Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120
TUESDAY 27 FEBRUARY 2001
VAZ MP, MR
120. And the involvement of different Directorates
(Mr Vaz) Would that be helpful?
Chairman: It would be very helpful indeed. Mr
121. One brief observation, in Kosovo we had
an unsolicited view from people on the ground, particularly our
own people on the ground, that the organisation of European Union
reconstruction had been extremely good and was very effective.
It surprised us, to be honest, because we normally expect them
to be hyper-critical about it. On this occasion it did seem that
the immediate reconstruction programme had been reasonably well-organised
and was making a big impact.
(Mr Vaz) I am really grateful for what Mr Rowlands
has just said because when you speak to Mr Patten on Thursday,
he has been one of the great reformers and he has always said,
"It is all very well the EU promising money, but when is
it going to come into people's bank accounts, that is the main
issue." I think you will find him very receptive to that.
I am grateful to Mr Rowlands for that indication.
Sir Peter Emery: When Mr Rowlands begins praising
the EU you know something is going right!
Mr Rowlands: Or I am going soft!
Sir Peter Emery
122. I wanted to put a general question which
I think highlights the great difficulty. One leaves Belgrade,
which is beginning to thrive, and when one saw the new members
of Parliament one was very encouraged by what they were trying
to do and their general impression. We were motored by the EU
down to Pristina. We stopped halfway to get some petrol and we
had coffee in a very small, minute cafe, transport as such, where
we went in and were nicely greeted. And, lo and behold, the television
was especially turned on for Sky television in English which we
did not get in Belgrade, but that is another matter. Four miles
further on the driver said, "I won't stop here with you because
this is a Serbian area and if they knew you were British there
would very likely be trouble." You go on to Pristina where,
again, one is inundated by an immense amount of buildingI
was amazed at the amount of building one saw therebut also
a terrifying feeling that the town is sustained by the staff and
a number of foreign nationals, EU, UNMIK, KFOR, NGOs, a whole
host, that seem to be employing everybody, injecting money and
yet, if that were to be withdrawn, one could see the whole of
the situation collapsing. We go into the Presevo Valley with a
45s Commando and one comes into grips with seeing a training camp
where 60 Albanians every fortnight are brought into this area,
which is within the no-go area, and the Marines can do nothing
about it other than watch it. The men seem to be secreted in there
and there is firing drill, arms drill, and everything else, and
if you begin talking to some of the Albanians, one in particular
stays in my mind, I said "Can't we come together, the war
is over?" and he said, "What do you mean? The war has
not yet begun." I accept that is the extremist view but here
is this amazing "liquorice allsort" aspect of different
views in a very small area if you really think about it. How are
we going to give leadership to begin bringing this thing together
because unless we start out to do something I think it is going
to get worse and not better? I believe there are elements who
are not happy and I just therefore wonder how the Government are
perceiving what is not a happy situation but a difficult situation
in which there needs to be some very positive leadership.
(Mr Vaz) I think that Sir Peter has summed up in that
short but fascinating account of your visit to this area the great
difficulties that we face. This is not an easy task. It is about
bringing communities together. It is about people forgetting in
some cases if you look at the whole of the Balkans some unspeakable
acts being committed against members of their own families. Frankly,
I read yesterday an account in The Times of the war crimes
trial that is happening and it is so terrible you cannot think
that human beings could have gone through that. That is from somebody
who is supposed to be emotionally detached from what is going
on. The last comment you made that the war is just about to begin
shows how important it is that we have to be there to work with
them and to try and ensure that the communities work together.
It is immensely difficult but we will not abandon the situation,
we will be there to help them, but it is not easy.
Chairman: We have glided into Kosovo. Mr Rowlands
was with Sir Peter on that visit and I am going to ask him to
comment and pose his own question.
123. I am sorry to return to the touchy subject
right at the beginning, Minister, but you have not been to Kosovo
since you have been in office, have you?
(Mr Vaz) No, I have not.
