Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 196 - 199)



  Sir Peter Emery: Ambassador, welcome. Our Chairman would ask me to apologise to you that he is off for another meeting outside this country, so I have the great pleasure of being able to take the Chair with you present.

   Mr Mackinlay: It is a principality, is it not?

Sir Peter Emery

  196. The first thing I know we would like to do is to thank you for the way that you arranged the programme, provided hospitality, provided a number of guests we could see during our visit to Belgrade just recently. I would like it recorded that the Committee were most pleased and, indeed, we told Mr Vaz when he was in front of us earlier how well you had done. I hope that does not hurt your service record but we did it to try to assist, not to hinder. Might I start by asking you whether there is anything that you would like to tell us that has happened since our visit because we are trying to stay up-to-date as much as we can and that would be helpful.
  (Mr Crawford) Thank you very much, it is a pleasure to see you all again, and Mr Maples who did not come out to Belgrade before. Thank you for inviting me. It has given me an opportunity to come over with the visit of Mr Svilanovic yesterday, which is one of the things which has happened. This is, if you like, the first friendly visit at that level in ten years as far as we can tell, for a very long time. It is a good week actually to be over here looking at these bilateral issues. In terms of things which have happened since you left, clearly there has been movement on the Presevo Valley, which we can talk about in detail if you are interested. There has been movement on the arrest of Markovic and some of these people closely associated with Milosevic. It seems like a long time since you were there actually so I have to try to work out what has happened since then. We had a tremendous performance of Hamlet, which was a very good bilateral event. It seems just another cultural event but it was very well received actually and certainly the cast who came back were moved by the reception they had. That was a big success. This is a small thing again, but I went down to Kragujevac, which is an industrial town in the Serbian heartland really, to commemorate the wonderful Scottish nurses. I do not know whether you know this story but in the First World War some Scottish nurses went down there from the Russian Front to help out with this tremendous typhoid epidemic which had swept the area and unfortunately they died as part of their procedure of helping down there. So every year in Kragujevac there is a ceremony to remember this really rather remarkable expedition by our British nurses. I went down there with my military adviser, John Crosland, who you met. This was a town which was bombed by NATO and is in a very bad state economically. It is in a terrible state really. They claim their production now is something like three per cent of what it was ten years ago. It is in a very bad way and yet we, as the British, were given a very, very warm welcome. I think on the whole I am reassured with the way things are moving although in a sense the longer you are there—I have only been there now six weeks I think—you are struck by the sheer scale of the problems they face on the economic side, I am sure you saw a bit of that, and by the complexity of the issues they are facing, but they do seem to be cracking on.

  197. The Foreign Minister was with us yesterday and very favourably I think he was grateful for what we were trying to do. Do you consider, however, that there is any more formal thought in Belgrade about the future structure of the area generally?
  (Mr Crawford) This is something Mr Svilanovic is keen on and I have to say personally I rather agree with his general thesis that one needs to look at issues like Kosovo as a regional approach, it is not just a Serb or Albanian issue. It is always a bit hard to ascertain how far there is what you might call collective thinking in Belgrade. I think one of the striking things about the Covic plan for the Presevo Valley is that in a way it seems to me at least to epitomise the thought that the FRY, the Serbs—you have got to be a bit careful about the nomenclature—let us call it Belgrade for the sake of argument, after ten years of effectively being isolated are starting to realise that if they play the game with the international community, if they have a dialogue with NATO, they present their case reasonably, they can get quite good results, which is in fact the case. In that sense I think you are seeing a dawning realisation on the part of the new people in Belgrade, a lot of whom as personalities have been extremely isolated, that they need to be quite proactive in working with their neighbours, with us, with NATO, with the Americans, the Russians, or whoever, and if they are energetic and proactive they do get results. This is not something which comes to them in purely institutional terms after what has happened, but I think there is that feeling growing there and basically we ought to be encouraging that because the spirit of the Zagreb Summit is the spirit of everything that we have been trying to do.

