Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 139)



  120. And the involvement of different Directorates and Commissioners.
  (Mr Vaz) Would that be helpful?

  Chairman: It would be very helpful indeed. Mr Rowlands?

Mr Rowlands

  121. One brief observation, in Kosovo we had an unsolicited view from people on the ground, particularly our own people on the ground, that the organisation of European Union reconstruction had been extremely good and was very effective. It surprised us, to be honest, because we normally expect them to be hyper-critical about it. On this occasion it did seem that the immediate reconstruction programme had been reasonably well-organised and was making a big impact.
  (Mr Vaz) I am really grateful for what Mr Rowlands has just said because when you speak to Mr Patten on Thursday, he has been one of the great reformers and he has always said, "It is all very well the EU promising money, but when is it going to come into people's bank accounts, that is the main issue." I think you will find him very receptive to that. I am grateful to Mr Rowlands for that indication.

  Sir Peter Emery: When Mr Rowlands begins praising the EU you know something is going right!

  Mr Rowlands: Or I am going soft!

Sir Peter Emery

  122. I wanted to put a general question which I think highlights the great difficulty. One leaves Belgrade, which is beginning to thrive, and when one saw the new members of Parliament one was very encouraged by what they were trying to do and their general impression. We were motored by the EU down to Pristina. We stopped halfway to get some petrol and we had coffee in a very small, minute cafe, transport as such, where we went in and were nicely greeted. And, lo and behold, the television was especially turned on for Sky television in English which we did not get in Belgrade, but that is another matter. Four miles further on the driver said, "I won't stop here with you because this is a Serbian area and if they knew you were British there would very likely be trouble." You go on to Pristina where, again, one is inundated by an immense amount of building—I was amazed at the amount of building one saw there—but also a terrifying feeling that the town is sustained by the staff and a number of foreign nationals, EU, UNMIK, KFOR, NGOs, a whole host, that seem to be employing everybody, injecting money and yet, if that were to be withdrawn, one could see the whole of the situation collapsing. We go into the Presevo Valley with a 45s Commando and one comes into grips with seeing a training camp where 60 Albanians every fortnight are brought into this area, which is within the no-go area, and the Marines can do nothing about it other than watch it. The men seem to be secreted in there and there is firing drill, arms drill, and everything else, and if you begin talking to some of the Albanians, one in particular stays in my mind, I said "Can't we come together, the war is over?" and he said, "What do you mean? The war has not yet begun." I accept that is the extremist view but here is this amazing "liquorice allsort" aspect of different views in a very small area if you really think about it. How are we going to give leadership to begin bringing this thing together because unless we start out to do something I think it is going to get worse and not better? I believe there are elements who are not happy and I just therefore wonder how the Government are perceiving what is not a happy situation but a difficult situation in which there needs to be some very positive leadership.
  (Mr Vaz) I think that Sir Peter has summed up in that short but fascinating account of your visit to this area the great difficulties that we face. This is not an easy task. It is about bringing communities together. It is about people forgetting in some cases if you look at the whole of the Balkans some unspeakable acts being committed against members of their own families. Frankly, I read yesterday an account in The Times of the war crimes trial that is happening and it is so terrible you cannot think that human beings could have gone through that. That is from somebody who is supposed to be emotionally detached from what is going on. The last comment you made that the war is just about to begin shows how important it is that we have to be there to work with them and to try and ensure that the communities work together. It is immensely difficult but we will not abandon the situation, we will be there to help them, but it is not easy.

  Chairman: We have glided into Kosovo. Mr Rowlands was with Sir Peter on that visit and I am going to ask him to comment and pose his own question.

Mr Rowlands

  123. I am sorry to return to the touchy subject right at the beginning, Minister, but you have not been to Kosovo since you have been in office, have you?
  (Mr Vaz) No, I have not.