124. May I beg of you to reorder your priorities
and go because, first of all, within your own territorial responsibility
you have not got another area where there are 3,500 British troops
in the front-line, exercising not only a military role but a highly
sensitive political role and with some rather nasty crucial decisions
in conjunction with others about the roles and functions of KFOR,
for exampleI have been twice in 12 monthsas well
as coming away with some really worrying concerns about the assumptions
behind the policy, and until you go I do not think you can get
a feeling for it. In that respect besides begging you to reorder
your priorities I wonder whether in this case because of the exceptional
natureand we know Mr Charlton was there because we bumped
into him when we were therewould it be in order for me
to ask what impressions he came away with?
(Mr Vaz) Of course. I would be more than happy for
you to do that.
125. Mr Charlton, did you get the impression
I had that in fact the assumption we are still trying to cling
to that there is somehow going to be in any meaningful time-scale
a significant or meaningful return of Serbs into Kosovo is not
one that we can any longer accept?
(Mr Charlton) Clearly you are right, that there is
not going to be a large-scale return of Serb refugees until the
Serbs have confidence that they can live there unmolested and
until the security situation is such that they feel safe to do
so, and that situation has not yet arrived. That has to remain
one of our goals. When I say "our" I mean the international
community's goals. Just as in Bosnia, it is going to be a long,
long haul. This not only involves the international community
getting involved in programmes but, as we heard, the British troops
in KFOR have been doing quite a lot to try and help the minority
communities and give them confidence in those areas. It also involves
talking with the Albanian community and getting them to accept
that living within the area they have to also live with other
communities. There is some understanding of this at the political
level on the Albanian side and that is what we have got to work
with. It is going to be a long haul. I accept your point that
it is not going to happen quickly.
126. So if it is going to be a long, long hauland
we are talking about a goal that is going to be many years one
suspects until it is going to somehow create some sort of stabilitytherefore
policy assumptions have to be based on that situation. What policy
conclusions do we draw from that assumption? Do we believe that
somehow in the meantime we can develop institutions within Kosovo
which will be hugely predominantly Albanian ones with minimal
participation of the Serbs in existing arrangements? If so, does
this not have profound consequences for your whole notion of a
fundamental goal of a multi-ethnic Kosovo?
(Mr Vaz) It is going to be a difficult task and you
know this because you visited, but we stick by what was decided
in Resolution 1244.
127. Half of 1244 is totally unrealistic. You
can stick by it but why stick by something that is totally unrealistic?
(Mr Vaz) Mr Rowlands, that is our benchmark, that
is what we hope to achieve. You know, you have been there yourself,
you know how difficult it is; it is not easy. You cannot get years
and years of ethnic hatred to end because of a United Nations'
Resolutionwe know thatbut it must be the case that
we have to work with and build confidence in the communities as
they work together, and that means trying to create the institutions,
and trying to create the organisations that will bring people
together. The alternative is, if you do not do it, it will end
in bloodshed. That is why you have got to be there and you have
got to be supporting what is happening.
128. I think we have to be there. The assumption
is that KFOR is going to have to be there for a very long time.
This is not any longer a short-term operation of any kind. We
knew that from the start. Is not one of the underlying causes
of the growing tensions that have occurred in the Presevo Valley,
Mitrovica, that they all have something in common and that is
that you have got a radical Albanian element in Kosovo who did
not got the election results and were found not to be the majority
view, and have therefore not as much of a vested interest as Rugova
and others in developing patiently the institutions, but have
a vested interest in actually stirring things and trying to gain
more radical support by takeing more radical lines in any sort
of way? How are we going to cope with it? What is your thinking
of how we are going to cope with such a potentially explosive
(Mr Vaz) The whole area is potentially explosive.
