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4.20 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat a Statement on Kosovo which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The Statement is as follows:

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    officials responsible for repressive action; and a moratorium on official credit for trade and investment, including privatisations which are currently of vital importance in maintaining the Yugoslav budget.

    "Five members of the Contact Group agreed to all these measures with immediate effect. I spoke by phone at the end of the meeting to Mr. Primakov, the Russian Foreign Minister. He agreed that Russia could support with immediate effect the arms and equipment embargo, and would be willing to consider the denial of visas and the moratorium on official credit if there was no progress in Kosovo within two weeks.

    "We have given President Milosevic 10 days to withdraw the paramilitary forces from Kosovo and to commit himself to a process of dialogue with the leadership of the Kosovar community. If President Milosevic takes these steps we will immediately reconsider the sanctions we have adopted. If he fails to do so, the Contact Group will take further measures, including a freeze on the funds held abroad by his government. The Contact Group meets again on 25th March to assess the Belgrade Government's response.

    "While I was in Belgrade I met also with representatives of the Serbian opposition, and gave an interview to the independent B92 broadcasting station, which has had material support from Britain. It is important that we recognise that many people in Serbia also reject the police action over the past two weeks, and want their country to accept the standards on human rights of a modern European country.

    "We also want the day to come when we can welcome the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia into the family of democratic nations of Europe. We cannot do so, though, unless Belgrade starts to behave by the standards of modern Europe. It is for President Milosevic now to decide whether the future of his state and its people will be deepening isolation from Europe or enhanced co-operation. I ask the backing of the whole House for a firm message to President Milosevic and his Government that the essential first step must be to stop the violence now".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.29 p.m.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, I begin by thanking the Minister for repeating the Statement. From this side of the House I echo her condemnation of the violence of the past few days. Furthermore, I wish to make it clear to the Minister that she has the full backing of the Opposition for sending a firm message to President Milosevic and his Government that the essential first step must be, as she put it, to stop the violence now.

The comments made by the Minister on the position taken by the Russians are crucial to the Statement and the current position. Russian influence is considerable and we urge the Government to use their influence--particularly during their presidency of the European Commission--during the next two weeks to persuade the Russians of the merit and importance of the position

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the Government have taken. We join the Minister in her condemnation of the actions of Serbia and the continuing repression and the gross violations of human rights which she has reported that have caused such suffering to the majority Albanian community in Kosovo. Indeed we condemn all violence, including that of the Kosovo Liberation Army, and welcome the continued commitment to peaceful negotiation.

We remain seriously concerned about the situation in Kosovo. The Serbs' continuing repression there has alienated the majority Albanian community. But Kosovo's unique position bordering Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Albania makes it an important factor in maintaining stability in the region. One of the fears since 1992 has been that the Bosnian war might reach into Kosovo and create an international conflict. What is vitally important is the need to recognise the potential for violence spreading further in the region.

I wish to ask the Minister one or two short questions. If Serbia does not abide by the terms proposed by the Contact Group, can the Government clarify their position regarding economic sanctions? Is there not a role for UN monitors for Kosovo along the lines of the Macedonian model? We oppose the unilateral ending of Kosovo's autonomous status and believe that autonomy and an open democratic political process must be put in place if Kosovo is to have a secure and stable future. What prospects does the Minister see for a return to the autonomy enjoyed by Kosovo before 1989? Does she agree that Kosovo's unique position makes it crucial in terms of the stability of the whole region?

In conclusion, we strongly support the steps being taken through the EU, the Contact Group and the United Nations to keep the situation under urgent review so that the damage to the stability of the region is kept to a minimum. We welcome the early intervention by the American Secretary of State in particular.

4.32 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement on Kosovo. I echo her words that not only are we looking at the repression of peaceful dissent in Kosovo, but we are also looking at what one can only describe as the organised destruction of civilians by government forces. Looking at Kosovo one fears that we may be seeing the spectre of Bosnia walking again. On this occasion it is of the most vital importance that the European Union should not fail, nor should the Contact Group, because as the noble Lord speaking for the Opposition has said, the repercussions could be of the most significant kind.

I also commend the Government on what I think is a most impressive Statement of action in one area after another to bring home to President Milosevic the dangers of the path upon which his police forces and his military forces appear to have embarked. The Government have come up with a most commendable list of actions which they are taking, together with the significant step--in my view--of announcing in advance a possible second stage in the event that the

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President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia does not respond in the next 10 days to requests being put to him.

