Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Fourth Report



161. As we note above,[335] the fragile stability of Macedonia continues to cause alarm, both in the region and internationally. In the longer term, many Slavic Macedonians see the growing Albanian population as a demographic threat to their state: according to UN projections, the Albanians in Macedonia will be a majority within 25 years.[336] The population census in Macedonia which is planned for April 2001—the first since a disputed census in 1994—could heighten nationalist tensions and increase pressure for Albanian to be adopted as an official language. We recommend that the Government should work with the OSCE and the Council of Europe to ensure that the Macedonian census is conducted according to international standards, and that efforts are made to encourage the Albanian population to participate fully in the process.

162. Chris Patten told us "there was obviously a good deal of concern [in Macedonia]...about the leakage of extremist violence over the border...from Southern Serbia and Southern Kosovo."[337] These fears have been heightened by an outbreak of fighting between ethnic Albanian militia groups and Macedonian security forces in the northern border region during February and March. Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski warned the Southeast European Cooperation summit on 23 February that the conflict was escalating, adding that: "The results will be not only serious instability for the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, but could also destabilise the whole region...I warn that it will be extremely dangerous if the international community underestimates the need for an urgent resolution of this problem."[338]

163. Ominously, the conflict has spread from the northern border region to include Tetovo. Over one thousand civilians, many of them ethnic Albanians, have fled the fighting, allowing Albanian fighters to occupy a number of deserted villages. Thus far, the Macedonian government has demonstrated commendable restraint in its response to the uprising, despite the death of several of its soldiers and domestic pressure for the use of force at an earlier stage. Police and army reserves have now been mobilised and Macedonian security forces have established roadblocks in the region to hinder the rebels' movement.

164. The international response to the crisis has been uncertain. The OSCE had a monitoring mission in place along the border, which has provided an important source of independent information.[339] Following requests for assistance from the Macedonian government, NATO dispatched a fact-finding mission to Skopje, and deployed KFOR units along the Kosovo side of the border to interdict the movement of insurgents and weaponry. Reports suggest that NATO has also provided initial assistance to the Macedonian security forces, in the form of night-vision equipment, to help identify and apprehend militia members. The NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson, pledged in early March that: "NATO will continue to work with the government of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to support the enhanced security of the country's borders."[340] There have also been media reports that Bulgaria has offered troops to Macedonia.[341] For historical reasons, the presence of Bulgarian troops in Macedonia would not contribute to stability, and the Bulgarian Foreign Minister confirmed to us that Bulgaria had in fact offered technical assistance, rather than troops. We express concern that NATO has not acted sufficiently rapidly or effectively to prevent the flow of arms and men across the border from Kosovo to Macedonia. We welcome NATO's efforts to improve its performance in this regard, and we recommend that KFOR act robustly to prevent the flow of arms and men from Kosovo into Macedonia.

165. On 7 March the UN Security Council issued a statement in which it condemned the "recent violence by ethnic-Albanian armed extremists" and indicated that it would support actions by Macedonia "to address the violence with an appropriate level of restraint".[342] The Council also called on political leaders in Yugoslavia, Kosovo and Macedonia "to isolate the forces behind the violent incidents".[343] Significantly, there are welcome signs that this is happening: ethnic Albanian politicians in Macedonia have clearly distanced themselves from the militias, and the Albanian government has condemned the attacks and restated its commitment to the territorial integrity of Macedonia.

166. There is little information available about the main Albanian group, the National Liberation Army, which has the same initials in Albanian as the Kosovo Liberation Army, UCK. A communiqué issued by the leadership on 11 March pledged to respect Macedonia's territorial integrity, but called for a new constitution, which would stress that Slavic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians were equal national groups in the same state. It also called for international mediation to resolve the crisis. There are legitimate concerns about anti-Albanian discrimination, particularly in the fields of language and education. However, there is a widespread view that the group's ultimate aim is the establishment of a "Greater Kosovo" or "Greater Albania".

167. It is unclear as to whether the National Liberation Army is co-operating with the UCPMB in Presevo and residual elements of the former KLA in Kosovo. Charles Crawford told us he thought it was "not altogether likely" that "there is a little office in Switzerland...where Albanian émigré groups are working this out", although he did not completely exclude the possibility.[344] Some observers believe that the recent signing of a treaty defining the joint border between Yugoslavia and Macedonia may have triggered the attacks,[345] while Charles Crawford speculated that: "part of what we are seeing may to some degree be desperate lunges from people who are feeling that time is not on their side any more."[346] In any event, we agree with Charles Crawford's view that it is important to "send a powerful signal to extremists across the region" that violence is not acceptable.[347]

168. The level of popular backing for the rebels among Albanians in Macedonia is difficult to judge, although there have been a number of demonstrations in Tetovo in support of the uprising. Reports suggest that pressure is building on Macedonian Albanian politicians to declare their support for the rebels. It is therefore of vital importance that the Macedonian government continue to exercise restraint in its response to the crisis. Any heavy-handed use of force by Macedonian security forces could swing domestic Albanian opinion behind the rebels and lead to further conflict. Macedonia has been a model in the region of a multi-ethnic and democratic government, which has not so far been the subject of widespread ethnic violence. If Macedonia should disintegrate into another Kosovo, Bosnia or Croatia, it would be a massive reverse for the United Nations, the EU and NATO. We recommend that the British Government take the most urgent steps to galvanize the international community into giving both the UN and NATO a clear remit to bring the situation in Macedonia under control and to counter Albanian extremist violence against Macedonia.


