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United Nations Reform

2. Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): If he will make a statement on United Nations reform. [164121]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell): The Government support the United Nations and are fully committed to its reform. We welcome the Secretary-General's decision to set up a high level panel to make recommendations on the way in which the UN can better deal with threats to international peace and security. We are supporting the panel's work and hope that it will make clear recommendations on identifying and tackling the full range of threats to global security.

Mr. Lazarowicz : I welcome the Government's support for the debate on UN reform, especially given the genuine threat of terrorism. Will my hon. Friend ensure that the debate also takes account of the way in which the UN and the wider international community deals with issues such as climate change, world poverty and the sort of continuing dispute, for example, between Israel and the Palestinians, which was the subject of the previous questions? Does he agree that moves to reform the UN would be discredited if they were perceived simply as attempts to change international rules to favour the most powerful nations and allow them to be more successful at getting UN endorsement for their actions than they have sometimes been in the past?

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Mr. Rammell: First, I assure my hon. Friend that that is not the intention of the reform debate. We have to demonstrate that the UN has both the physical and political capacity to face up to key strategic challenges such as international terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. However, at the same time, we must tackle global insecurity and inequality. Our arguments are not about justifying the actions of the most powerful; they are emphatically about ensuring that the UN has the capacity to face up to the issues that I outlined. Indeed, the Secretary-General has been arguing for that.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton) (Con): What is the Government's attitude in principle to the idea of the EU having a seat on the permanent Security Council?

Mr. Rammell: Only sovereign states are eligible to be members of the Security Council. It is therefore inappropriate for the EU to have membership.

Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend accept that the debate on the UN is profoundly important for this century if we are to have good government and the rule of law throughout the world? In trying to achieve that, we need to give more attention to the needs of failing states, especially the small number that fall under the control of brutal dictators who are so well entrenched that the world has a right to demand their removal. In those circumstances, we should all be in favour of regime change if we have any concern for the stability of the world and the welfare of the populations in those states.

Mr. Rammell: I congratulate my hon. Friend on his arguments on the issue, which we have discussed previously. There is a strong case for earlier intervention in imminent or breaking conflict. We should consider agreeing criteria that justify humanitarian intervention. In this day and age, the argument that as long as nation states maintain their abuse of human rights within state boundaries they should be beyond the reach of the international community is unacceptable.

Sri Lanka

3. Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): If he will make a statement on the current situation in Sri Lanka. [164122]

The Minister for Trade and Investment (Mr. Mike O'Brien): The general election campaign under way in Sri Lanka has been comparatively peaceful. We welcome that, especially since the elections on 2 April will come at an important time in the peace process. After the elections, we will look to the new Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam—LTTE—to resume peace negotiations as soon as possible.

Mr. Carmichael : But does the Minister share my concern about the continuing and increasing persecution of religious minorities, including Christians, in Sri Lanka? Will he give some assurance that, following Friday's election, the most robust representations possible will be made to the effect that

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the proposed anti-conversion Bill is an unacceptable breach of religious freedoms and would place Sri Lanka outwith the family of civilised nations?

Mr. O'Brien: No individual should be persecuted for their faith. I understand that discussions have taken place in the Sri Lankan Government about some form of anti-conversion legislation. However, no decision has been made on the form that it is likely to take. Parliament in Sri Lanka was dissolved in February and the matter fell for the time being. Our high commissioner has raised the issue with Ministers in Sri Lanka and they said that any law would be carefully discussed with representatives of all major religions in the country to ensure that no religion was discriminated against. They also said that any measure would be targeted against what they call unethical conversions, which means those obtained by financial or other inducements. However, we look to the new Sri Lankan Government to continue to uphold the freedom to have or to adopt a religion of one's choice, which is currently enshrined in the Sri Lankan constitution.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Among those contesting Friday's elections are an array of Sinhalese nationalists who reject all forms of co-operation with the Tamils and try to deny minority representation. Does the Minister believe that all the excellent work done by the United Nations in the two years since the ceasefire is imperilled by Friday's possible outcomes? Should not greater efforts be made to bring Tamils back into national life and national development?

Mr. O'Brien: Of course, substantial efforts are being made to bring the Tamils back into Sri Lankan life. The negotiations that have been conducted to bring forward the peace process have in many ways, at least until recently, been a model and a bright light in what otherwise has been a difficult international landscape. As my hon. Friend refers to the considerable work being done by the UN, may I add that enormously important work has been done by the Norwegians in getting this process going and succeeding? They have done a tremendous job. We will have to await the outcome of elections, but either way the peace process is likely to continue, certainly with the support of the UN and this Government.

Former Yugoslavia

4. Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): If he will make a statement on recent ethnic conflict in former Yugoslavia. [164123]

7. Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with the Governments of (a) Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia and (b) Russia about the future political status of Kosovo. [164126]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): The events in Kosovo were a tragic outburst of inter-ethnic violence, with 22 people killed and nearly 900 injured. The response of NATO and the European Union helped

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to stabilise the situation, and it was discussed at the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council last week. There are regular discussions with members of the contact group, including Russia, and with all European partners, including the new EU member states, on the future of Kosovo.

Mr. Andrew Turner : I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he agree that a particularly vicious manifestation of this conflict is the destruction of irreplaceable cultural heritage? Recently, 42 monasteries and Serbian Orthodox churches have been destroyed in Kosovo. What steps can be taken to protect such buildings, which are part of the heritage of us all?

