Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on Yugoslavia

  1.  On 24 September 2000, Dr Vojislav Kostunica was elected President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) in the first round of the FRY Presidential elections. The former regime of Slobodan Milosevic attempted to falsify this result, and then to annul the election in its entirety. But a wave of popular protest and strikes, which culminated in the occupation of the Federal Parliament on the afternoon of 5 October, swept Milosevic from office and ensured the inauguration of President Kostunica. A democratic Federal Government was established on 4 November. After an interim period of all-party administration, a democratic Serbian Government is now being formed following early Serbian Parliamentary elections on 23 December.

  2.  These developments have transformed the prospects of Serbia, and have a made a positive impact on the whole Balkans region. A regime which was a chronic regional source of instability and criminality has been replaced, against the odds, in a democratic fashion and without bloodshed. Dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina is now possible. Bilateral and multilateral regional co-operation has been boosted, as the country at the geographical centre of the Balkans begins its return to the European family of democratic nations. There is a real chance that the complex outstanding issues surrounding the assets and liabilities of the old Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) can at last be brought to an agreed solution.

  3.  There are still serious problems. The consequences of ethnic extremism and nationalism in the former Yugoslavia will only diminish slowly over time. But for the first time, all governments in the Balkans region are committed explicitly to peaceful co-operation with their neighbours and to democratic processes. The establishment of democratic Serbian and Federal governments in Belgrade is supplying the last piece of that jigsaw.


  4.  The most dramatic consequence of the fall of Milosevic has been the end of Serbia's international isolation. The FRY has joined key international and regional organisations (UN, OSCE, IMF, EBRD, Stability Pact) and is applying for membership of others (World Bank, Council of Europe, World Trade Organisation, Interpol). The FRY has restored or established diplomatic relations with the US, the UK, France, Germany, Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (but not yet with Albania). The attendance of President Kostunica at the summit of regional leaders in Skopje on 25 October and at the EU-Balkans Summit in Zagreb on 24 November marked the resumption of comprehensive multilateral diplomacy in the region. The FRY has also taken the first step along the road to a contractual relationship with the EU, with the establishment of an EU-FRY Taskforce which will examine the feasibility of moving towards a Stability and Association Agreement. The determination of the FRY Government to rebuild its external links has been matched by real goodwill at the international level.

  5.  HMG supports all measures aimed at securing the democratic transformation that has taken place in the FRY, and wants to see the country safely embarked on a sustained programme of democratic and economic reform. Full participation in the international community will, however, require the FRY to meet exacting standards. As with Croatia, we will expect the FRY to co-operate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), and to play its full part in the implementation of the Dayton/Paris Peace Agreement for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

  6.  The new situation also provides an opportunity for Serbia to confront its recent past. This will be essential for the establishment of a new, healthy, democratic society in the FRY. A fundamental re-appraisal of the 1990s is also a prerequisite for developing a good working relationship with the other countries of the former Yugoslavia, particularly Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Various initiatives are already underway in governmental and non-governmental circles in Belgrade, for example with the formation of special units to investigate corruption in the former regime, and the establishment of a "Truth Commission." The apportioning of moral and criminal responsibility for the crimes of the former regime will be a painful process, but we continue to believe that this process, including full co-operation with ICTY, will help draw a line under the recent past and lay the foundations for a more stable and just future.

  7.  The democratic revolution in Serbia also brings a new opportunity for rational dialogue between the entities of the FRY. We look forward to a Belgrade-Podgorica dialogue taking place in a calm atmosphere, with the aim of finding mutually acceptable solutions on status which contribute to regional stability. We also look forward to a much more positive attitude by Belgrade towards all aspects of the implementation of UNSCR 1244 on Kosovo (Montenegro and Kosovo are covered in more detail below). For Serbia, there is also an opportunity to examine the internal architecture of the state. Positive moves have already been made in Vojvodina and the Sandzak, with the renaissance of the Vojvodina Assembly in Novi Sad and the appointment of a Sandzak Bosniac as Federal Minister of National Minorities.

  8.  At the same time there has been a deterioration of the security situation in the Presevo Valley area of southern Serbia (bordering Kosovo). This has been made more complicated by the Albanian extremists' ability to move comparatively freely in, and launch attacks from, the 5km wide Ground Safety Zone (GSZ) in Serbia which borders the administrative boundary with Kosovo. This GSZ was established by the KFOR/FRY Military-Technical Agreement in order to provide a buffer zone between the Yugoslav Army (VJ) and KFOR, and neither the VJ and Serbian paramilitary police, nor KFOR, operate in it. However, the situation has been stabilised with the help of a new constructive relationship between KFOR and the FRY authorities. The Belgrade authorities have refused to respond to provocations with violence and, with international support, are making a genuine attempt to engage the leadership of the local Albanian community in a political dialogue. The problem of extremist groups in and around what is now the GSZ goes back some years, and it is unlikely to be solved immediately. But a democratic government in Belgrade ought to be able to meet the legitimate political needs of local communities, and hence to remove any residual excuses for illegal actions by extremists. Meanwhile the ECMM is playing an active monitoring role.


