Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180 - 195)



Mr Mackinlay

  180. But you are not in constant contact with these guys.
  (Mr Vaz) We are in constant contact.

Dr Starkey

  181. The other issue was the issue of Bosnia. We were given evidence which indicated that essentially in Bosnia we still have a situation of extreme dependence on external forces trying to run the show and certainly evidence that we were given by Misha Glenny who said there is a terrible problem with Bosnia-Herzegovina, the fact is there is a Frankenstein constitution which encourages and enables people of various communities to exploit its intricacies to their own best benefit. He said that at some point he felt that we were going to have to come round to a Dayton 2, a revision of the Dayton Agreement, simply because the current Dayton Agreement is not working. Given that Serbia, so to speak, is now democratic, that the major problem, the threat, that Milosevic posed has gone, is there not some merit in revisiting Dayton to try to bring some sort of stability and shape to Bosnia-Herzegovina so that it could actually get out of this dependency and the mess it is in at the present leading to some sort of stability, not changing international borders but rejigging the internal arrangements?
  (Mr Vaz) There is always a great danger in reopening anything that has been agreed at such length and has taken so much time to negotiate. We keep these matters under constant review and the concerns you have expressed we have heard ourselves and we will certainly be addressing them.

  182. There is a danger in sticking with a constitution that was worked out when we thought that Milosevic was the solution, not the problem. The danger is that Bosnia might implode.
  (Mr Vaz) We understand the concerns and we keep all of these matters under constant review.

  Chairman: Minister, I would like to turn to Mr Rowlands who has one question on Macedonia.

Mr Rowlands

  183. I wonder if I could put this to Mr Charlton, if you do not mind, because I think Mr Charlton went to Macedonia in his regional tour.
  (Mr Vaz) Of course you may.

  184. Thank you. Mr Charlton, what impression did you come away about Macedonia? How fragile is it? How far do you think that decisions taken inside about Kosovo either would or would not have implications for Macedonia?
  (Mr Charlton) I think I would say two things, Mr Rowlands. First of all, I came away encouraged by the way the government is tackling the economic agenda. They have made a certain amount of progress there, there was a five per cent growth last year and there is a good chance of five per cent growth again this year, so the people have an opportunity to enjoy greater prosperity than they have known for several years. The second point is that everyone is aware in Macedonia that this is a country of two nations and these two nations have to be brought together. At the very top level, at the political level, as you know, the governing coalition is a coalition between the Slav Macedonian and Albanian parties, but at the lower level the two communities do live largely apart. For that reason we were rather encouraged when the Macedonian Foreign Minister came here a couple of weeks ago and saw the Secretary of State and the first thing he raised with us was EU support for a new multilingual university in Tetovo, which we thought was a very good sign.

  185. Do you agree that more than decisions about the sort of structure of future institutions of Kosovo, the more immediate worrying concern is if one does not address the Presevo issue that that certainly could have a spill-over effect into Macedonia?
  (Mr Charlton) There is no doubt that the Macedonian Government is concerned about this, just as all the other governments in the region are, and to that extent it is positive that in NATO even tomorrow there is going to be a further meeting looking at what can be done on the border.

Sir David Madel

  186. Mr Charlton, do you note a determination in Macedonia to improve their relations with Greece?
  (Mr Charlton) Definitely, Sir David. In fact, I think relations with Greece in many respects are very good. Greece is the first direct investor in Macedonia, however the third trading partner. I was told that last year a quarter of the Macedonian population visited Greece. There are still some problems regarding the name, as you are aware, but apart from that relations are much better.

Sir John Stanley

  187. Can I ask two questions on issues we have not covered so far, one on depleted uranium and the other on freedom of the media. On depleted uranium, obviously the Committee is aware that there is a hugely wide range of views, which have been expressed in public, from those who believe that the medical evidence is that depleted uranium has had extremely severe impact on members of the civilian population in the Balkans, to contrary views suggesting that the relationship between health hazard and depleted uranium is largely, if not wholly, unproven. The question I want to ask you, Minister, is is the British Government doing all it can in terms of proper, independent, professional, well-resourced studies to try to establish the medical facts of the case here and to come up with a valid, professional, fully informed medical view as to whether or not depleted uranium used has caused serious disease in the civilian population in the Balkans where these weapons have been used?
  (Mr Vaz) As Sir John will know, there is an agreement that NATO and the FRY authorities should co-operate fully on the exchange of information relating to depleted uranium. I can tell the Committee that this co-operation is proceeding very successfully. There is no evidence from the FRY authorities of health problems caused by depleted uranium. At the request of the UN mission in Kosovo the World Health Organisation has set up a screening programme in Pristina Hospital for any civilians concerned about the contamination from depleted uranium. He will know from his time at the MoD that it is important that we always establish the facts, and we will continue to do so. We will continue to look carefully at this issue. We can only do so by co-operation with others.

  188. Can you let the Committee have a note as to precisely what the United Kingdom Government is doing to resource studies of its own or in co-operation with others, proper, independent, medical studies to try to get a fully objective, independent answer to the issue?
  (Mr Vaz) I will certainly provide a note.