Mr. MacShane: I share completely the hon. Gentleman's protest about the loss of European cultural heritage. I visited the great monastery of Gracanica, and I know that our soldiers, as well as those from other NATO forces, have been deployed to guard churches. Equally, the burning down of the mosque in Belgrade was an unacceptable assault on the Muslim religion in the Balkans. I will visit Kosovo shortly, and I will make the point that that part of Europe's history deserves our special attention and protection.

Mr. Gordon Marsden: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I have just returned from Budapest as a member of a delegation of MPs and peers who discussed this issue with Hungarian MPs and Ministers. We were left in no doubt of their concern, and that of other Visegrad countries that have troops in the region, about the escalation of the problem. Does he accept that the concerns expressed by Javier Solana at the EU summit about the political situation in Kosovo—I understand that the Russians will raise the issue at the NATO Council in three or four days' time—underline the need for us to be more proactive in seeking a political settlement in Kosovo?

Mr. MacShane: I agree with my hon. Friend. It is a common view across Europe that for the last three or four years we have been chained to the wheels of events rather than guiding Kosovo and Serbia to a new political relationship and future. That relationship must be formed on the basis of common European values, maintain standards relating to the rule of law and democracy, and above all, show respect for minorities, other religions and the culture and communities of people who have lived there for many hundreds of years. The issue of Kosovo and the future of Kosovo and Serbia now require serious political thought and consideration.

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk) (Con): Echoing that point, and given the recent announcement that the spearhead battalion is going into Kosovo with all the personal danger involved, may I ask what moves the Government are making at a political level to minimise the risks to our personnel that arise from the current political vacuum?

Mr. MacShane: I have visited British troops on the ground in Kosovo, and believe me, they are not just doing the superb professional job that we all know they do, but winning hearts and minds and working with

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both communities. To be honest, I am delighted that British troops have been found to go there because I think they will add value in helping to stabilise the local situation, but ultimately a political solution must be found. Much more serious consideration must be given to that.

Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West) (Lab): I join my hon. Friend in praising the actions and standards of British troops in Kosovo. I went there recently with the Defence Select Committee. Does my hon. Friend agree, however, that the rule of law has not yet been established, as Kosovo is effectively still being run by Albanian-led criminal gangs? As Bosnia demonstrated, the rule of law must be established before both democracy and investment can be promoted. Will my hon. Friend stress to our allies who still have national caveats preventing the closest and most effective working relationships between the civilian police and the military that priority must be given to removing those caveats?

Mr. MacShane: My hon. Friend makes fair points, although I think that President Rugova and Prime Minister Rexhepi are decent and honourable men, and I would not want to refer to links between them and criminal gangs. It is all too easy to fling insults around. It must also be said that the closest possible support for the rule of law is needed throughout the region, including full-hearted co-operation with the international criminal tribunal in The Hague. If everyone in the Balkans made sure that those accused of serious war crimes, for example, were taken to The Hague, that would send a positive signal.

My hon. Friend is right to say that we need state authority in Kosovo. We need authority over property and investments, over the rule of law and over the bringing of people to justice. Some 189 people have been detained in connection with the recent inter-ethnic violence, and I hope that if a charge is approved they will speedily be brought before courts.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): Does the Minister recall that throughout the 1990s Europe was grossly disfigured by ethnic conflict in the former Yugoslavia, and does he recall the initial collective failure to deal with that properly? Examples such as Srebrenica, where 7,000 men and boys were slaughtered, are a shaming memorial to that failure. Those events make the need to restore stability in Kosovo all the more urgent.

The Minister has heard the House's general view that political initiatives are required. Will he take this opportunity to state Her Majesty's Government's position on a political initiative that is sometimes promoted, namely independence for Kosovo?

Mr. MacShane: The status of Kosovo is on the agenda, but I think it important for us to maintain our position, which is that we want the application of what I described as European standards in Kosovo. Violence must not be rewarded in any way: we must attach ourselves to that important principle. I also think that we need a new dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade. Some initial remarks in Belgrade were not helpful,

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although since then a commitment by the Belgrade city government and the Pristina authorities to rebuild mosques and churches has gone in the right direction.

As the right hon. and learned Gentleman says, we need a political solution to the problem of Kosovo. The international community must pay much more attention to that.

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South) (Lab): In view of the need to maintain the rule of law in Kosovo, is there any evidence in the recent past that KFOR has perhaps relaxed its vigilance there?

Mr. MacShane: I do not think so. KFOR is a military operation. I have visited the area, as have many hon. Members, to see KFOR operations on the ground. It is a professional organisation and the outburst of violence happened fast and spread like bushfire. We have sent troops to help stabilise the situation. Once again, we could put even more troops in Kosovo, but what is really required is a political solution that must involve Belgrade and other partners in the region. I say again that it is not my intention to go through all the different options from the Dispatch Box, but the Government are now addressing themselves seriously, in collaboration with our partners, to tackling the problems.

Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con): Deeply regrettable though it is, is it not a fact of recent history in the Balkans that peace has rarely been achieved until the different ethnic groups of the population are separated, as in Bosnia? Do the British Government support an eventual solution for Kosovo that is based on those means?

Mr. MacShane: Having witnessed ethnic cleansing carried out by terrorist and militia activity, I do not believe that that is a policy that the House should easily sanction now where peace prevails. The hon. Gentleman might care to visit Croatia, where he would find that some Serbs had returned, or other parts of the Balkans where different communities live in peace—just south of Kosovo in Macedonia, for example. The notion that Europe can grow and develop only on the basis of driving different communities out of where they have lived over many years does not sit well with common European values.

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