Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1 - 19)




  1. Gentlemen, without a voice but nevertheless may I welcome you three to our Committee. Each of you has a key perspective on the problems surrounding Kosovo, the past and the future. First, Mr Emyr Jones Parry, the Political Director of the Foreign Office. I believe, Mr Jones Parry, you attended the Rambouillet talks throughout. Then, Sir John Goulden, our Permanent Representative to the UK delegation to NATO and, I believe, Sir John there at all the key times.
  (Sir John Goulden) Yes.

  2. Then Mr Brian Donnelly, currently the Director, Regional Crisis, and you were, I believe, our last ambassador to Belgrade until March of this year.
  (Mr Donnelly) Yes.

  3. Can I begin in this way. This is a continuation of our inquiry into Kosovo. We have met the Foreign Secretary during the time of the continuation of the conflict. As a Committee we will be visiting the area next month, visiting both Kosovo itself and Montenegro to try to ascertain the position on the spot. We shall be working closely, paralleling Whitehall-ism, inter-departmentalism, with our two sister committees, the Defence Committee, which is looking at the deployment of British forces in the area, and with the International Development Committee which obviously focuses on the humanitarian side, the civil reconstruction. The lead is taken as the Foreign Office takes the lead, so this Committee will be looking not only at the lessons of the past but also at the Stability Pact and a way of trying to ensure a more stable Balkans in the future. I begin with: the personality of President Milosevic; while he is an indicted war criminal, he and his cronies in their corrupt regime are seen as a key part of the problem. There is an attempt to isolate them and to reward their neighbours. Is this a fair summation of the current Western and FCO view of the President?
  (Mr Jones Parry) If I may, Chairman, thank you for the welcome. I simply say we welcome the opportunity to address the Committee, to brief you. We have put in two memoranda. We are absolutely at your disposal and are happy to provide whatever information you need after this meeting in detail. In terms of your intended visit to the region we will take on whatever responsibility you would like by way of arrangements and so on to help you with your work.

  4. Thank you very much.
  (Mr Jones Parry) In terms of Milosevic, if I may, I would like to ask Brian to give you some outline of Milosevic as a personality. He has been very close to him.

  5. Yes.
  (Mr Jones Parry) Let me just retrace the history, if I may, Chairman. He was elected in 1988 on very much a nationalistic platform, a man who has been at the heart of most of the problems which started with the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. He is a man who, with his famous speech in Kosovo, actually sparked a lot of the disintegration. He is a former Communist, a very hard man who has played the nationalist card consistently.

  6. And who ended the autonomy of the province in 1989.
  (Mr Jones Parry) Indeed. He has been party to most of the things that have produced the difficulty. He is a man who has been obdurate throughout the process of negotiation. Chairman, you referred to Rambouillet, we negotiated and facilitated negotiations in good faith but the problem at the end of the day was not just that we were reconciling things that were very difficult to reconcile but at the end Milosevic was not straight and would not allow the negotiations to proceed. In the end he spurned an offer which could have averted what came out of it. He is a man who is, in our book, culpable for much of this. He was indicted by ICTY. A major part of our policy now is to actually work with the democratic opposition that we can actually further the cause of democracy, that we can look forward to a prospect that Kosovo will remain within that country but that, of course, is very difficult to achieve if Milosevic is still there. If I may I will ask Brian to give you a pen picture of how he has seen him from the local front.
  (Mr Donnelly) I am not sure whether anyone really understands Milosevic apart perhaps from Mrs Milosevic. I think it is well known that they are extraordinarily close and work very much together. Emyr has said that Milosevic comes from a Communist past and I still vividly recall my first meeting with him when I presented credentials in December 1997. Just by way of background, the programme Only Fools and Horses is very popular in Serbia, the Serbs actually see quite a lot of themselves in the characters and my first impressions of Milosevic were very much this edifice of a Communist apparatchik but with a veneer of Del Boy on top of it which makes him immensely plausible. He can make what are—when you go away and think about it—absolutely outrageous statements but he puts them over with a degree of plausibility which I think helps to explain why over a period of ten years he has seen a succession of visiting statesmen of very high seniority and experience and has managed to survive all of that and to prolong his position and to leave in many people's minds a doubt, until relatively recently, as to whether he was the problem or whether he was part of the solution.