  189. The second question which I would like to put to you is on the question of freedom of the media in new Serbia. I think all of us who went on the visit would say that probably of the two significant human rights concerns that were put to us during our days in Belgrade, where expectations from the new government might be in danger of not being fulfilled, one related to how quickly and how readily they would deliver up President Milosevic and other people who had been indicted as war criminals to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia—the Chairman is going to come to that point in a moment—the other related to doubts that were expressed to us as to whether the new government of President Kostunica was really prepared to embrace genuine freedom of the media, in the sense that we would know it here. Given the total post-war history in former Yugoslavia of state-controlled media there is clearly a huge political cultural sea change to bring that about. We were very encouraged when we were in Belgrade to go to a reception at Wilton Park, which is an agency the Foreign Office was running for the independent media and, of course, others associated with the media in the Federal Republic. We met some extremely brave people there who had managed to carry the standard for the independent media during the ghastly Milosevic years. What I would like to ask you, Minister, is how high a priority is it in the Foreign Office at the moment to try to support, practically and financially, those who are determined to try to ensure that there is strong independent media in the Federal Republic? Can you give us any further details as to what, in specific terms, the Foreign Office is doing?
  (Mr Vaz) As far as the grid of agencies and support is concerned that will figure on the table that I will be sending to the Committee. It would be interesting to highlight what we are doing to the help the independent media. We want to see an independent media. Anyone who remembers the wonderful scenes of jubilation at the downfall of Milosevic last year will know how important it is that we should support them. This is one of the areas where we have continued to provide support after many people said we could not do anything, because Milosevic was there and in control. We have continued to support them. We have had dealings and conversations with the independent media throughout the long years of Milosevic's control. What we now want to do is to make sure that there is a flourishing and a free press and we will do our best to ensure that that happens. This is one of the things that I have asked Mr Crawford, in particular, to look at, and this is what he is doing.


  190. Minister, to wind up, two quick questions on the Hague Tribunal and the ICTY. We heard a number of criticisms when we were in Belgrade of the alleged lack of even-handedness of the political partisanship of the Hague Tribunal. How do you answer a Serb who says, "Why should the ICTY not have indicted the former President Tudjman, who was guilty and as bloody handed as Milosevic in terms of crimes over the past years?"
  (Mr Vaz) This is an independent tribunal and it is an international tribunal. It is for the Tribunal itself to decide on these matters. What we need to do is make sure that it has support and that it retains its independence. It is acting on behalf of the international community and we will continue to insist on that full co-operation.

  191. I suspect my Serb would not be satisfied with that. One further question, are we reaching, in respect of the handing over of the indicted war criminals (led, of course, by former President Milosevic) a "high noon" situation, in that the US Senate has said in terms that aid will be stopped if there is not, by the end of March, full co-operation in respect of the indicted war criminals, and that the President certifies that there has been such full co-operation?
  (Mr Vaz) I think it is a hurdle for the FRY, and that deadline is very clear. I think everyone should take it seriously. We hope that people will co-operate and make sure that it is successful in doing what the international community want it to do. It is a deadline that ought to be taken very seriously.

  192. What are the chances?
  (Mr Vaz) I am not a betting man, Mr Chairman, but I think that people understand that these are serious issues, and we hope they will comply with the deadline.

  Chairman: Mr Mackinlay began the batting, he will end the batting.

Mr Mackinlay

  193. It did seem to me we have come full circle, the competences between the Serbian Government and the FRY Government are highlighted in a number of areas, and there is this question of competence as to who can and should decide handing over and who has the capacity to. Whilst the Serbian Government has conducted totally free and fair elections, the FRY Government is still flawed, is it not, because the Montenegrin element of the FRY administration was elected because there was a void in Montenegro. They are not representative of Montenegro and they are also a rump associate of the old order. This is one of the reasons why I am very keen you should go and see it first hand. We keep talking about the Federal Yugoslav Government. We welcome the changes of October. We welcome the fact that President Kostunica is there, but it is still flawed. Until these other constitutional things are resolved there is going to be a continuing problem. To give this recognition, as if it is a comparable government to one which exists in western Europe or even central Europe it is simply not so. That is another illustration of where there has not been sufficient thinking through about our response to it and also our expectations of them to deliver.
  (Mr Vaz) Mr Mackinlay has for the fourth time urged me to visit and I have given him assurance I will go, probably before the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry goes to the Poland, because I know that is another one of his campaigns. We want to make sure there is full co-operation with the International Tribunal, it is legally binding on the FRY. We want to make sure that this whole process takes place as quickly as possible.

  194. You make representations to the United States Government and using our good offices there, whilst we all share the view that these people should be handed up, there is also our interests, European Union interests, and could be jeopardised by too rigid a response by the United States.
  (Mr Vaz) I have noted Mr Mackinlay's point. Chairman, can I thank you for, first of all, inviting me to come and address you today and for conducting this inquiry, which I think is extremely important.


  195. We are obliged.
  (Mr Vaz) I know you are off to pay tribute to your departing Clerk, Paul Silk. Can I pay my own tribute to him, Paul Silk was my first Clerk when I served on the Home Affairs Select Committee in 1987. He was a wonderful Clerk and can I wish him well, through the Committee, on his new appointment for the Welsh Assembly. I am sure he will do a superb job.

  Chairman: That is very kind. We shall pass your good wishes to him, Minister. We thank you, we thank Mr Charlton, we thank Mr Marshall. We look forward to a flurry of letters in response. Mr Mackinlay and the rest of the Committee look forward to your telling us when you propose to visit the region.

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