Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe): I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement. The whole country has been encouraged by the progress made over the past few days. NATO's resolve to see the action through has yielded substantial results. I congratulate the Government and our armed forces on what has been achieved.

As I am sure that the Foreign Secretary will acknowledge, recent developments also demonstrate the extent of the problems still to be overcome and the difficult decisions that must be taken. I join the Foreign

14 Jun 1999 : Column 24

Secretary in paying specific tribute to the crucial role played by General Jackson and to the exemplary performance of the forces that he leads.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the ultimate test of success is whether all the refugees feel able to return home across Kosovo? The issue of the composition and deployment of the peacekeeping forces continues to be crucial in this respect. There is obvious concern about the deployment of Russian forces at Pristina airport.

Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that NATO originally planned for British paratroopers to enter Kosovo on Friday morning? Does not article II, paragraph 2a, of the military-technical agreement signed by General Jackson specify that, one day after its entry into force, Yugoslav forces would have vacated zone three and that the international security force would deploy "rapidly" to avoid a "security gap"?

Why were those plans cancelled? Why was a technical and logistical briefing arranged for reporters earlier on Thursday, at which NATO officers would outline the deployment of forces, also cancelled? When did NATO first learn that Russian troops were entering Kosovo?

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that Brcko Radio reported at 10.30 am on Friday that Russian troops had departed from their barracks in Lopare and Zivinice and had crossed the border into Serbia at Pavlovica Cuprija, and that those reports were confirmed by SFOR? Is not it also the case that if, even at that point, British troops had been allowed to move to Pristina, they would have arrived before the Russians? Is the Foreign Secretary aware that a further 150 Russian troops were reported yesterday morning to be waiting at Bijeljina ready to move into Serbia to reinforce Russian troops at the airport?

On the question of the future control of the airport, when does the Foreign Secretary expect that to be resolved? More fundamentally even than that, will he comment on media reports over the weekend that, following the stand-off at the airport, the American envoy Strobe Talbott offered to allow Russia a "zone of responsibility" in Kosovo? Is not that wholly inconsistent with what the Secretary of State for Defence has said in ruling out any suggestion of such a zone in Kosovo, which he described as tantamount to partition of the province?

Will the Foreign Secretary say whether the position in Bosnia, where the Russians are spread across the US-led multinational division (north), is seen as a model for Kosovo? Does he agree that these events have demonstrated once again that any agreements have to be absolutely watertight?

The Foreign Secretary mentioned this morning that the Russian Government provided a commitment over the telephone yesterday that their troops would be integrated into the overall peacekeeping force. When will the terms of that arrangement be finalised? Can he reassure the House that the extent of the buffer zone across the border in Kosovo will be adequate, and will he comment on reports that concessions were made on that issue and on the timetable for the withdrawal of Serbian forces?

There are reports today of further evidence being uncovered--at Kacanik, for example--of horrific war crimes. What arrangements are being made for investigators of war crimes to be given unhindered access to the evidence that they will need?

Last, but by no means least, I welcome today's announcement by the Secretary of State for International Development of further aid for humanitarian relief. Is the

14 Jun 1999 : Column 25

Foreign Secretary satisfied that arrangements are in place to ensure that humanitarian and reconstruction efforts are co-ordinated sufficiently?

Recent events have provided cause for hope in the future in Kosovo. We must ensure that our efforts to secure a lasting settlement that will provide security for all Kosovo's population are not diminished.

Mr. Cook: The Defence Secretary has advised me that there were no plans of the kind described by the right hon. and learned Gentleman for British paratroops. The entry into force agreement prescribes that VJ units will leave from zone three on the first day. Zone three is in the north of Kosovo, adjacent to the Serb border. It was specified for the first day so that the VJ units could show good will and earnest intent by withdrawing into Serbia from the area nearest to it. It was not possible for KFOR forces to occupy the north of Kosovo until forces began to withdraw from the south. There was no way in which to occupy the north without first travelling up from Macedonia.

