Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 165-179)

30 NOVEMBER 2004


  Q165 Chairman: Minister, may I welcome you again, with Ms Karen Pierce, your colleague. As you know, today we are dealing with the Western Balkans as part of the continuing inquiry of the Committee. We are looking at the southern area, the more difficult area. Perhaps I should say the order in which we propose to take the subjects: Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and, finally, Macedonia. Minister, you will recall that in March there were the riots in Kosovo which left 19 dead and over 1,000 injured, with many internally displaced persons. It is said that that came as a wake up call to the complacency of the international community, and that was followed by the report commissioned by the UN Secretary-General, and written by Kai Eide, the Norwegian Ambassador to NATO. It made a number of key recommendations. Ambassador Eide said, for example, and I quote: "The international community is today seen by Kosovo Albanians as having gone from opening the way to now standing in the way. It is seen by Kosovo Serbs as having gone from securing the return of so many to being unable to ensure the return of so few." Most people apparently felt in the area that UNMIK[1]was both remote and arrogant. Can you give some indication of the Government's response to that? Where in your own judgment, and that of the government, did UNMIK fall short, which precipitated these ethnically based riots in March of this year?

  Mr MacShane: I would say, Mr Chairman, having visited regularly in Kosovo since being appointed a Minister in 2001, that those events were an accident waiting to happen; that with 60 to 70% unemployment amongst the people of Kosovo, if you look at the photographs of the rioters many of them still had their sixth form school satchels in their hands, with UNMIK unable to deliver what the Kosovans want, which is a country over which they have some sense of control, with the KFor[2]troops not adequately prepared at that time for riot controls. We had examples of some contingents having to open with heavy machine gun fire because they had no experience, no training, and no planning for riot control. British and Irish troops behaved exceptionally well, and we have since altered the terms under which troops from Europe and other countries serve in Kosovo so that they can get involved in riot control situations adequately. I also believe that political statements from all the politicians in the region were not helpful. I remember saying, if I could quote a private office conversation with my Private Secretary, that remarks made in the parliament in Belgrade at the beginning of March, to the effect that Kosovo was for ever going to remain under Serb control would be a tremendous provocation. I remember discussing it with colleagues. I have said all this to Mr Kostunica and Serb politicians, and should I issue a statement? And he said, "No, no, stay out of it."

  Q166 Chairman: If it was an accident waiting to happen, if the Foreign Office had sufficient foresight to recognise that this was going to happen, what did the Foreign Office do about it?

  Mr MacShane: We did what we have been doing consistently, since the excellent report which you produced in 2001, which is to urge the authorities in Belgrade, the authorities in Pristina to have a proper dialogue, to understand that a new relationship was needed, that is the first point; to urge the UN in New York to have less UNMIK and more Kosovo, as I have put it; to urge the Kosovan authorities to accept their responsibility for the Serb communities in their midst, and to say that KFor has to understand its riot control and police mission and not simply the heavy military mission that it undertook when NATO arrived in 1999.

  Q167 Chairman: Are you saying that those efforts fell totally on deaf ears?

  Mr MacShane: Not on deaf ears. I am always close to Oscar Wilde when he said there is only one thing worse than advice and that is good advice; but the plain fact is that in both Belgrade and Pristina you have people who think profoundly that they are right and the other side is wrong, and we have in the United Nations, in my judgment, insufficient flexibility and adaptability to see that UNMIK should be a very temporary mission there and the object should be to transfer authority and responsibility locally.

  Q168 Chairman: What has happened since March? What have we done our best to insist upon, which has resulted from these March riots?

  Mr MacShane: KFor's modus operandi has changed; the "caveats", to use a technical phrase, that a lot of the military contingents there used to have, have now been lifted so KFor soldiers can operate. When I met the German General Officer commanding KFor just after the riots he said, "Look, I have 18,000 troops under my command, nominally, and I can put about a tenth of them on the streets if something like this happens," and I thought that was ridiculous. That was because we have some European countries that would not allow soldiers to leave the barracks unless there was almost a Cabinet meeting to authorise it. It is not the way the British Army operates but lots of other countries are profoundly committed to retaining vetoes of how their troops move and operate and do not want their soldiers to be under the command of an international force, like in KFor, but doing what the General wants, not what the capital of the country wants. Secondly, we have had the Eide report, which you have referred to, which has highlighted the problems of the UNMIK operation bases in Kosovo, and called for a more dynamic policy, called for a streamlining of UNMIK, and that has been accepted by the Secretary General. I am now dealing with my fourth Special Representative in Kosovo. I thought Ministers were meant to come and go and civil servants were permanent, but I am now dealing with the fourth UN Super Functionary in Kosovo.