169. There is growing frustration within the international community over the slow pace of implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement. In recent months tension has mounted between the international administration in Bosnia and Bosnian-Croat nationalists, who claim that recent amendments to the electoral law discriminate against mono-ethnic parties, such as the Croat HDZ. In protest, the HDZ voted in early March to establish temporary self-rule in Croat areas unless the international administration revoked the amendments within fifteen days.[348]

170. The move drew strong criticism from other Bosnian parties and the international community. On 7 March the international High Representative, Wolfgang Petritsch, intervened to dismiss the Croat member of the Bosnian collective presidency, Ante Jelavic, for working against the Dayton Peace Agreement. Mr Jelavic was also barred from holding any official or elected public office in the future. Three deputy presidents of the party were also dismissed from their party posts, and from various elected posts.[349] The Bosnian-Croat leadership was strongly criticised by the Croatian government in Zagreb, which declared its support for the measures imposed by the High Representative. Croatian President Stipe Mesic said the proclamation of self-rule was "directly against the Dayton Accords and cannot be supported by Croatia."[350] We welcome the robust stance taken by the international administration and the Croatian government in support of the Dayton Agreement. Nevertheless, there is a risk that the Bosnian-Croat community may feel increasingly isolated, leading to a further hardening of views. Gerald Knaus of the European Stability Initiative has warned: "The danger is that the international community creates a feeling that the whole constitutional game is stacked against the Croats."[351]

171. There have also been calls for the whole post-Dayton constitutional structure to be revised. Misha Glenny referred to the Dayton set-up as a "Frankenstein constitution which encourages and enables people of various communities to exploit its intricacies to their own benefit. In this I do think that at some point you are going to have to come round to a Dayton II, to a revision of the Dayton Agreement, simply because this one ain't working."[352] However, there is undoubtedly little inclination among Western governments to consider any such move, given the complexities involved. As Chris Patten told us, there is no guarantee that "anything else is more likely to work."[353] He also pointed out however that "There are real signs of donor fatigue in Bosnia-Herzegovina ... we are not spending as much ... as we were. I hope that people there and political leaders will recognise that people will lose patience unless they make it absolutely clear that they are prepared to accept Dayton and make Dayton work."[354] We recommend that the Government should impress on the various authorities in Bosnia the importance of making Dayton work, and the urgent need to use the external funding provided to build effective political and commercial links between the Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation and to implement the reforms required by the international community.

Depleted Uranium

172. The use of Depleted Uranium (DU) munitions by US forces during the NATO bombing campaign over Kosovo has caused controversy, following recent media claims that exposure to DU may have led to the death from cancer of a number of NATO troops.[355] There are also fears in the region that DU may result in health problems for the local population. The Yugoslav government has alleged that the use of DU by NATO constituted a war crime and has called on the ICTY to investigate.[356]

173. Depleted Uranium is widely recognised as a hazardous material due to its chemical toxicity and low-level radioactivity,[357] although opinion is split as to whether it poses a significant environmental and health risk. Since the end of the Kosovo conflict, several international bodies—including the Balkan Task Force (BTF) of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP)—have conducted studies into the impact of DU munitions on the region. NATO has also carried out its own investigations into the issue.

174. The evidence collated thus far has not established a link between the use of depleted uranium and health and environmental damage. A UNEP report on DU in Kosovo, published on 13 March,[358] found no widespread contamination in the areas investigated. As a consequence, UNEP Executive Director Klaus Töpfer concluded that: "These scientific findings should alleviate any immediate anxiety that people living or working in Kosovo may have been experiencing."[359] Nonetheless, the report recommends that further investigation should be conducted into the longer-term effect of DU on the environment. Pekka Haavisto, Chairman of the UNEP's Depleted Uranium Assessment Team, warned that: "There are still considerable scientific uncertainties, especially related to the safety of groundwater," adding that: "Additional work has to be done to reduce these uncertainties and to monitor the quality of water."[360] The UNEP has therefore recommended that further scientific work be carried out in Bosnia where DU ordnance has persisted in the environment for over five years.