  7. What is your view?
  (Mr Donnelly) I have no doubt that he is part of the problem and we must treat him as that.

  8. And always has been?
  (Mr Donnelly) With hindsight I think we can say he always has been but, as I say, he does have this air and this manner. There is a degree of bonhomie about him when you meet him. I would not say charm because there is a sort of sinister quality behind it. He listens to arguments, he responds to them. There is a great deal of eye contact when he talks to you. Fundamentally there is a gulf between what he says and reality. When I saw him that first time he denied that there was a problem in Kosovo and some of the themes that he then put forward were ones that we saw repeatedly come up over the succeeding 15 months, ones in which he would maintain that basically the problem lay with just a few Albanians who were—he said—separatists and terrorists and not with the great mass of Albanians. His view was that somehow you could easily cut off the heads of, as it were, and as it turned out almost literally, the separatists and terrorists and the problem would go away. He never seemed to come round to the proposition which the Foreign Secretary put to him in February of last year that the way to deal with separatists and terrorists was to make a serious offer for political autonomy, for self-government for the Kosovars which would undermine those who were arguing for independence and who were trying to pursue that objective by military means. You had a man who was authoritarian in style, authoritarian in the way he operated, not one who would suffer fools gladly, he would easily burst into outbursts of rage if it suited him, a degree of theatricality, but fundamentally someone who was not prepared to accept that there was a problem of the size and scale that we saw in Kosovo and, therefore, immensely difficult to conduct serious negotiations with him.

  9. His record has been disastrous in the sense that through his lack of political judgment he has led to the break-up of the Republic of Yugoslavia, you now say that, yes, he has always been part of the problem. Was it not therefore just a little naive throughout last year and earlier to see him as part of the solution? For Holbrooke, for example, to reach a deal in October, well knowing his background in the region, his background in the Bosnian situation, what he had failed to do in Kosovo, were we not pursuing a naive pipe dream then?
  (Mr Jones Parry) Can I take that question, Chairman, and say there have been times when Milosevic has been a convenience for the West in the sense of Dayton. There were moments when he was instrumental in getting key accords signed and in some of the implementation afterwards, the Americans believed he was helpful. It has always been the plank of policy that we have sanctions and we maintain the outer wall of sanctions has been consistently applied because Milosevic was someone that we were very cautious of in terms of Kosovo, in terms of Dayton, in terms of war crimes. Those policy objectives remain, and our caution, but the fact is he was always the head of Government or the head of state of a country which we recognised. In the end, if you were working on the assumption that there should be a solution politically arrived at within the FRY, it was necessary to negotiate and talk to the people in control.

  10. Did we have serious expectations that he would deliver on the undertakings that he gave to Mr Holbrooke in October?
  (Mr Jones Parry) We have always been very cautious about any undertakings but putting the KVM in for a period of time was very important in actually securing on the ground clear information about what was happening. It did help but, of course, in the end he made the conditions for the KVM impossible and he went back on the agreement. Everything we did throughout that period was backed up by consistent warnings and preparations by NATO throughout that period. NATO did not just act after October, it had been issuing warnings and preparing throughout the summer.

  11. All of which had been ignored?
  (Mr Jones Parry) We had to go through a process.

Sir Peter Emery

  12. Good morning, gentlemen. Is it not true that we were giving these strict warnings further than just sanctions about NATO intervention to protect the Kosovo Albanian population and why did we not proceed on those warnings? Was an element of this because the Russians were trying desperately to urge us to hold off in order that they could attempt to obtain a solution with Milosevic which would stop us having to intervene? Mr Parry?
  (Mr Jones Parry) In terms of policy the policy was clear throughout, it was to get a negotiated settlement which would provide for some autonomy for Kosovo within the FRY and would permit a process of reconciliation and certainly stability in the region. In terms of warnings the question assumes that we did nothing. What I want to be clear about is we have gone through a process from the beginning of diplomacy, sanctions, diplomacy and sanctions, the threat of force, preparing to use that force, activating ACTORDs, the process of negotiation again. We tested it to destruction. If you like, we can be criticised for having gone the extra mile. We went the extra mile. We convened in January all the parties to talks in Rambouillet. We went through 15 days or so of intensive negotiations driven by two foreign ministers and the international community pushing. At the end of that process we had failed, that is clear, because Milosevic would not accept the outcome but why had we not acted in another sense? To act militarily, if that is behind the question, let's be clear, you needed to establish a consensus that all the parties were prepared to act, you needed to have a legal basis for acting, you needed to have demonstrated that it is the last resort and you have tried everything else. We did over a period of time in a concerted way dictated by very clear objectives throw everything at the problem.

  13. You have not, if I may remind you, mentioned what I was asking about -the Russian pressure on us during that autumn period.
  (Mr Jones Parry) The Russians in terms of the objectives were part of it, were working closely with us. They were very much part of the Rambouillet process. Where the Russians diverged from us was in two crucial aspects. One, they refused to allow Security Council Resolutions to be based on Chapter VII or to explicitly authorise the use of all necessary measures. When it came to Rambouillet itself they distanced themselves from the military annex that was tabled, but the Russians were ambivalent about it.