There has been no security gap. The time of entry into Kosovo by the KFOR forces was determined by the commander, General Jackson, and by no other consideration. It would not have been possible for General Jackson to have reached Pristina airport in advance of the Russian troops for the simple reason that it remained ringed by a large part of the VJ army between the Macedonian border and the airport.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about the negotiations on the military-technical agreement and the buffer zone, and about the time lines. The military had full control on those matters and reached agreements that reflected its practical understanding. I do not regard any extensions of time lines as concessions. They were necessary to provide a realistic time scale for the withdrawal of all Serb forces.

We must recognise that we have substantially reduced the infrastructure during our military campaign. It will therefore take the Serbs a little longer to get out of Kosovo, but get out they will. All of them will have to withdraw. The great advantage of the military-technical agreement is that it provides a day-to-day benchmark by which to measure progress.

I am pleased to confirm that we hope soon to have a scene of crime team in Kosovo. Other nations are considering providing similar assistance to the International War Crimes Tribunal. The team will carry out full investigations of any mass grave or other evidence of atrocity that we uncover, and I fear that we will find much more as we fan out across Kosovo. It was because of British intervention that the Security Council resolution contained a strong demand that all--including the Government in Belgrade--should co-operate with the tribunal.

Finally, I was asked about the arrangements for reconstruction and humanitarian aid. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has collaborated closely with international agencies on those matters. At the Cologne meeting on the stability pact I took the opportunity to speak to Mrs. Ogata, of the UNHCR. We are working hard to try to make all the relevant organisations pull together for a major task. No one should underestimate the challenge or the difficulty of carrying it through.

14 Jun 1999 : Column 26

I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the generosity with which he congratulated the Government and the British forces on what they have achieved during the past few days and in the preceding 10 weeks. There is a long way to go. We must wake every morning alert for the latest trick played by Milosevic. On most days, we will not be disappointed. We have shown in the past 10 weeks that we are more resolved and more determined successfully to see through the campaign. We must now show that we have more resolve and determination than he does to ensure that we win the peace.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): May I also pay tribute to both the Government and the armed forces for the success of the operation--a success that we see every time we turn on our television sets? Behind the understandably careful language of the Secretary of State would we not be realistic to recognise that the unilateral action of the Russians is a potential source of political embarrassment for NATO? If it were repeated, it could cause disruption and increase tension. Indeed, it might even prejudice the effective administration of Kosovo. Do not those difficulties arise directly out of the ambiguity of the United Nations resolution and the annexes to it? If the right hon. Gentleman has read paragraph 7 of the resolution and paragraph 4 of annexe 2, he will know that they are capable of interpretation that does not provide that NATO should have the responsibility for command and control. How is that ambiguity to be resolved satisfactorily? What intelligence assessment, if any, was made of the likelihood of unilateral action by Russia? If none was made, why not?

Finally, the reports of the massacre that are most recently available to us suggest that on this occasion doctors and nurses may have been systematically murdered. Does that not tell us all that we need to know about those with whom we have been dealing in Kosovo--that they should think it right to take the lives of those whose duty it is to preserve life?

Mr. Cook: I echo the right hon. and learned Gentleman's final remarks. It is important to recognise that Kosovo remains a place of some danger. Our forces will show their full professionalism and alertness in ensuring that they maintain their own self-defence while securing security for the people of Kosovo. I invite the right hon. and learned Gentleman to keep the Russian forces in perspective. They are in one part of Kosovo where there are no Albanians and there is no need to return refugees. At the moment, the Russians cannot leave that part and move elsewhere without an agreement with ourselves. We should not get over-exercised by that being a major impediment to the deployment of KFOR and the work that it is carrying out throughout Kosovo. I agree, however, that the unilateralism with which the Russian troops were deployed is disturbing. That must not be repeated if we are to achieve the confidence, trust and sensible agreement that we need for the management of one co-ordinated, whole and integrated operation. A model is available--the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) referred to it--and that is the Bosnian one. For some years, NATO and Russia have worked side by side in partnership in Bosnia with integration at all levels of command. I was pleased that, yesterday, Igor Ivanov volunteered a reference to the Bosnian model as a way forward in the immediate future. I hope that it will help us to proceed with the assimilation

14 Jun 1999 : Column 27

of the Russian troops with NATO into KFOR. We want Russia to be there. Frankly, we want a bigger Russian contribution to securing peace in Kosovo, but it is to be integrated in overall operations.


Next Section

IndexHome Page