Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180-199)

30 NOVEMBER 2004


  Q180 Sir John Stanley: I am conscious that we are trying to race round four countries in two hours and normally we have 30 minutes a country and other colleagues want to get in, so I shall ask some short questions and hopefully you can do some reasonably short replies. Why does Britain not back independence of Kosovo now?

  Mr MacShane: Because there is a UN Security Council resolution under which we are all operating and we prefer to operate under the UN Security Council resolutions.

  Q181 Sir John Stanley: Is it not the case, as you have actually hinted, that if we do not at some point provide an independent Kosovo the alternative is going to be that the international community is going to have to take basic responsibility for running that geographical area in perpetuity? There is no choice—it is either independence or international government in some shape or form, is it not?

  Mr MacShane: As I said to President Rugova, and I have said on the record in Pristina, in Europe we tend now to talk about interdependence. I find both the language out of some sectors of Belgrade that Kosovo is still under Serbia tutelage, or the notion that there is an ultra nationalist independent Kosovo just around the corner, under which all problems will be solved, both of them are rather out-of-date thinking, if I can put it as diplomatically as that. What we want to see is a status for Kosovo that over time transfers as much authority and responsibility as possible to elect representatives in Kosovo. But equally the international community has a supreme responsibility, mandated under the UN, to ensure that any change in the status of Kosovo happens in accordance with international laws, a key one of which is security for all the people in there, not just one of the principal population groups.

  Q182 Sir John Stanley: But you would accept the basic proposition that I am putting, almost as a statement of the obvious, that the choice is between the international community effectively ultimately running Kosovo, possibly with more decentralisation, or independence? Those are the only two policy options that are open to us?

  Mr MacShane: There is only one policy option open to us and that is to keep pressing and arguing and working for the arrival of such standards in the daily life of all Kosovans, irrespective of their communities, which allows a fundamental shift of status towards Kosovo becoming a country in which the elected Kosovans themselves have as much autonomy as possible. It is not for me to say what the final status is, but our policy is to keep pressing them to move towards standards that allow a change in the existing UN-defined status and to say to colleagues and friends in Belgrade, "You can help enormously in this process by entering into an active, full-hearted dialogue with the Kosovan authorities to try to arrive at the standards that they legitimately want for Serbs living in Kosovo."

  Q183 Sir John Stanley: Would you agree that one of the areas in greatest need of improving standards is the whole criminal justice system, in an area which is rife with criminality in pretty well every shape and form? We were told when we were in Kosovo by a senior EU official—and I do not think I should name him because it was a private meeting—that the judiciary was the weakest link; and we were also told that the only British police officers who are in Kosovo are retired police officers and we have no serving members of the British Police Force in Kosovo, which seems to be a serious deficiency. In addition there is no modern prosecution service. Is this not an area where the British Government might make a significantly greater contribution than it is making now?

  Mr MacShane: I do not think you can fault the Government on its contributions specifically in that area to Kosovo. You are right to say that the officers are retired, Sir John, but without exception they are men with enormous experience and ability and everybody I have met has been younger than me—and I suspect possibly younger than you—and they have been very fit, virile and active because our police officers do retire at quite a young age. But there are difficulties; they do not speak Albanian. You are absolutely right about the judiciary. I see a steady progress being made but our objective is to build up the local indigenous capacity, if I can use that term. We have serving police officers in Bosnia and in Macedonia, not in Kosovo. But I would say on the record that four words you do not hear enough in Kosovo are "Here comes the Judge" and "I am going to lock you up if you are a bad chap." Unfortunately it is working the whole international community to see things that way. I do not think it is exclusively the United Kingdom that has to find taxpayers' resources—which are pretty stretched resources—to provide an off-the-shelf Albanian speaking judicial system in Kosovo. But I am very impressed by the dedication of the very experienced men and the senior police officers just retired that I have met down there.