Dr Starkey

  198. Can I ask you to extend a bit on the Presevo Valley and on what has actually happened in response to the initiative put forward by the Serbian Deputy Prime Minister?
  (Mr Crawford) I went down there last week, I think it was, and then I went over into Kosovo to have a compare and contrast. We have got another diplomat, David Slinn, who was the head of our office in Pristina, a former member of the embassy in Belgrade, he has now come out to help the embassy and he is going down there today so we are, as it were, following it closely. We are going back down there next week. Alan Charlton, who you met the other day, will be going down there. Basically what has happened is—I do not want to say Serbs—Belgrade, by which I mean both the Federal level and the Serb level, have decided that they need to deal with this thing in a very measured way as far as one can tell. This has led to them putting forward this Covic programme which is overdetailed in lots of ways and we would not do it that way if we were doing it, but nonetheless it is a comprehensive and impressive piece of work. It talks about confidence building measures, it talks about economic regeneration, it talks about democracy, all the right buttons are there and in some detail. Since you were over there they have been going out talking to NATO, talking to the EU, talking to lots of different people, the OSCE, trying to sell the general principles of this plan and I think basically they have been successful in selling the principles of the plan. While all that has been going on there have been some incidents down there in the zone. On the Serb side down there, if you call it that, I went right up to a sniper point on the front line and peered through a hole and you could see just a couple of hundred yards away these bunkers which are there with people apparently peering back at us. This has reached a sort of First World War style stand-off. One of the issues for us in terms of helping the situation is how far we try and defuse tensions there and the Serb side, FRY side, made a strong pitch to me that they should not just be expected to pull back unilaterally because all that would happen is the trenches on the other side would just move forward, and there is clearly some force in that. What is happening now is that NATO have appointed a special representative of the Secretary General who is a Dutch diplomat who I know from before in Bosnia, he is a good guy and he knows the region, he is going back down there to help. NATO is trying to discuss now at this moment with the Yugoslav side the combination of confidence building measures required to allow NATO to redefine and scale back the zone in that area, especially on the Macedonia/FRY border and in other areas. Those discussions are continuing. Having met at least one representative of the Albanian side, Mr Halimi, who is the prominent local leader down there, and David Slinn has had discussions with some of these rather harder core characters quietly as well, when you listen to Mr Halimi you are aware of the long history of the repression and bad behaviour and police brutality and all sorts of other things which have happened down there for a long time. The electoral laws and the municipal boundaries and these sorts of things were stacked so that the Albanians were, at least this is what he said, discriminated against, and he gave very convincing evidence of that.

  199. Can I just clarify, Mr Halimi is an Albanian Serbian citizen, is he?
  (Mr Crawford) He is the Mayor of Presevo, I think that is his formal title. On the border down there you have got ethnic Albanians living on the Serbia side of the border, as it were, on the Narrow Serbia side of the border, as they call it, he is part of that community. One of the things that both he and the Serbs I met down there said was this area, even though it is only a few miles from Kosovo, has not had the history of the bad relations between people which were there in Kosovo. Part of the problem with this region is there are little micro-pockets of differences depending upon which valley you are in. It was not as if there was a tradition of ethnic tension there but there was a tradition of repression and bad behaviour, certainly in the Milosevic period. When the Albanians talk about confidence building measures I think one has to respect that, we should not simply take the fact there are Albanian extremists or terrorists down there as something which means that the Serbs are necessarily right. The Albanian side down there have got genuine concerns which, to be fair to the Covic plan, they are trying to address. That is where that is. Mr Halimi claimed, and I think this is an important point, that the local commanders of the so-called UCPMB had accepted the proposition that a settlement to the Presevo Valley story had to be within the boundaries of Serbia. In other words, as far as I could tell, there was no question of some sort of special autonomous status. When I went over to Kosovo and met Mr Ceku and Mr Thaqi, who were two of the senior ethnic Albanian leaders there, they were in a way supporting that because they were worried, of course, that if you get special status for Presevo that will lead to the Serbs asking for special status for their enclaves in Kosovo and all of a sudden special statuses will be popping up like mushrooms and their charters would get even more complicated. Fundamentally, the very big picture here is that Belgrade and NATO, in a way which has really accelerated action in the last few weeks, and certainly since you were there, are having a very intense dialogue now about all these issues. This is basically a good thing.

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