his decision to concede. Air operations had an impact on public opinion in Serbia: from an early stage, there were reports of mothers demonstrating against their sons being forced to serve in Kosovo.

  85.  A key development during the activity which proved to be the diplomatic endgame was the 27 May announcement by International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia of the indictment of Milosevic and four other senior regime figures (including Milutinovic and General Odjanic, Chief of the General Staff of the FRY armed forces) for crimes against humanity and violations of the laws and customs of war. Some commentators speculated that the Tribunal's indictment of Milosevic would harden him in a "bunker mentality" and frustrate progress towards a diplomatic solution. In fact, the indictment appears to have added to the psychological pressure on him to strike a deal, although there was and is no prospect of him being given any sort of amnesty.

  86.  Finally, despite the acknowledged difference of view between Russia and NATO on airstrikes, Milosevic appears eventually to have got the message that there were limits to the support Belgrade could expect from Moscow. Instead, as a result of the work done by Chernomyrdin, Ahtisaari, Talbott and the G8, Milosevic was confronted by an increasingly united international community, with an agreed list of demands they insisted he had to meet.


  87.  The reversal of Milosevic's ethnic cleansing, with the return of the Kosovo refugees, and the insistence on a fair political solution represented a significant defeat for the forces of repression in the Balkans, and involved intense activity by the international community as a whole—in NATO, the UN, the EU, the G8 and the Contact Group.

  88.  The UK played a leading role in focusing international attention on Kosovo and determining the shape of the international community's response to the crisis. In 1997, the UK put Kosovo on the Contact Group's agenda. When violence flared in early March 1998, the Foreign Secretary travelled to Belgrade to urge Milosevic to offer moderate Kosovo Albanians a political alternative and, with the authority of the EU Presidency, to emphasise that improvement in FRY/EU relations was impossible while Belgrade's policies continued. The 9 March 1998 Contact Group meeting in London set the agenda for international efforts in the months ahead. Apart from its bilateral activities with both the government in Belgrade (including two personal letters from the Prime Minister to President Milosevic), the UK drafted or co-sponsored all the key Kosovo resolutions and played a key role in developing status models and refining the Hill proposals. We convened the Contact Group Ministerial on 8 October1998 which gave Holbrooke his mandate to negotiate with Milosevic. With France, we co-chaired the talks at Rambouillet and Kleber. The Foreign Secretary played a leading role in securing Russian agreement to the text of SCR 1244, establishing the international civil and military presences in Kosovo. The UK led efforts to get verifiers on the ground quickly, in the ultimately unsuccessful effort to make the October 1998 Holbrooke package stick. The British Embassy in Belgrade was in regular high-level contact with key players in Belgrade and Pristina throughout 1998 and early 1999.

  89.  The UK played a key role in shaping events in NATO. In particular, the UK's intensive contacts with key Allies helped strengthen Alliance cohesion at crucial moments. One important example was the Foreign Secretary's visit to Washington on 20-21 May and his visits to Paris, Rome and Bonn on 26 May, which underlined NATO's unity of purpose and made clear that planning for various ground troop options was under active consideration. Throughout the crisis in 1998 and 1999, UK influence, exerted through the formal decision processes in the North Atlantic Council and Military Committee and through close and regular contacts with NATO'S key decision-makers, was instrumental in ensuring that NATO had at its disposal a range of militarily credible options and that NATO's objectives for the military campaign reinforced the demands of international community.

  90.  On the humanitarian front, the UK spear-headed the need to find effective solutions to the unfolding refugee crisis in March/April 1999. The Department for International Development set the strategic objectives of providing rapid assistance to refugees, protecting their dignity and rights, helping host communities come to terms with the influx and planning for further contingencies. Its broad range of activities included bolstering the UN High Commissioner for Refugees as lead agency for refugees; channelling assistance through UN agencies and Non-Governmental Organisations; advising host governments on planning and finances; and working with the EU and the International Financial Institutions to minimise the impact of refugees on regional economies. UK troops in KFOR set up Macedonia's most significant "frontline" camp at Brazde/Stenkovac when the resources of the civilian agencies were at full stretch.

  91.  The UK supported the EU's policy of helping refugees to stay in the region wherever possible. Our contribution to this was worth £40m in total, largely made up of in-kind support including airlifts of personnel and supplies, logistics management on the ground, support to UN agencies and NGOs, and building camps. At the same time, we recognised that some of those massing at entry points in Macedonia were in need of immediate protection, and took part in the humanitarian evacuation programme led by UNHCR, extending comprehensive protection programmes to over 4,000 refugees. The UK approach of help to the region and protection for those whose needs were most urgent was vindicated by the overwhelming rate of return since KFOR's entry into Kosovo.

  92.  The UK played the key role in the early stages of implementing the military aspects of the settlement in Kosovo, and will continue to play a major part in stabilisation. The UK was by far the biggest troop contributor to KFOR in the initial period, and Lieutenant-General Sir Mike Jackson played a critical role in negotiating the FRY/NATO agreement on modalities for withdrawal of Serb forces. The British AFOR commander Lieutenant-General John Reith did most of the face-to-face work to negotiate the terms of the demilitarisation undertaking made by the KLA, subsequently also made by the FARK.

  93.  The UK is giving strong support to UNMIK. We were the first country to contribute to the UN Trust Fund for Kosovo. We are providing a wide range of support, from policemen and prison officers to healthcare services and mine clearance teams. A fuller account of the current UK effort is at Annex B.

  94.  This UK activity is a major part of the international effort to restore normal life to Kosovo, as part of the wider strategy of promoting peace and stability in the Balkans. This will be covered in our second Memorandum, which concentrates on the main themes of and lessons learned from the Kosovo crisis and the challenges ahead there and more widely in the region.

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