  Q184 Sir John Stanley: One last area I shall raise with you is that Kosovo, deeply regrettably, is one of the worst areas, and indeed centres, of the trafficking of women. There are two particular questions I would like to put to you. First of all, we understood whilst we were in Kosovo that there is a proposal before your department for the funding of a shelter for trafficked women in Kosovo. I would like to ask you first whether you have made a decision on that, and if not perhaps we should have a note about what the decision is of funding that important initiative. The second question I would like to put to you is that I hope you will give the Committee the assurance that the Foreign Office is doing all it can to make very strong representations through our posts in the countries from whom women being are trafficked into Kosovo, and whilst we were there reference was made particularly to the Ukraine, Bulgaria and Moldova. I hope, Minister, you can assure us that our posts there are making it as clear as possible to the governments in those countries that this appalling trade in women must be stopped, and that we are very, very determined it should be stopped and we look to the government concerned to try to seal up their borders as far as possible to prevent women being basically put into captivity and made, effectively, in many cases, sex slaves.

  Mr MacShane: I agree with you, Sir John. There is no decision yet to my knowledge on setting up any kind of women's refuge. Certainly I am pretty sure that no paper has come across my desk, and if I had been asked to sign it off it would have stayed in my mind. So I will happily write to the Committee to tell you what is the state of play on that[8]Certainly it is a contribution. I have seen great support in Kosovo for the different contributions in rebuilding civil society of both British diplomatic staff, the Military Police and, above all, the many NGOs, the charities that work down there. You are absolutely right, that trafficking of women through Kosovo, through the Western Balkans generally, is one of the focal points of our work with our hosts in Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine and generally in southeast Europe. I think the Foreign Office now is learning that it will have to re-educate its diplomats in a sense, to do much more forward engagement in policing and justice and home affairs' activities than perhaps has been traditionally the case because all of this area has really upset everybody, and we have to expose it and crack down on it. Also, if I may say, to see what we can do to reduce the demand because these young girls end up here in Britain because there is an active demand for them

  Q185 Chairman: Minister, the Serbs clearly have a major interest in minority rights in Kosovo. They have come forward with a somewhat ingenious scheme for decentralisation or cantonisation with five autonomous cantons within Kosovo, with a very large range of responsibilities. Is it the view of the British Government that this proposal is a runner and should be on the table with negotiations?

  Mr MacShane: I have said that we welcome any proposal from Belgrade that moves us forward, but I have equally said to colleagues in Belgrade that we do not need West Bank type settlements in Kosovo—we cannot have people in Kosovo owing a single allegiance to Belgrade, paying taxes under the control of agents paid for directly by Belgrade.

  Q186 Chairman: Is this particular scheme put forward by the Serbs one which you would rule out?

  Mr MacShane: There is not one particular scheme. There is one set of proposals in March; they are reformed and changed as time goes on and different political groups even within the Serb government come up with their own approaches and ideas, and we are in active conversation with all of them.

  Q187 Chairman: There is one scheme, as I understand it, which has been endorsed by the Serb parliament.

  Mr MacShane: There was one scheme in March, and I think that was not fully acceptable but there have been other schemes since then. What I have said to Belgrade is that Britain is not going to say, "Oh, yes, we think a scheme for Belgrade is a good idea for Kosovo," what I have said to them is, "Talk to Pristina, appoint high level emissaries, go there yourself, invite Rugova and the Kosovan Prime Minister up to Belgrade; talk; jaw-jaw; do not just draw up schemes in Belgrade and say to the Kosovans, `This is what we think you should accept.'" So I am not going to make a judgment on any particular scheme. I have seen different varieties under the heading of decentralisation in recent months. We want to see full participating dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, between the Serbs and the Kosovans. We need to have an UNMIK UN approved plan because anything that changes in Kosovo has to go through the sieve of the UN Security Council. It is not clear that every Kosovan Serb supports the plans from Belgrade because again I look at this map and on this area here I invite anybody—and I lived in Switzerland so I know what a canton looks like—to show me any kind of contiguous area.