  124. May I beg of you to reorder your priorities and go because, first of all, within your own territorial responsibility you have not got another area where there are 3,500 British troops in the front-line, exercising not only a military role but a highly sensitive political role and with some rather nasty crucial decisions in conjunction with others about the roles and functions of KFOR, for example—I have been twice in 12 months—as well as coming away with some really worrying concerns about the assumptions behind the policy, and until you go I do not think you can get a feeling for it. In that respect besides begging you to reorder your priorities I wonder whether in this case because of the exceptional nature—and we know Mr Charlton was there because we bumped into him when we were there—would it be in order for me to ask what impressions he came away with?
  (Mr Vaz) Of course. I would be more than happy for you to do that.

  125. Mr Charlton, did you get the impression I had that in fact the assumption we are still trying to cling to that there is somehow going to be in any meaningful time-scale a significant or meaningful return of Serbs into Kosovo is not one that we can any longer accept?
  (Mr Charlton) Clearly you are right, that there is not going to be a large-scale return of Serb refugees until the Serbs have confidence that they can live there unmolested and until the security situation is such that they feel safe to do so, and that situation has not yet arrived. That has to remain one of our goals. When I say "our" I mean the international community's goals. Just as in Bosnia, it is going to be a long, long haul. This not only involves the international community getting involved in programmes but, as we heard, the British troops in KFOR have been doing quite a lot to try and help the minority communities and give them confidence in those areas. It also involves talking with the Albanian community and getting them to accept that living within the area they have to also live with other communities. There is some understanding of this at the political level on the Albanian side and that is what we have got to work with. It is going to be a long haul. I accept your point that it is not going to happen quickly.

  126. So if it is going to be a long, long haul—and we are talking about a goal that is going to be many years one suspects until it is going to somehow create some sort of stability—therefore policy assumptions have to be based on that situation. What policy conclusions do we draw from that assumption? Do we believe that somehow in the meantime we can develop institutions within Kosovo which will be hugely predominantly Albanian ones with minimal participation of the Serbs in existing arrangements? If so, does this not have profound consequences for your whole notion of a fundamental goal of a multi-ethnic Kosovo?
  (Mr Vaz) It is going to be a difficult task and you know this because you visited, but we stick by what was decided in Resolution 1244.

  127. Half of 1244 is totally unrealistic. You can stick by it but why stick by something that is totally unrealistic?
  (Mr Vaz) Mr Rowlands, that is our benchmark, that is what we hope to achieve. You know, you have been there yourself, you know how difficult it is; it is not easy. You cannot get years and years of ethnic hatred to end because of a United Nations' Resolution—we know that—but it must be the case that we have to work with and build confidence in the communities as they work together, and that means trying to create the institutions, and trying to create the organisations that will bring people together. The alternative is, if you do not do it, it will end in bloodshed. That is why you have got to be there and you have got to be supporting what is happening.

  128. I think we have to be there. The assumption is that KFOR is going to have to be there for a very long time. This is not any longer a short-term operation of any kind. We knew that from the start. Is not one of the underlying causes of the growing tensions that have occurred in the Presevo Valley, Mitrovica, that they all have something in common and that is that you have got a radical Albanian element in Kosovo who did not got the election results and were found not to be the majority view, and have therefore not as much of a vested interest as Rugova and others in developing patiently the institutions, but have a vested interest in actually stirring things and trying to gain more radical support by takeing more radical lines in any sort of way? How are we going to cope with it? What is your thinking of how we are going to cope with such a potentially explosive situation?
  (Mr Vaz) The whole area is potentially explosive.

  129. But we have direct responsibility for Kosovo.
  (Mr Vaz) We do and that is what is happening as far as KFOR is concerned and UNMIK, working with the institutions together. I think it could have been much much worse. Of course what happened in Mitrovica is something we have to be very conscious of and that requires patient negotiation, working with communities, trying to rebuild them, but I cannot accept the view that we will not be able to bring a lasting solution to the problems that are there. I am not going to put a time-scale on it and neither would you expect me to. What we will continue to do is work with the communities in order to rebuild that relationship. We condemn the extremism that has been shown in the Presevo Valley. We condemn violence against communities. I was the first to condemn the recent bloodshed at the bus stop that was broadcast. It is a terribly difficult situation. I think we have got a very heavy job on our hands but we have got to proceed with it, we have got to pursue it.