  Q169 Chairman: When you took office, whenever it was?

  Mr MacShane: Mr Peterseon, yes, came in.

  Q170 Chairman: So the fourth since you—

  Mr MacShane: Since I became Minister responsible for the Balkans in 2001. So there has not been that continuity of administration. But I think he is going in the right direction, he has certainly been well received by colleagues in New York, by the EU and by capitals in Europe, and the object all along for the  British Government is to plead for more responsibility to be given to Kosovan authorities, and we are now seeing the transfer of competences which, frankly, I think should have been transferred some time ago.

  Q171 Chairman: That leads naturally and finally to the Eide report in July, which suggested effectively a restructuring of UNMIK, in two stages. First, the   streamlining of the administration, more transparency of the pillar structure, then a more substantial restructuring in 2005. We believe that the Secretary-General and the Security Council have accepted the Eide report. What comments do you have on what he has recommended?

  Mr MacShane: I think the recommendations certainly go in the right direction. A lot depends on the quality of people sent down there; that we have people prepared to accept responsibility, who are living there permanently and who understand that Kosovo has to become Kosovo and accept that it has responsibility over as much area of its life as possible under United Nations Security Council resolutions, and I think next year we will see a lot more of that happening. But there are other players involved and when a huge part of what UNMIK has to do is to deal with a security situation because the political relationship between Belgrade and Pristina is not satisfactory, then they cannot get on with just, as it were, doing themselves out of business. My constant worry, Mr Chairman—and I put it on the record for the Committee—is not so much the occasional flare-up—even the most worrying sort that we saw in March, but a long period, years and years, decades of stagnation.

  Q172 Chairman: Of drift.

  Mr MacShane: Of drift, of nobody quite having an answer, nobody prepared to cut "Gordian knots", if you will excuse the cliché. I have said to friends in Kosovo and in Serbia that my worry is that in 30 or 40 years' time there will still be a bit of UN, there will still be a bit of KFor, still be Kosovo not quite being Kosovo, still being Belgrade and Serbia—and I am concerned about the plight of Serbs and the Serbian patrimony and cultural history in that area—and we should not allow that to happen.

  Chairman: Thank you. Ms Stuart, please.

  Q173 Ms Stuart: Do not worry using technical terms such as national caveats because I think they are relevant to what you have just said. Our understanding was that the troubles in March were officially described as a failure in intelligence, but probably were more a failure of troop deployment on the ground, and I understand that the German Bundestag are having a parliamentary inquiry into the conduct of their own troops and they have been changed subsequently. Is there anything that you can say on the record as to how we perceive what has happened to those national caveats on the ground, because they have not all been lifted?

  Mr MacShane: Unfortunately there are not really many British troops left in Kosovo because the Ministry of Defence decided to transfer British soldiers principally up to the Bosnia and Herzegovina region for operational reasons. In discussion with the military on the ground they could not call out their troops; they were not equipped with riot shields, water cannons, tear gas, the usual necessities for dealing with an angry, disturbed crowd. I am not sure that Intelligence could have dealt with that. As I understood it, this was in response to the tragic death of three young Kosovans further north, in Mitrovica, which reported quite erroneously and irresponsibly in the Kosovan Press as having happened at the hands of Serbs. So what was a tragic incident was turned into an ethnic cause of the violence by very irresponsible reporting by Kosovan newspapers, which I condemned then and I condemn now. By the time the crowd started moving on the streets there were so many scores and thousands of them that the very thin blue line which represents the UN in Kosovo was not able to contain them. Some soldiers were not able to leave the barracks and those that did were not equipped—did not even have plastic shields, they were having to open fire with heavy machine gun rounds. So a lot of lessons were learnt. We have an Army unit in place in Kosovo when what we probably need is a very good CRS-type police force or gendarmerie, or an Army trained, for example, like British soldiers and Irish soldiers because of the difficulties in Northern Ireland.

  Q174 Ms Stuart: May I just press you more specifically because if lessons were learned what were they? And despite the fact that there were fewer troops there, it would be helpful for the Committee for its report, that there are specifics to say what has happened as a result of this in changes on the way that troops are being deployed.