  Q188 Chairman: But at the end of the day you accept that there is no conceivable way in which Serbia would have any residual responsibility for Kosovo?

  Mr MacShane: I think that the Serb people collectively in the region have got rights; they have the right to have their culture, their language, their patriotism, their history, their religion fully protected and not under any sense of threat or fear. Do I believe that the authorities in Belgrade can exercise effective state competencies in the region of Kosovo? I find that hard to imagine.

  Q189 Mr Hamilton: On 23 October, as you will recall, Kosovo's Serb population boycotted the elections for the Kosovo Assembly. What do you think are the implications of their decision?

  Mr MacShane: I regretted that; I said I regretted that in Belgrade. I said the leaders who called for that boycott were wrong. I think that the elections have now taken place and in discussions there after that election it was clear that both responsible Serb leaders in Kosovo as well as Kosovan Albanians understood that it was necessary for any system of governance in Kosovo to be bi-communal. I did not think that called for a boycott had any useful purpose at all and was a regressive step which I condemned in Belgrade and I am happy to condemn again today.

  Ms Pierce: May I add something, Minister? It does not mean that there cannot be Kosovo Serb representation in the government; they can be appointed.

  Q190 Mr Hamilton: Even though they boycotted the election?

  Ms Pierce: Yes.

  Mr MacShane: Yes. I met Mr Ivanovic, a Kosovo Serb leader—and perhaps the Committee members did—in the main government building in Pristina. So responsible Serbs will play a role in the governance of Kosovo.

  Q191 Mr Hamilton: I think fewer than 1% took part in the election; is that right?

  Mr MacShane: Yes. I regret that. I really think that boycotts serve no purpose and told us what we in a sense did not really need to know again, that Belgrade considers it can give orders to the Serbs in Kosovo when what Belgrade should be doing is  entering into dialogue with the elected representatives of the Kosovans in Pristina.

  Q192 Mr Hamilton: Minister, as we know, the Democratic League of Kosovo won the large number of seats in the Kosovo Assembly and has formed an alliance with the AAK[9]The leader of the AAK, Ramush Haradinaj, has become the Prime Minister, but we understand that he is under investigation by the Hague Tribunal for war crimes. Will our government deal with a Prime Minister who is under investigation by The Hague, and do you think the indictment could make the international community more unpopular than ever in Kosovo?

  Mr MacShane: I think that we deal with anybody on the basis that everyone is innocent until, as it were, indicted or accused of serious crimes. Ramush Haradinaj has made it clear that if indicted he will surrender to the Hague. I consider that he is the appointed Prime Minister[10]on the basis of those election results and we will continue to deal with him

  Q193 Andrew Mackinlay: We have evidence from that table and also a point repeatedly made to us whilst we were in Kosovo, that it is disastrous for Western European governments—and clearly one of those is the United Kingdom—to be returning Kosovan refugees, asylum seekers, call them what you like, back to Kosovo. Indeed the view was that in light of the very high unemployment to which you referred—60 to 70%—it is essential that to take the pressure off is we allow people to live and work in the West because their remittances to Kosovo are essential for keeping people warm in the winter and well fed. I took that evidence very powerfully and, as I say, it was unsolicited, it came from private sources. Have you had discussions with Messrs Blunkett or Browne about this issue and, if not, why not?

  Mr MacShane: I assume you mean my old friend Des Browne MP, not the Chancellor of the Exchequer?

  Q194 Andrew Mackinlay: Yes.

  Mr MacShane: No, not in terms because one of the pleasures of my job was to host a meeting of Kosovan Serb and Roma the representatives from Kosovo, headed by Mr Rexhepi, their Prime Minister and the Chairman of the Assembly, who issued an appeal to every Kosovan in Britain to return home. They wanted talented, industrious people, some of whom had fled before 1999, to come back to Kosovo and help rebuild it. Again, one of my pleasures in just a few individual cases, with Foreign Office help, was to organise for Kosovans to go back to Kosovo from the United Kingdom, ensuring the transit of their cars because they like to go back with cars full of goods they have bought here. I would say absolutely the contrary, that we need to have more Kosovans in the diaspora, those who fled into exile because of the brutality of the Milosovic years, going home, and that is certainly the active view of other European countries. The Home Office of course is in discussion with UNMIK. I am not going to pre-judge individuals.