  130. In terms of the here and now and more immediate decisions, one of the more immediate decisions to be taken is how are we going to establish effective security in an increasingly explosive political situation in Kosovo given that there are elements that believe their future lies in causing more problems and stirring things up. I was very unconvinced that the policing arrangements were going to bear the strain of this at all. From the evidence we took I really did not think the policing side of UNMIK could work. It does look as if it might mean that we will have to (horrifyingly) re-think the functional role of KFOR in terms of internal security arrangements. At the moment they have got no responsibility for something beyond ineffective policing, in fact, in the whole area. Do you see a changing role or function in KFOR in the short to medium term and, if so, how are you going to go about it?
  (Mr Vaz) I think Mr Rowlands is right to say that law and order is the biggest threat to stability in Kosovo. Just to tell you some of the figures that the Committee might already know. Between June 1999 and October 2000 there have been 621 murders, 44 per cent were Albanians, 35 per cent were Serbs. The murder rate has dropped from 50 per week in June 1999 to under five per week for the year 2000, with much of the murder rate related to organised crimes. How do we do it? We use whatever means at our disposal to try and deal with the security situation. We are encouraging our own local police forces to be involved in this by providing the expertise and the personnel to help. We accept what Mr Rowlands has said. This is the crucial issue; the guaranteeing of the safety and security of individual people so that they are not attacked because they are of a particular ethnicity.

Dr Starkey

  131. Minister, can I just pursue you on this point. In the evidence that we took last week there was a reference to a situation which was to do with organised crime (and I am not minimising at all the continuing problems of inter-ethnic violence) but it appears that there is now a very large problem which is organised crime where ethnicity is more or less irrelevant. There was an incident where there was a housing commissioner who was trying to implement building certificates and he was shot dead and KFOR was asked to protect this man, who was essentially trying to do a good job, and they said they could not possibly get involved in illegal construction and that this was a police matter. That might be a reasonable thing to say in a country like Britain, that the army should not get involved in that sort of thing where we have got a decent functioning police force, but in such a situation as Kosovo would you not accept that this is not a reasonable way forward? One of our other witnesses pointed out that there are 40,000 troops in Kosovo and about 500 insurgents in Presevo and nothing substantial is being done. It does appear that we have a great many troops there (and this is not just ours) but they are not being used to best advantage to help to establish a situation of law, and we are at risk of the whole situation being degraded not from a political point of view but just because there is a general system of lawlessness and criminals are being able to operate.
  (Mr Vaz) I am very sorry to hear that. It is something that I will look at very carefully. I am not sighted on the particular murder that Dr Starkey has mentioned but I will look into it because one of the purposes of us being there is to make sure that there is going to be stability in the area. That means the communities themselves have to play a part in ensuring this happens. I will certainly look at the particular case she has mentioned.

  132. Would you be prepared to start the process of looking at KFOR's mandate to get them slightly more involved towards the police end of it?
  (Mr Vaz) I look forward to seeing what you say in your report but in the meantime I will certainly look at this issue and if there is anything that is material to the inquiry of this Committee I will write to the Committee.

  133. I was going to follow up on a recommendation that we made in our Fourth Report on Kosovo itself where we highlighted the difficulties of the court system and the fact there was not adequate back-up for it. We mentioned a recommendation of the Bar Human Rights Committee on sending additional lawyers into Kosovo to help to get the court system functioning. I note we have had another memorandum from the Bar Human Rights Committee reiterating that 70 applications were made by members of the Bar and the judiciary to go to Kosovo over the last six months but none of these have been taken up.
  (Mr Vaz) Does it say not taken up by whom? I will ask Mr Charlton to deal with the detail, but can I just say (not that I want to encourage our judiciary to go to Kosovo because we obviously have an attachment to our judiciary) that it is important and I certainly have encouraged, and so has the Foreign Secretary, both the police and judiciary bodies, particularly the Bar, to encourage people to go there. Mr Charlton, do you know about this?
  (Mr Charlton) On the point about the police, as Mr Rowlands has seen, there is an effort being made and it is being led by a RUC officer to build up the Kosovo police service. I do not think that he would claim to have got there yet, he is part way through the task, but obviously there will need to be an indigenous police force. They have already recruited about 4,000 and they will need more.