129. But we have direct responsibility for Kosovo.
(Mr Vaz) We do and that is what is happening as far
as KFOR is concerned and UNMIK, working with the institutions
together. I think it could have been much much worse. Of course
what happened in Mitrovica is something we have to be very conscious
of and that requires patient negotiation, working with communities,
trying to rebuild them, but I cannot accept the view that we will
not be able to bring a lasting solution to the problems that are
there. I am not going to put a time-scale on it and neither would
you expect me to. What we will continue to do is work with the
communities in order to rebuild that relationship. We condemn
the extremism that has been shown in the Presevo Valley. We condemn
violence against communities. I was the first to condemn the recent
bloodshed at the bus stop that was broadcast. It is a terribly
difficult situation. I think we have got a very heavy job on our
hands but we have got to proceed with it, we have got to pursue
130. In terms of the here and now and more immediate
decisions, one of the more immediate decisions to be taken is
how are we going to establish effective security in an increasingly
explosive political situation in Kosovo given that there are elements
that believe their future lies in causing more problems and stirring
things up. I was very unconvinced that the policing arrangements
were going to bear the strain of this at all. From the evidence
we took I really did not think the policing side of UNMIK could
work. It does look as if it might mean that we will have to (horrifyingly)
re-think the functional role of KFOR in terms of internal security
arrangements. At the moment they have got no responsibility for
something beyond ineffective policing, in fact, in the whole area.
Do you see a changing role or function in KFOR in the short to
medium term and, if so, how are you going to go about it?
(Mr Vaz) I think Mr Rowlands is right to say that
law and order is the biggest threat to stability in Kosovo. Just
to tell you some of the figures that the Committee might already
know. Between June 1999 and October 2000 there have been 621 murders,
44 per cent were Albanians, 35 per cent were Serbs. The murder
rate has dropped from 50 per week in June 1999 to under five per
week for the year 2000, with much of the murder rate related to
organised crimes. How do we do it? We use whatever means at our
disposal to try and deal with the security situation. We are encouraging
our own local police forces to be involved in this by providing
the expertise and the personnel to help. We accept what Mr Rowlands
has said. This is the crucial issue; the guaranteeing of the safety
and security of individual people so that they are not attacked
because they are of a particular ethnicity.
131. Minister, can I just pursue you on this
point. In the evidence that we took last week there was a reference
to a situation which was to do with organised crime (and I am
not minimising at all the continuing problems of inter-ethnic
violence) but it appears that there is now a very large problem
which is organised crime where ethnicity is more or less irrelevant.
There was an incident where there was a housing commissioner who
was trying to implement building certificates and he was shot
dead and KFOR was asked to protect this man, who was essentially
trying to do a good job, and they said they could not possibly
get involved in illegal construction and that this was a police
matter. That might be a reasonable thing to say in a country like
Britain, that the army should not get involved in that sort of
thing where we have got a decent functioning police force, but
in such a situation as Kosovo would you not accept that this is
not a reasonable way forward? One of our other witnesses pointed
out that there are 40,000 troops in Kosovo and about 500 insurgents
in Presevo and nothing substantial is being done. It does appear
that we have a great many troops there (and this is not just ours)
but they are not being used to best advantage to help to establish
a situation of law, and we are at risk of the whole situation
being degraded not from a political point of view but just because
there is a general system of lawlessness and criminals are being
able to operate.
(Mr Vaz) I am very sorry to hear that. It is something
that I will look at very carefully. I am not sighted on the particular
murder that Dr Starkey has mentioned but I will look into it because
one of the purposes of us being there is to make sure that there
is going to be stability in the area. That means the communities
themselves have to play a part in ensuring this happens. I will
certainly look at the particular case she has mentioned.
132. Would you be prepared to start the process
of looking at KFOR's mandate to get them slightly more involved
towards the police end of it?
(Mr Vaz) I look forward to seeing what you say in
your report but in the meantime I will certainly look at this
issue and if there is anything that is material to the inquiry
of this Committee I will write to the Committee.
133. I was going to follow up on a recommendation
that we made in our Fourth Report on Kosovo itself where we highlighted
the difficulties of the court system and the fact there was not
adequate back-up for it. We mentioned a recommendation of the
Bar Human Rights Committee on sending additional lawyers into
Kosovo to help to get the court system functioning. I note we
have had another memorandum from the Bar Human Rights Committee
reiterating that 70 applications were made by members of the Bar
and the judiciary to go to Kosovo over the last six months but
none of these have been taken up.