  9.  For Montenegro, the first consequence of the establishment of a democratic Federal Government in Belgrade was the lifting of a major threat to Montenegro's security. Having lost operational control of the Yugoslav Army (VJ) and of other state security and intelligence organisations, Milosevic was no longer in a position to threaten Montenegro with unrest or armed conflict. President Kostunica was quick to convene a meeting of the Supreme Defence Council, allowing President Djukanovic to exercise his Constitutional right to take part in top-level discussions on defence and security issues. The leadership of the Yugoslav military in Montenegro has now been changed. Although there are continuing Montenegrin concerns about the composition and activities of the seventh Battalion (Military Police) of the VJ's Second Army, there is now little likelihood of Federal forces clashing seriously with the Montenegrin police.

  10.  Kostunica's decision to bring the Montenegrin SNP (hitherto generally pro-Milosevic) into his coalition was forced upon him by coalition mathematics—Djukanovic's coalition parties had all boycotted the elections, leaving the SNP with almost all the Montenegro seats. It nonetheless caused some further strain between Djukanovic and Kostunica. Kostunica has discussed holding a further round of FRY Parliamentary elections in 2001, on a free and fair basis. Subject to the outcome of talks between Serbia and Montenegro on their future relationship, this could provide an opportunity for Montenegrin representation in FRY institutions to be normalised.

  11.  The change in Belgrade has also helped to strengthen Parliamentary democracy in Montengro itself. Real internal political tensions remain, but even before the fall of Milosevic the SNP in Montenegro had demonstrated its willingness to abide by norms of democratic behaviour (particularly in its acceptance of OSCE monitoring of the local elections in June 2000). As the influence of the pro-Milosevic circle in the SNP wanes, Montenegro will be able to move towards a political system based on high democratic standards and mutual respect. HMG will continue to support democratic reforms in Montenegro, in co-ordination with other bilateral donors, the EU and international organisations such as ODIHR/OSCE.

  12.  Montenegro and Serbia now have to resolve the future of their institutional relationship. In the last years of Milosevic, Montenegro was excluded systematically from genuine participation in Federal institutions, and was driven increasingly to adopt its own autonomous powers—for example on customs, banking, monetary policy and foreign policy. The Montenegrin Government refused to recognise the decisions of Federal institutions, and did not accept the changes to the Federal Constitution rushed through by Milosevic in July 2000. Now, however, the Serbian and Montenegrin Governments are agreed that formal negotiations beginning early in 2001 will aim to agree on a mutually acceptable arrangement for a joint state. It is crucial that this arrangement be arrived at in an open and democratic manner, and that it enjoys a political consensus wide enough to close off any danger of subsequent unrest or instability. The aim should be a sustainable outcome which is compatible with the priority of regional stability. HMG believes that a single international personality will allow Montenegro and Serbia to exercise autonomous powers at the appropriate levels, without damaging consequences for the region.


  13.  The changes in Belgrade so far have had only a limited direct effect within Kosovo, which is likely to remain under international administration oversight in accordance with UNSCR 1244 for some time to come. However, they hold out the prospect of progress in the medium term. There have already been substantial contacts between Belgrade and the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) on infrastructure issues such as power supply. There have also been extensive contacts between Belgrade and KFOR (and NATO) on security issues, in particular the situation in the Presevo Valley, building on the pre-existing links through KFOR's Joint Implementation Commission, attended by Serbian and Yugoslav representatives.

  14.  The FRY Government's priorities in relation to Kosovo appear to be the return of refugees and the security of Serbs and other minorities within Kosovo. We support these objectives, but the realities of the situation mean that refugee returns will have to be achieved step by step. UNMIK and KFOR regard the security of returnees and those living within Kosovo as a priority issue. Undertakings such as Operation TROJAN in the UK sector (which covers a large number of projects aimed at improving the security and welfare of the Serb community) will continue.