I ask the Minister three questions. The first concerns UNPREDEP, the United Nations force which is currently on the borders of Macedonia. That force has now become of the greatest significance to contain what is happening in Kosovo and to prevent it spreading to other parts of this profoundly unstable region. Can the Minister tell us whether in the view of Her Majesty's Government 1,050 troops are sufficient; whether steps are in hand to reinforce that body should it be necessary; and whether Her Majesty's Government will be willing to call together the combined joint task force to reinforce that crucial line of command should it be necessary?

What assurances, if any, has the Minister had from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia with regard to the invitation for forensic experts to examine those who have died within the past few days so that the process of justice may commence and pursue its path to the end? I refer to the request made as long ago as last October for discussions to take place between the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the, in this case, peaceful leaders of the Albanian Kosovo community with a view to determining the autonomy of Kosovo within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Has the Minister any reason to believe that such a dialogue might now take place, and is there any possibility of outsiders being brought in to ensure that it happens? Some 10 per cent. of the population of Kosovo are not Albanians but people of a Roma community. Will the Minister bear in mind their rights too in any discussions that take place on autonomy?

4.36 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, for their support. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, referred to the position of the Russians. As I said in repeating my right honourable friend's Statement, the Russians have agreed the arms and equipment embargo. They have said that they will consider the denial of visas and the moratorium on official credit within two weeks if there is no change in Belgrade's position.

The noble Lord asked what would happen if Serbia did not abide by the 10 point plan agreed by the Contact Group yesterday. In those circumstances such issues as the asset freeze referred to in my right honourable friend's Statement will be considered. Further consideration will be given to that--among other things, no doubt--at a meeting of the Contact Group on 25th March if Belgrade does not make any changes in its approach. The noble Lord spoke--quite rightly in the view of Her Majesty's Government--about the threat that the current position in Kosovo poses to the stability of the region in general. It is because Her Majesty's Government are so alert to the grave dangers about regional stability and the real tensions in the region at the moment that Her Majesty's Government were convinced that there should be a meeting of the Contact Group. Her Majesty's Government have been forward

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in considering the rapid and, I believe, firm actions required in the 10 point plan referred to in my right honourable friend's Statement. We want to ensure that the situation does not get out of control and that it does not become critical. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, referred to the dreadful spectre of Bosnia in this connection.

The noble Baroness mentioned in her address to your Lordships on this point the importance of ensuring that we communicate with our colleagues and our partners in Europe on these issues. There are two opportunities for doing so this week. On Thursday, there will be a European conference in London of current members of the European Union and a number of the applicant countries. It is expected that they will discuss the serious situation in Kosovo. There will also be an informal meeting of foreign ministers in Edinburgh at the weekend. Again, I believe that my right honourable friend intends to discuss the situation with colleagues at the meeting in Edinburgh.

The noble Baroness also raised the question of the UNPREDEP force currently in Macedonia. This afternoon the United Nations is, I understand, being briefed on what happened yesterday in London, and the outcome of the Contact Group. In particular, discussions will take place on the possibility of a comprehensive arms embargo under UN auspices, and of the situation that should pertain after the planned withdrawal of the UNPREDEP troops from Macedonia, which, as the noble Baroness knows, is due to take place in August this year.

The noble Baroness also asked what assurances we had had from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia about implementing the 10 point plan and what discussions were taking place over ensuring real dialogue between the Federal Republic and the Kosovar community about the future. It is because we are waiting for the Federal Republic to respond on the points put forward in the Contact Group that we have arranged the further meeting on 25th March. Of course we very much hope that there will be a sensible and positive response from Belgrade on these issues. We and all the Contact Group members hope to receive the specific assurances for which we have asked. Among them, we hope, will be the assurance of proper discussions about the future of Kosovo, including the presence of those such as Felipe Gonzalez who have wisdom to bring to the discussions.

4.42 p.m.

Lord Bridges: My Lords, the Statement repeated by the Minister is most welcome. From my knowledge of the situation it would appear that her right honourable friend has acted with commendable speed and efficiency. Perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness two questions. The first is in relation to the influence which other important countries may bring to bear. Are not the two countries on whose support we shall depend, Russia and France, the traditional defenders of Serbia in the recent past? Has the noble Baroness read reports that the Russian Republic has within the past few weeks concluded major new arms contracts for the supply of weapons to Serbia? Does she have any reason to

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suppose that a resolution introduced in the Security Council to ban the export of arms would be supported by Russia and France? That would be an important step for the future.

Secondly, following the question by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, can we now learn something from the past and try to promote policies on this extremely grave and difficult matter within the framework of the European Union? We failed to do so at an earlier stage in the Yugoslav crisis. Here there is an opportunity for the British presidency to help all the member states to profit from our past mistakes of sins and omissions.

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