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29 Jun 2010 : Column 218WH—continued

Turning to the two countries that my right hon. Friend touched on, I shall first deal with Kosovo. He mentioned the fact that the size of KFOR will be reduced from 9,500 personnel to 2,000 or fewer. He rightly raised the point that the over-the-horizon battalions
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are on 17 to 14 days' notice, I believe he said, and he asked whether reinforcements would arrive in time. I shall refer that important question to my colleague at the Ministry of Defence, the Minister for the Armed Forces, to try to get a firm answer for him.

My right hon. Friend also asked about the withdrawal of important intelligence capability, which I understand was done, as he said, on financial grounds. He suggested that it may well put the whole operation at risk, and I share his concerns. It is obviously something that we ought to look at as a matter of urgency. Again, I shall come back to him on that point, and I should like to accept his invitation to have a private chat about it after the debate.

My right hon. Friend mentioned the process of the international recognition of Kosovo. He put very well his vivid recollections of some of the wretched and sad events that afflicted this troubled area and also mentioned NATO sacrifices. I agree that that in itself is a good reason to ensure that movement is made to resolve the problems and, above all, to ensure that Kosovo receives international recognition.

My right hon. Friend said that only 69 countries currently recognise Kosovo, and that five EU countries are non-recognisers. I saw those figures when I was being briefed for this debate and found them surprising. That is certainly one of the things that the coalition will look at. The Foreign Secretary spoke about intensifying bilateral relations with several key European partners and other countries, and we need to look at exactly that kind of issue. We need to ask those countries to explain why they do not recognise Kosovo, in line with the vast majority of other European countries.

My right hon. Friend mentioned the activities and machinations that are being controlled from Serbia, particularly the initiatives that have resulted in two mayors currently being in place, undermining each other. That was a good point. I agree entirely with what he said about the area north of the Ibar river, where there is a state within a state and all the resulting lawlessness.

We shall watch the outcome of the extremely important International Court of Justice decision and advisory opinion on Kosovo's declaration of independence, which are coming up. Obviously, we must await what the court says, but we will look at its decision carefully and, above all, use it as a spur to reinvigorate the international campaign that is being promoted by several European countries to ensure that other countries row in behind the Kosovo independence movement and to ensure that the figure of 69 increases substantially to 100, which is very much in line with the objectives of Her Majesty's Government. Indeed, when my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe visited Kosovo last week, he made those very points. He made it absolutely clear that Kosovo's independence and territorial integrity are a matter of fact and irreversible, and he warned specifically against any attempt to use the occasion of the ICJ advisory opinion as a pretext for returning to a discussion of status. He underlined the Government's full support for Kosovo's EU perspective as part of the western Balkans region moving towards EU membership. He is very much on the case and working extremely hard.

On Bosnia and Herzegovina, I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for stressing the point about defence reform. Bosnia and Herzegovina has been invited to
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join NATO's membership action plan, and NATO has made it clear that it will do so when the defence property that he referred to has been properly apportioned. That is why we urge the country's leaders to meet the clear criteria set out by NATO in that regard.

I agree with my right hon. Friend and find it staggering that, following the Tallinn conference when Bosnia and Herzegovina made it clear that it wants to push ahead with its NATO membership, it has since dragged its feet and there has been a logjam. I share his frustration and, indeed, amazement that progress has not been made. One would have thought that the goal and what is at stake for Bosnia and Herzegovina in joining NATO would be incentive enough to ensure that the problem is sorted out. I would not have thought it beyond the wit of officials and bureaucrats to get a grip on the matter, but it does require renewed political leadership. I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend that that is exactly what that country must do.

My right hon. Friend mentioned the sword of Damocles, as he put it, and the fact that there may well be several referendums. I agree entirely that a fundamental change in policy is needed on the part of Belgrade. There needs to be a change in attitude and culture. Likewise, he mentioned that there needs to be a change in attitude in the international community-a change of approach, a revitalised approach-but I think that, above all else, what needs to be made crystal clear is that both Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina want to join the EU and that the criteria for doing so are simple. They will have to resolve their problems in a statesmanlike, constructive and coherent manner. If they do not do that, the chances of their coming into the EU will diminish substantially.

I agree, as my right hon. Friend spelt out so clearly, that in both Kosovo-he mentioned the area north of the Ibar river, where there is almost a state within a state and lawlessness prevails-and in Republika Srpska, where exactly the same thing is happening, Serbia is intervening behind the scenes. In the case of Republika Srpska, it is trying to encourage a secessionist movement that would have the effect of completely destroying Bosnia and Herzegovina. We must be absolutely aware of that and make it crystal clear to Serbia that what it is doing is not in its own interests. It is incredibly destructive, and it will simply delay the date when it will be eligible to come into the EU.

Once again, I thank my right hon. Friend for securing this debate. There may well be some points that I have not had a chance to touch on. If so, I shall write to him, and I shall certainly refer certain points to the MOD. The point about the battalions is important.

I should like to underline the importance that the Government attach to countries in the region intensifying efforts towards reconciliation and improved regional co-operation. Some positive steps have been taken in recent months: Serbia, Turkey and Bosnia and Herzegovina have sought to improve their relations through the Istanbul declaration, and the Serbian parliamentary resolution condemning the Srebrenica massacre was a welcome step towards greater reconciliation in the region. Slovenia's and Croatia's Brdo process is a welcome initiative to promote active co-operation across the region, and the coalition Government strongly encourage further such effort.

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To conclude, the Government will continue to be actively engaged in the western Balkans. We will seek, encourage and promote effort and positive momentum to ensure that all countries in the region are put fully and irreversibly on the path to joining the EU and NATO. If they look at those goals positively and show statesmanship, that in itself will be the biggest driver of all in solving some of the problems that my right hon.
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Friend so eloquently touched on, and if that happens, for the first time in our lives the region will be incredibly stable and have a bright future.

Question put and agreed to.

1.59 pm

Sitting adjourned.

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