  15.  The fate of those Kosovo Albanians who were detained by Milosevic's forces after the Kosovo conflict remains a serious concern. The release in November of Dr Flora Brovina, the well-known human rights activist, was a welcome step. We have made clear in Belgrade that we hope this can be followed soon by the release of the remaining prisoners imprisoned in similar circumstances. This would be a key confidence-building measure. Similarly, we recognise that there is concern in Serbia about the fate of Serbs missing in Kosovo. This concern also should be addressed: we hope that Kosovo Albanian representatives will engage in the process of resolving this issue.

  16.  The future status of Kosovo, which is left open by UNSCR 1244, is a matter of importance, but will need to be addressed in the longer term, once a degree of confidence has been re-established between Pristina and Belgrade. In the meantime, UNMIK is taking forward preparations for the establishment of provisional institutions for self-government, such as Kosovo Assembly, and elections to these bodies, as required under paragraph 11(c) of UNSCR 1244. As these bodies will be provisional by definition, their establishment will be without prejudice to the future status of Kosovo. Initial preparations for these elections are underway, but it is likely to take some time for them to be fully and properly prepared, and no date for elections has yet been fixed.

  17.  The fall of Milosevic appears to have led to greater willingness on the part of Kosovo's Serb community to co-operate with UNMIK and KFOR. Serbs are now participating (by appointment) in the new Kosovo municipal authorities, put in place following the elections on 28 October. Despite the non-participation of the majority of Kosovo Serbs in these elections, there now appears to be real enthusiasm for participation in municipal government, and for elections to be re-run in Serb areas in the near future. Kosovo Serbs (along with other minorities) are also now playing a full role in the Joint Interim Administrative Structures and Kosovo Transitional Council, the interim structures put in place by UNMIK to involve the local population in the government of Kosovo. Kosovo Serbs are co-heads (alongside international appointees) of two JIAS departments.

  18.  The biggest challenges for the international community in creating a functioning society in Kosovo are organised crime and the effective administration of law and order. Ethnically and politically motivated violence is still a problem, but now constitutes a small proportion of overall crime in Kosovo. The establishment of the Criminal Intelligence Unit, due to be operational in February 2001, to which the UK has made the most significant contribution, is a crucial step in addressing this problem. We are working in close co-operation with UNMIK to strengthen further the judicial system in Kosovo, including through the nomination of candidates for posts as international judges and prosecutors. The locally-staffed Kosovo Police Service is gaining strength, experience and effectiveness, working in close co-operation with UNMIK Police and KFOR, and already includes a significant proportion of recruits from the ethnic minorities, particularly Kosovo Serbs, among its numbers.

  19.  The Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC) was established as civilian organisation in 1999. The KPC has carried out a significant number of useful duties in the civil sector, including reconstruction and humanitarian relief, and is being trained to be more effective in such roles in the future. The activities of the KPC are closely monitored by UNMIK and KFOR, and the numbers of incidents of non-compliance by KPC members is low. It is an important part of the international community's strategy to engage with the former members of the KLA (who constitute a large proportion of the KPC's membership) and help them make a positive contribution to Kosovo through the work of the KPC. The positive direction of the KPC is underlined by the fact that it has recently admitted its first Serb members (the agreed target is ten per cent non-Albanian membership). We welcome UNMIK's intention to establish an UNMIK-appointed international KPC "administrator" to organise the KPC more effectively, focus its work, attract additional funding and engage it in worthwhile projects. The UK has put forward a candidate for this post.


  20.  If Milosevic had still been in power at the end of November, an empty chair at the Zagreb Summit would have symbolised the incompleteness of the new regional spirit of co-operation. As it is, the new administration of President Kostunica has already made significant steps along the road of re-establishing the FRY as a democratic partner in the Balkans. The countries of the region can now build prosperity and move closer to the European Union, without the fear of a further Milosevic-inspired conflagration.

  21.  Over the last years, the electorates of the Balkans have begun to reject nationalist extremism and corruption in favour of democratic co-existence. The events of September and October in Belgrade marked the end of the rule of perhaps the worst and most cynical extremist in the Balkans, the man who unleashed nationalism as a political force in the Yugoslavia of the late 1980s. Serbia lost a decade—hundreds of thousands lost their lives. Now at last, Serbia, Yugoslavia and the region are emerging to a brighter future. Basic to that is the European agenda—a contract that if the South East European countries can co-operate politically and work on democratic and economic reform together, then the EU and international institutions will play their part in offering a destination in the community of Western European nations.

  22.  But there will be many difficult issues to be tackled on the way, political, social and economic. With its partners and allies, the United Kingdom will continue to work closely with the authorities in Belgrade and Podgorica, with the UN Mission in Pristina and with neighbouring countries to create the best possible chances that this opportunity for stability, regional co-operation and prosperity is seized.

10th January 2001

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