  134. And what about lawyers?
  (Mr Charlton) It is highly positive that so many people from Britain have volunteered to go and this is a matter for the United Nations—

  135. Why have they not been accepted?
  (Mr Charlton) This is a decision for UNMIK and New York and we have been pressing this very point ourselves.
  (Mr Vaz) If it helps the Committee, I will certainly write to the authorities to remind them of the number of people who have applied asking for an explanation as to why they have not been taken up.

Sir Peter Emery

  136. Following the first part of Dr Starkey's questioning, the growth of extremism, added on to the KLA, the training which I talked about in the Presevo Valley, where you have areas where the military cannot go—and we had a most excellent briefing from a marine major and he said, "If we were given the power to try and clean part of this up we could do it in a very short period of time"—on that aspect it seems to me that the command factors which allow the military to begin dealing further with the demilitarisation and the carrying of arms and the use of arms, surely we ought to be doing something with that to try and stop this growth of extremism amongst the Albanians because if we do not it is going to flower, and to allow our military to be standing by and feeling that their hands are tied behind their backs and they cannot do anything is really very worrying.
  (Mr Vaz) It is, Sir Peter. There is no question whatsoever of our military being silent where they see any act of terrorism being contemplated or anyone acting in a particular way that might lead to terrorist activity. We do not stand by and allow this to happen. We condemn it utterly and completely.

  137. But they cannot go into the no-go area.
  (Mr Vaz) That is correct, but there is no question of us standing by and not doing anything. As to the individual military situation Mr Charlton will advise us.
  (Mr Charlton) Sir Peter, as you quite rightly said, this is an area in Southern Serbia we are talking about and for that area KFOR does not at the moment have a mandate.

  138. We have no remit.
  (Mr Vaz) The better news is—and I would not say good news—is that we will be talking to Foreign Minister Svilanovic tomorrow and Belgrade has now put forward a plan to try and deal with the problem in the Presevo Valley and NATO issued a statement today to say it was going to work with this plan to try and sort out that problem down there. What that will mean at the end of the day I do not know but it is very welcome that Belgrade are trying to solve it first and foremost through political means.

Sir John Stanley

  139. Minister, could I just turn to the long-term status of Kosovo. Is it not the case that the whole of British and indeed Western policy is really grounded in the perpetuation of a political fiction which is that Kosovo is still part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia? Certainly in Belgrade right across the political spectrum I cannot recall anybody who said to us anything other than that Kosovo is lost, that was the price of the war. And I do not think anybody, certainly anywhere in the mainstream in politics in Serbia itself, believes that there is any conceivable prospect at any time in the future of Kosovo being brought back under the political authority of Serbia and, that being the case, surely the British Government and the other Western governments should actually recognise the reality which is that Kosovo is effectively independent? It is not constituted as an independent state now but it is effectively wholly independent of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Surely we should accept the reality of the position and acknowledge that and try to end the fiction that somehow Kosovo is not an independent entity, which it clearly is.
  (Mr Vaz) Sir John, we stand by Resolution 1244 that it is clear that Kosovo is part of the FRY. The future final status of Kosovo remains a matter for future discussions but, as it stands, our policy is clear. I understand what you are saying about the views of people who are there and whether they think that indeed that is going to be the final position, but that is our policy. What we wish to do is to make sure that Kosovo is reconstructed, that democracy is allowed to flourish and that it has a good relationship with the newly democratic Belgrade and that will continue, but there is no change of policy.

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