  Q195 Andrew Mackinlay: Minister, I think that you are confusing two issues. Of course you want the skills and the expertise and energies of people to return to Kosovo and build up the economy but you do not want them arriving all at once, and the thing which is driving the returnees is forcible repatriation by Western European countries, the United Kingdom, at a time when many of those families are, rightfully or wrongly, legally or illegally, returning remittances to keep their families functioning in Kosovo. It was put to us, not just by observers but by—and I will not name them—members of the international community, indeed people who have mandates for Kosovo, asking that the pressure is taken off. So it seems to me that your evidence was that you have not discussed this, and I wondered if you could or would look into that.

  Mr MacShane: In all my visits to Kosovo I have never come across a single complaint or problem raised by anybody in the international community, amongst Kosovans, amongst people in the streets, that this is in any way a problem. Clearly anybody who is illegally in the UK has not and should not have any money to send back as a remittance.

  Q196 Andrew Mackinlay: The evidence was that we should in fact make it lawful and let them have a scheme so that people actually pay taxes, which is not unhelpful actually anyway.

  Mr MacShane: That is a debate to be had with the Home Office.

  Q197 Andrew Mackinlay: Precisely.

  Mr MacShane: All I can report, Mr Chairman, is that the only discussion I have had with elected Kosovan representatives, Roma, Kosovan and Serbs, is an appeal which I think was on the Foreign Office website, "Kosovans come home, we want your talents and energies back here."

  Chairman: Before you continue, Mr Mackinlay, Mr Hamilton wants to ask something on that.

  Q198 Mr Hamilton: I think you made a very important point, Mr Mackinlay. Minister, I would really like to take this on slightly further. I have, as many of us do, have a number of Kosovan families who, by all means, should return because they have a lot to offer to Kosovo, but they are absolutely petrified because of the experience that they suffered. I urge you, talk to your colleagues in the Home Office to allow those who are too frightened to go back to remain here until such as they feel they can go back and make a contribution to their original country, because many of them are quite integrated into society. I have families in Leeds, in my own constituency, that have integrated very, very well, and are really, really scared of returning, and they have nothing to return to because their property has been destroyed. We should have some humanity here and allow them the chance to stay here until they are ready to go back.

  Mr MacShane: Mr Chairman, were we talking about a Serb who had left Kosovo and was frightened to go home I might understand that language but the plain fact is that Kosovan Albanians now do rule and run their own country, so the fear that quite rightly drove them into exile in the late 1990s no longer exists. There are many Kosovan Albanians in the UK—and I had a very nice Sunday dinner at a Kosovan Albanian restaurant in Chiswick, in which the proprietors got plenty of two-way traffic with Kosovo. Surely the economic priority is to reduce dependence on remittances? I have been in discussion with colleagues because Switzerland where the biggest Kosovan Albanian diaspora is to be found, to say what can we do to get that economic energy and money from the Swiss back involved. Certainly I cannot—and I never have to anybody coming into my surgery—say that if you are judged to be found here illegally you can just stay.

  Q199 Andrew Mackinlay: We went to the Balkans on 8th November and in the next seven days there was a ministerial conference held in Pristina on the whole questions of returnees. The United Kingdom government was not represented by a Minister; why not?

  Mr MacShane: I certainly did not have that in front of me. Returnees from the rest of the Western Balkans or the UK?

8   Ev 92 Back

9   Alliance for the Future of Kosovo. Back

10   Mr Haradinaj was officially appointed Prime Minister on 3 December. Back

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