Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 97 - 99)




  97. Minister, may I welcome you again on behalf of the Committee. Welcome to Mr Alan Charlton, to your left, who is the Director of South Eastern Europe and Mr Jonathan Marshall, Head of Section for the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Serbia in the Eastern Adriatic Department. Minister, you know that the Committee has somewhat refocused or renamed our inquiry. It is now the Government policy towards the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia following the fall of Milosevic. What we would like to explore with you this evening and with your colleagues essentially is where we are after the fundamental change in Yugoslavia on October 5, what has happened during the winter, what vision we have and what we as a Government, as the UK, are doing and what are we doing together with our European partners. One word of preface, that the Committee recently visited Belgrade, part of the Committee went to Novi Sad, another part of the Committee went to Kosovo. Everywhere we were treated extremely well and looked after by our Embassy. The programme was full and we would like, through you, to thank our Ambassador in Belgrade and the other members of the staff whom we met. First on the changes, clearly there was a fear, Minister, at the beginning that having voted for democracy, having seen the end of Milosevic, that people of Yugoslavia might suffer during the winter because of food shortages, because of problems in heating and there needed to be an emergency programme to tide them over the winter. In your judgment has that been done successfully?

  (Mr Vaz) Chairman, yes. Before I go into the full answer to your question can I, first of all, thank the Committee for reorganising the time for this evidence session. I know it was planned for early on. As you know we had a meeting with the Prime Minister to discuss the foot and mouth issue so I am very grateful, and I apologise to the Committee for changing the time. Can I also say from the reports that I have received from Charles Crawford, our Ambassador, and others that the visit of the Committee was extremely welcome. You had a very full programme of meetings and judging by what I have seen you are, in a sense, in a better position to answer any of these questions than I am because I am at the disadvantage of not having visited the area, you have, and I commend you and the Committee and Members for doing so. I believe that the changes that occurred in the end of last year are welcome. They are important for the region and for the rest of Europe. The EU moved swiftly to ensure that action was taken to demonstrate our support for the new regime. What we want at the end of this process is to support what is happening in the FRY. Tomorrow you will be hearing from the Foreign Minister. I think that the worst fears of what might have happened, as far as the winter was concerned, were not realised and I am glad that we were able to take the action that we have. This is not the end of the situation, as you yourself discovered when you went there. These are very complex and very difficult issues. You are dealing with communities in a sense that have not got on for many, many decades and it is impossible for the European Union, for this Government, for any individual organisation to solve these problems. It has to be done with co-operation with the various people in the FRY working together and we will do our best to support what is happening.

  98. Thank you, Minister. We clearly are in an interim phase where there are overlapping levels of government between the residual parts of the Federal Republic and the new Serbia. In your judgment where is the effective power at the moment? Do you see a time when perhaps Serbia itself, Mr Djindjic it is said does not get on very well personally with President Kostunica may have far greater real power within the area?
  (Mr Vaz) It is difficult to predict anything as far as this region is concerned and I would be reluctant to do so. What I can say is that I think there is an awareness on the part of all those involved, all the key players in the area, that unless they work together there is not going to be a solution to the major problems facing the region.

  99. Is it fair to say, nonetheless, that the Federal structures will diminish in power and the national or Serbian power will increase?
  (Mr Vaz) I think it is fair to say there will be a concentration and a focus on identity within the FRY. That does not mean that the Federal structures are not going to be there and indeed developed. I think that we are in early days at the moment, we have just had an election at the end of last year. You have met the President and therefore you can make that judgment. You have met the Prime Minister and you have met other key players, you can make that judgment. What I am saying as far as the Government is concerned is that we want to work with all the various parties. We do not believe that a simple solution is going to solve the disparate forces that exist in the region. What we need to do through the European Union is to make sure that we give the right level of support, we respond to concerns. The President's visit to Biarritz, his meeting with Prime Minister Blair and others, was very significant and very important and we need to make sure that process is supported.

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