(Mr Vaz) Does it say not taken up by whom? I will
ask Mr Charlton to deal with the detail, but can I just say (not
that I want to encourage our judiciary to go to Kosovo because
we obviously have an attachment to our judiciary) that it is important
and I certainly have encouraged, and so has the Foreign Secretary,
both the police and judiciary bodies, particularly the Bar, to
encourage people to go there. Mr Charlton, do you know about this?
(Mr Charlton) On the point about the police, as Mr
Rowlands has seen, there is an effort being made and it is being
led by a RUC officer to build up the Kosovo police service. I
do not think that he would claim to have got there yet, he is
part way through the task, but obviously there will need to be
an indigenous police force. They have already recruited about
4,000 and they will need more.
134. And what about lawyers?
(Mr Charlton) It is highly positive that so many people
from Britain have volunteered to go and this is a matter for the
135. Why have they not been accepted?
(Mr Charlton) This is a decision for UNMIK and New
York and we have been pressing this very point ourselves.
(Mr Vaz) If it helps the Committee, I will certainly
write to the authorities to remind them of the number of people
who have applied asking for an explanation as to why they have
not been taken up.
Sir Peter Emery
136. Following the first part of Dr Starkey's
questioning, the growth of extremism, added on to the KLA, the
training which I talked about in the Presevo Valley, where you
have areas where the military cannot goand we had a most
excellent briefing from a marine major and he said, "If we
were given the power to try and clean part of this up we could
do it in a very short period of time"on that aspect
it seems to me that the command factors which allow the military
to begin dealing further with the demilitarisation and the carrying
of arms and the use of arms, surely we ought to be doing something
with that to try and stop this growth of extremism amongst the
Albanians because if we do not it is going to flower, and to allow
our military to be standing by and feeling that their hands are
tied behind their backs and they cannot do anything is really
(Mr Vaz) It is, Sir Peter. There is no question whatsoever
of our military being silent where they see any act of terrorism
being contemplated or anyone acting in a particular way that might
lead to terrorist activity. We do not stand by and allow this
to happen. We condemn it utterly and completely.
137. But they cannot go into the no-go area.
(Mr Vaz) That is correct, but there is no question
of us standing by and not doing anything. As to the individual
military situation Mr Charlton will advise us.
(Mr Charlton) Sir Peter, as you quite rightly said,
this is an area in Southern Serbia we are talking about and for
that area KFOR does not at the moment have a mandate.
138. We have no remit.
(Mr Vaz) The better news isand I would not
say good newsis that we will be talking to Foreign Minister
Svilanovic tomorrow and Belgrade has now put forward a plan to
try and deal with the problem in the Presevo Valley and NATO issued
a statement today to say it was going to work with this plan to
try and sort out that problem down there. What that will mean
at the end of the day I do not know but it is very welcome that
Belgrade are trying to solve it first and foremost through political
Sir John Stanley
139. Minister, could I just turn to the long-term
status of Kosovo. Is it not the case that the whole of British
and indeed Western policy is really grounded in the perpetuation
of a political fiction which is that Kosovo is still part of the
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia? Certainly in Belgrade right across
the political spectrum I cannot recall anybody who said to us
anything other than that Kosovo is lost, that was the price of
the war. And I do not think anybody, certainly anywhere in the
mainstream in politics in Serbia itself, believes that there is
any conceivable prospect at any time in the future of Kosovo being
brought back under the political authority of Serbia and, that
being the case, surely the British Government and the other Western
governments should actually recognise the reality which is that
Kosovo is effectively independent? It is not constituted as an
independent state now but it is effectively wholly independent
of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Surely we should accept
the reality of the position and acknowledge that and try to end
the fiction that somehow Kosovo is not an independent entity,
which it clearly is.
(Mr Vaz) Sir John, we stand by Resolution 1244 that
it is clear that Kosovo is part of the FRY. The future final status
of Kosovo remains a matter for future discussions but, as it stands,
our policy is clear. I understand what you are saying about the
views of people who are there and whether they think that indeed
that is going to be the final position, but that is our policy.
What we wish to do is to make sure that Kosovo is reconstructed,
that democracy is allowed to flourish and that it has a good relationship
with the newly democratic Belgrade and that will continue, but
there is no change of policy.