  14. I have not finished yet. I have a question for Mr Donnelly in a moment. When you say we were having to obtain the legal aspect for action, we were no better prepared for that in January than we would have been in the autumn because we have created really new humanitarian law which is not necessarily based on the United Nations nor, many would argue, based on international law although we believe there is an absolute necessity to be able to protect populations on a humanitarian basis. That existed as much in October as it did in January.
  (Mr Jones Parry) If I could address the question of intervention. There are three bases classically for intervention: one, United Nations Security Council resolution specifically authorising it; two, being invited in to do it; three, in self-defence. None of those actually pertained in this case.

  15. That is right.
  (Mr Jones Parry) What we needed to do was to be in a position depending on the position on the ground that we could intervene on the basis of humanitarian law as it had evolved, or on the basis of a Security Council Resolution that had been adopted—and two were adopted in this period up until the end of 1998. Crucially as the events had developed there was a whole series of actions on the ground which led us to a very clear legal view that provided the action was targeted solely at averting a humanitarian crisis, because that crisis was manifestly appearing before us on the ground, and because the action we were going to be taking was going to be proportionate because it was targeted solely at averting that crisis and because we had no other alternative left to us, we believed we were legally justified.

  16. Mr Donnelly, what advice were you giving to the Foreign Office over this period? You were the Ambassador.
  (Mr Donnelly) Of course. I will try and give you as clear a picture as I can of what you will understand was a confusing and often complex situation. Perhaps I should say that for about a year leading up to the eventual conflict we were trying to provide more or less daily situation reports (sometimes more than once a day) of what was going on. It was not a question of one-off advice, it was a question of advice accumulating and evolving over the period. On a daily basis we would try to cover issues such as the situation on the ground as we saw it, what was happening with the Serb forces, what was happening with the KLA. We tried to reflect what the current reading of the political mood was in Belgrade and how that was affecting the situation. We would try and get a read on the current thinking of the Kosovo Albanian politicians and we would try to reflect the current humanitarian situation. If you like, over a period of time one was accumulating judgments rather than taking them one-off at a particular moment. In the days and weeks immediately preceding the conflict I think we would say that there was growing evidence of conflict on the ground in Kosovo. The situation had been deteriorating gradually since Christmas. Emyr has mentioned the role of the KVM and I would endorse that from my own personal experience with them in Kosovo in the weeks immediately after their deployment. The British contingent was there very quickly and I think, without false modesty, was by far the most effective in the early days while the overall structure was being set up. They did make a difference. My advice to them had been to act like nosy parkers and to make sure everywhere there was any sign of trouble they went round and talked to people and they got out of their vehicles and made their presence felt.


  17. Mr Donnelly, did you have anyone permanently from the Embassy in Kosovo at the time?
  (Mr Donnelly) When the KVM force was being set up we assigned somebody formally as my deputy to work in liaison with them and he was permanently in Kosovo. Otherwise one of my staff was in Kosovo most of the time and what I tried to do was arrange a rotation system between my defence attaché and political staff so there was always a presence in Kosovo.

Sir Peter Emery

  18. Mr Donnelly, I have been led to believe certainly from the summer and into the autumn that you were advising the Foreign Office that Milosevic had no intention of giving up his plan for ethnic cleansing and the situation was likely to get worse and not better. Is that not the case?
  (Mr Donnelly) I would not characterise it like that because, as I say, the advice I tried to give on a day-to-day basis reflected what was going on on the ground. The long-term trends showed through the summer of 1998 clearly there had been increasing violence. We had the October settlement after which there was a decrease and for a time it looked as though it might be possible to bring the parties closer to agreement on a political settlement. After Christmas there was a gradual deterioration. I think both the Serbs and the KLA to some extent were looking for trouble and they found it. The crucial difference between the two sides was that the Serb idea of policing was one of indiscriminate use of heavy weapons including tanks and armoured vehicles with anti-aircraft guns used as direct fire weapons. We saw in the massacres at Racak and Rugovo clear harbingers of what was likely to come, in other words, all the signs were there (in fact it had already begun) of a resumption of the kind of violence we had seen the preceding summer and therefore it removed, if you like, any lingering doubt that the October settlement might lead to peace on the ground.

  19. Are you therefore, Mr Donnelly, saying that you were not warning the Foreign Office in that period from the autumn on that the situation was likely to get much worse and that there was very little chance of a political settlement?
  (Mr Donnelly) I would not say I was and I would not say I was not, Sir Peter. I said the situation was a complex one. What I was trying to do was provide the information about what was going on on the ground, what the Serbs were thinking, how the Albanians were reacting so that judgments could be helped to be formed in London as to what would be the appropriate diplomatic and military action. I do not think any one of my colleagues would have attempted to gaze into a crystal ball and say exactly what is likely to happen in six months' time. I think we were all agreed that the balance of probabilities was that there would not be a political solution and the Serbs would continue and indeed intensify their military activity again in the summer of 1999. That would have been fairly common ground.

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