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Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I, too, apologise for missing, I believe, the first two sentences of the Minister's Statement for the reasons already given by the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. We had the impression that the Statement would be a little later.

First, I warmly welcome and support the action taken by Her Majesty's Government. We on these Benches have pleaded for a long time for a stronger position to be taken by the Contact Group; and we recognise the work of the Foreign Secretary in gaining support among his colleagues on that Contact Group. We are extremely grateful and very pleased to hear that at long last strong and determined action is to be taken. We praise the Foreign Secretary for his part in that.

Secondly, it is important to remind the House that the decision to start on a very short timetable the negotiations between the Government of the former Republic of Yugoslavia and the Albanian/Kosovan delegation only reflects the more rapid timetable written into the Holbrooke Milosevic agreement which Mr. Milosevic had signed. That agreement indicated that talks would start in October and would be completed no later than November. Those who say that it is a sudden rush to negotiation have not read sufficiently carefully the Holbrooke Milosevic agreement.

As regards, decision to make ground troops available in order to support the peace negotiations, should that be necessary, have other European countries which are members of NATO, in addition to France, been willing to commit their troops? We on these Benches congratulate France on agreeing with the British Government to make troops available.

In the Minister's view, will it be possible to bring pressure to bear on the Yugoslav army and Serbian police to ensure that no further action of any type is taken against civilians in the Kosovo area while the negotiations continue, in the light of the appalling massacres which have occurred over the past few days?

Will the Minister consider again the possibility of offering to the Government of Albania the support they need, in logistical and other terms, to police that border so as to prevent the steady flow of sophisticated arms across it, given that the OSCE and NATO support the concept of sanctions against Yugoslavia? Might that also be a useful card to play in ensuring that all sides are present at a negotiating table where, if any significant interest is not present, it might be possible later to denounce any agreement reached?

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I conclude by again congratulating Her Majesty's Government on taking the first step towards what we on these Benches hope will be a genuine European response to the problems that beset our Continent around the edges but not within the European Union.

3.56 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I start by offering apologies (if there are apologies to be offered). I am not clear what has happened as regards the timing. If anything on our side has gone wrong, I apologise, but I am not sure that it has. I hope that we can look at the matter through the usual channels. For my part, I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, delivered his noble friend's points extremely well. As always, I shall do my best to answer those points.

I am extremely grateful for the support of the official Opposition on the issue. As the Statement makes clear, it is a tense and difficult time. I thank, too, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, for her support. The noble Lord asked about the response from Mr. Milosevic. We are hoping for a response as quickly as possible. Mr. Milosevic said that he would consider the points put to him, as did Mr. Qosja and Mr. Dimaqi. We have said that we expect to see them this coming Saturday. Therefore for arrangements to be made one would expect that response to come very quickly indeed.

The noble Lord, Lord Burnham, put a number of detailed points to me on military action. I am sure that he will understand that, while we would all sympathise with his questions on detailed military planning, it is not sensible to go into such detailed planning at present. We are in very close touch with our allies--with the United States and others. But at present the sensible action is for us to concentrate upon the need to get the parties round the negotiating table as quickly as possible. That is what we have been concentrating on with our partners in the Contact Group. That is why my right honourable friend spent the weekend in Belgrade and Skopje.

The noble Lord asked about the extraction force. As noble Lords know, the extraction force of some 2,400 strong is based at present in Macedonia. It is French led and there are 350 British personnel there. We are confident that the extraction force can do the job that we hope it will do if it were ever to come to real necessity. I stress to all noble Lords that we must concentrate on this as a set of negotiations and provide the best possible atmosphere for those consultations to take place in a constructive way.

The noble Lord also asked about the war crimes. Of course we believe that the war crimes investigator, the International Criminal Tribunal, should have access to all possible areas where war crimes have been committed. The problem has been that when the investigators cannot go to where alleged atrocities have taken place, they are unable to carry out the investigations so necessary to their work. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships that UNSCR 1207, which was adopted in November last year, is a mandatory Chapter VII resolution which reiterates the need for the federal republic to fully honour its obligations towards the

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international tribunal. It sends a clear message that the FRY must not be allowed to flout its legal obligations for co-operation. The will of the international community has been expressed in that Security Council resolution.

We do not believe that it is a matter for the federal republic to judge whether the ICTY has the necessary jurisdiction to investigate any possible crimes in Kosovo. We believe that it has a clear obligation to comply and we shall be pursuing that. I am sure that all noble Lords would wish to join with me in the views of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, as expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, as regards the horror at the crimes which have taken place. The horror of what has happened in individual terms has been all too appallingly apparent, alas, on our television screens. I am sure that many of us have been very moved and grieved by what we have seen.

I point out to noble Lords that in all of this Her Majesty's Government have not been dithering. Whatever has been happening internationally, Her Majesty's Government have been determined to secure progress. I believe that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has shown great determination and leadership in this matter--hence the meeting over the weekend and the feeling of the Contact Group in London that my right honourable friend should be its emissary to Skopje and Belgrade during the weekend.

I reiterate to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, that France has not committed itself to ground troops any more than Her Majesty's Government have done. We have committed ourselves to being willing to consider putting in ground troops. I agree that that is quite a positive statement, but I would not like the noble Baroness to think that there was a complete commitment on this issue. We are talking to our allies elsewhere. We shall need to take considerable soundings as regards the views of our allies over the provision of ground troops. We very much hope that no side will take action against civilians during this period. That is what we have hoped throughout. We have a ceasefire which has not been honoured. From the position at the moment, it is hard to know how much non-compliance with this ceasefire has in any way been sanctioned by political leadership. That is the problem which we have to address here.

We shall continue to reiterate to all the participants in this very unhappy conflict the absolute need not to use military force on the unfortunate and unarmed civilians who have very obviously been the unhappy victims of some of the dreadful atrocities that we have seen. I agree with the noble Baroness that it is enormously important that the OSCE continues to do what it can to monitor what is happening on the borders. I must refer again to a particular passage in my right honourable friend's Statement that the OSCE has been very effective in stopping some of the atrocities where it has had a presence. It is where it has not had a presence that the atrocities have continued. I agree with the noble Baroness that it is important to monitor the movements of weaponry in this situation. I also agree that the European dimension is a very important part of the way forward in trying to sort out this conflict.

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4.1 p.m.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, can the noble Baroness say whether the transitional period of three years will allow the people of Kosovo, at the end of that time, either through their elected representatives or through a referendum, to declare total independence if that is their will? Does the noble Baroness appreciate that it is an important condition to get the KLA representative to the conference table and that the option for complete independence is not totally closed off? Will she also deal with the point raised in an article in Der Spiegel this morning by one of the KLA leaders that they are about to elect their own representatives who will be in office from 10th February onwards? If that poses a difficulty for the timetable, bearing in mind that the proceedings at Rambouillet are supposed to start on the 6th, is there to be any flexibility? Would the Contact Group be prepared to extend the period of negotiations by starting, say, a week later if that were a condition which allowed the KLA to take part?

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