175. In evidence to us, the FCO implied that NATO had co-operated fully and promptly with the BTF investigations,[361] stating that: "NATO has released full details of depleted uranium use during the Kosovo conflict". Other sources, however, have suggested that this was not the case. A preliminary report on DU by the BTF in September 1999 criticised the "lack of official confirmation from NATO that depleted uranium has, or has not, been used".[362] NATO then supplied further information in February 2000, although the BTF again concluded the information was of insufficient detail to warrant a fact-finding visit to the region. In mid-2000 NATO finally provided the UN with information on the exact co-ordinates of the target sites where DU had been used, allowing the BTF to carry out a full programme of testing. There has also been considerable delay by NATO in fulfilling the recommendation made in the BTF report that contaminated sites should be cordoned off and local people informed of the risks. General Sir Hugh Beach, for the International Security Information Service (ISIS), wrote in January 2001: "It is quite inexcusable that eighteen months should have elapsed after the end of the Kosovo war before the UN and NATO arranged for sites where DU debris was known to exist to be marked and cordoned off, and due warning given to the locals."[363]

176. We welcome the recent decision to demarcate all DU sites in Kosovo and to advise the local population of the potential dangers. However, it is important to recognise that with emotive issues such as this, perceptions are as important as the facts. Misha Glenny highlighted what appears to be a common view in the region: "The depleted uranium scandal only assumed serious proportions when Britain and America's allies feared that their soldiers may have sickened as a consequence of the deployment of these weapons. The fate of Albanians and Serbs exposed to the possible harmful effects of DU has never been an issue. It is not just the Serbs who believe that their region is the object of arrogant western policies. This feeling is widespread throughout the region (it has become especially acute among the Albanians of Kosovo recently)."[364] We also noted during our visit to the region that the DU issue has become a useful rhetorical device for the Yugoslav government to counter pressure from the West on the ICTY, although this should not obscure the fact that there are legitimate concerns that need to be addressed.

177. The NATO Parliamentary assembly has called for further research into the use of DU,[365] and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has called for funding of $2 million in order to pursue epidemiological studies on the impact of DU.[366] This study offers an opportunity to resolve the scientific questions surrounding the use of DU in as far as it is possible to do so. It is to be hoped that the WHO will be seen by those concerned about DU as an organisation which does not a vested interest in resolving the issue one way or another. We recommend that the Government press NATO to cooperate fully with the proposed WHO study into depleted uranium, and that the Government give serious consideration to the possibility of providing funding for the study.

Ministerial oversight of FCO policy

178. While there are many creditable aspects of United Kingdom policy, some of which we have identified above, we have in the course of our inquiry detected a worrying lack of ministerial oversight of policy in the Balkans. The Secretary of State has not visited Yugoslavia, and has no immediate plans to do so.[367] We find it deeply regrettable that Mr Vaz, the FCO minister responsible for south-east Europe, has not visited the area either. His evidence session with us did not reveal a detailed grasp of the policy issues which the area faces. As the Minister told us, and we know ourselves, the situation in the Balkans is "very complex and very difficult".[368] Visiting the region puts this situation into context. Chris Patten told us that he "was in Kosovo last year six or seven times. I am not going to the Balkans quite as frequently this year, but last year I was going to the Balkans pretty well every month."[369] We of course understand that Mr Vaz has considerable responsibilities other than south-east Europe—as does Mr Patten. Since the revolution in Belgrade, only one junior trade Minister, Mr Caborn, has visited the area. We are concerned that there is inadequate FCO ministerial oversight of an area where considerable United Kingdom financial resources and personnel are committed and which has great relevance to the future stability of Europe, and where a window of opportunity exists to effect real change. We recommend that an FCO Minister visit the area urgently, and thereafter should visit on a more frequent basis.

335   See paras. 74ff. Back

336   Q95. Back

337   Q237. Back

338   BBC News website, 23 February 2001. Back

339 Back

340   NATO Press Release (2001) 032, 2 March 2001. Back

341   For example, Back

342   Agence France Presse, 8 March 2001. Back

343   Ibid. Back

344   Q205. Back

345   Financial Times, 2 March 2001. Back

346   Q205. Back

347   Ibid. Back

348   The Bosnian-Croat national assembly voted on 19 March to postpone the deadline for the establishment of self-rule by two months so as to allow further negotiations with the international community. See Back

349   Financial Times, 8 March 2001. Back

350   Bosnia: Dayton in Danger?, Transitions Online, 5-11 March 2001. Back

351   Financial Times, 2 March 2001. Back

352   Q93. Back

353   Q197. Back

354   Q250. Back

355   An estimated 31,000 rounds or 9 tons of DU were used during the course of the Kosovo campaign-compared with over 300 tons of DU fired by coalition forces during the 1991 Gulf Conflict. Back

356   See for example, the interview with President Kostunica in La Stampa, 22 January 2001, from BBC Monitoring. Back

357   See for example, HC Deb 9 January 2001, c877. Back

358   Depleted Uranium in Kosovo-Post-Conflict Environmental Assessment, Report by the UNEP, available at Back

359   UNEP Press Release, 13 March 2001. Back

360   Ibid. Back

361   Ev. p.39. Back

362   The potential effects on human health and the environment arising from possible use of depleted uranium during the 1999 Kosovo conflict: A preliminary assessment, UNEP/UNCHS Balkans Task Force (BTF), October 1999, from Back

363   General Sir Hugh Beach, The Military Hazards of Depleted Uranium, ISIS Briefing Paper No.78, January 2001. Back

364   Ev. p.5. Back

365   GEN (01) 6, Depleted Uranium, February 2001. Back

366­pr­2001/en/pr2001­05.html Back

367   HC Deb 26 February 2001, Col. 458W. Back

368   Q97. Back

369   Q249. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 27 March 2001