  Mr MacShane: NATO has taken this very seriously; it was a wake up call to NATO and as a result a number of countries have lifted their caveats. That is to say, soldiers of the Crown[3]now do what their local General Officer commanding instructs them to do, and do not phone up their capital cities to get specific permission from ministries. The Danes, the Belgians, the Spanish still have caveats in place[4]and I would, through this Committee, ask them to withdraw those caveats, so that Danish, Spanish and Belgian soldiers can do what soldiers should do, which, when a riot breaks out, is to move into appropriate positions as decided by their officers commanding on the ground. The Germans, as has already been indicated, are discussing this in the Bundestag and I hope again that any German caveats can be lifted. But bear in mind that Britain does not have many soldiers on the ground[5]and so perhaps we are not in the best place now to start giving advice and instructions to other countries. Ms Pierce would like to say something.

  Ms Pierce: Just to add one point of detail. Whereas in March ComKFor[6]did not have his own reserve that he could call on, so had to ask NATO forces to send national troops, thanks largely to Anglo-French cooperation in NATO pressing for this he now has a dedicated tactical reserve which he can also use to exercise in non-emergency situations as a disincentive, as well as crisis ones

  Q175 Ms Stuart: That is helpful for the record. Following on from the Kai Eide report, there is a big debate about status and standards, and the linking of status with standards, and we picked up on the ground that there is a feeling of unease of that very close link between the two. Could the Minister tell us whether we are now separating the two slightly more and moving faster towards status and probably be prepared to compromise on some of the standards?

  Mr MacShane: What I have said to the Kosovans is that whereas a year ago the only watchword was standards before status, the discussion now is standards and status and what I have said to colleagues and friends in Belgrade is that it is their obligation, in my judgment, to start cooperating in a much more positive way, to understand that the moment has come to say, "Do vidjenja" to Kosovo and Kosovo is not going to be reincorporated fully as a part of Serbia and Montenegro and they have to allow Kosovo to be Kosovo. What I have said to friends in Pristina is that if modern Europe were all interdependent that they have to show that they can accept responsibility for looking after the interests of all of the people who live in the area of Kosovo. So what we are seeking to do is to maintain the emphasis on standards. We want all people living in Kosovo to do so without fear, and the issue of status undoubtedly is on the discussion table. It is not a negotiating point yet. We want to see the local police trained up; we want to see everybody complying fully with the international tribunal in The Hague. Equally, I do not think anybody in the international community is happy with the notion that it is just another five years and another five years without some resolution.

  Q176 Ms Stuart: I have heard you several terms use the phrase "Let Kosovo be Kosovo". How multi-ethnic is that Kosovo, which we would allow it to be?

  Mr MacShane: We want a multi-ethnic Kosovo just as we want all parts of Europe to be multi-ethnic.

  Q177 Ms Stuart: I would like to pin you down a little more. Given the events of last March and given that debate about standards and status, are some of the standards which the government may negotiate on a bit more negative in relation to multi-ethnicity?

  Mr MacShane: No. It is not fair, perhaps, to read into the record a map, but you see here this map of Kosovo and the Serbs are everywhere. So multi-ethnicity, if that means Kosovan Albanians and Serbs living in the same territory, is unavoidable. I have been—and perhaps the Committee has—to villages where the first 400 metres are Serb houses and then exactly the same houses for the next 400 metres are Albanian houses. So the bulk of the Serbs in Kosovo live south of the River Ibar and therefore multi-ethnicity is not a slogan, it is the natural future of Kosovo in which all of its citizens, all of whom are people who are European citizens, have the right to live, go about their business without fear. I do not expect them necessarily to love each other, and there is no country in Europe where every community loves every other community, but we live under one rule of law.

  Q178 Ms Stuart: Do we have any figures on what happened to the Serbian population over the last 12 months? Has there been a shift? We can leave that for later.

  Mr MacShane: I am happy to write to the Committee on that. I have not myself got in my head that great population movement is an issue. There has been a modest level of return. I have some figures here but these are returns 2000-04, it is a total of some 10,000 of which 5,200 are Serbs. But that is over four years, so I do not think these figures are extremely significant.

  Q179 Chairman: What would be helpful if we had those who are internally displaced and those who had left for Serbia. Whatever figures are available, if those could be sent to us?[7]

  Mr MacShane: I am happy to do that, Mr Chairman.

1   UN Mission in Kosovo. Back

2   Kosovo Peacekeeping Force. Back

3   Note by witness: By which is meant soldiers of national military forces deployed under NATO Back

4   Note by witness: As at 30 November 2004, NATO assessed that both Belgium and Spain had national caveats applying to their forces in KFor. In the case of Denmark, the only National Caveat applied states that Danish forces cannot be placed under EU command. Back

5   Note by witness: KFor currently comprises approximately 17,000 military personnel from over 30 countries (including some 250 troops from the UK) with troops coming from 30 NATO and Non-NATO nations. Back

6   Commander, Kosovo Force. Back

7   Ev 91 Back

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