Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Kosovo

4. Jackie Ballard (Taunton): If he will make a statement on the situation in Kosovo. [54288]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): Since my statement to the House last week, Britain has remained fully engaged in efforts to implement the Holbrooke package. At the weekend, after hours of intensive negotiation, President Milosevic gave a detailed commitment to reduce the levels of army, police and heavy weapons in Kosovo to their levels before the conflict. Diplomatic observers in Kosovo report that several thousand security troops have left over the past 24 hours.

There has been a significant return of refugees to settlements in the valleys, and the UN estimates that numbers on the hillsides have fallen from 50,000 to around 10,000.

President Milosevic has shown some progress towards meeting the demands of the Security Council, but there is a long way still to go before we secure a self-governing Kosovo with its own elected leadership and free from repression from Belgrade.

Jackie Ballard: I thank the Foreign Secretary for that reply. I am sure that everyone hopes that President Milosevic will continue to pull back from the brink. I am also pleased to hear that thousands of refugees are returning to the valleys. However, anxiety remains about what the international community intends to do to ensure safe and unrestricted access to Kosovo throughout the winter months in order to provide humanitarian aid to the refugees and prevent thousands of deaths from illness and starvation.

Mr. Cook: The hon. Lady is absolutely right to express concern about the position of the refugees. So many of their homes have been destroyed by the actions of the Serb security forces that, although returning from the hillsides may take them nearer to where they once lived, it will not necessarily provide them with shelter. The refugees are still at risk from cold, hunger and disease.

That is why we attach the highest importance to ensuring that humanitarian relief gets through to the refugees and why Britain, in particular, in the past week has provided grants to Care International for winter goods, to Oxfam for winter shelter and to Medecin sans Frontieres for mobile clinics. We shall continue to play a leading role in the international effort.

Mr. Michael Trend (Windsor): Is the Foreign Secretary aware, that over the weekend, Alastair Campbell briefed the press in Austria? I have a transcript of that briefing, which said that the Prime Minister would tell the informal summit that


To ensure that the Government can no longer be accused of prolonging that dithering, will the Foreign Secretary inform the House for how long NATO forces will be maintained at their current and commendable state of readiness?

Mr. Cook: I assure the hon. Gentleman that Britain played a leading part in building unity both in NATO and

27 Oct 1998 : Column 140

in the contact group. If this country had not shown that leadership in securing agreement for the diplomatic track in the contact group--backed by a credible threat from NATO--we would not have made the progress that I have just reported to the House.

The North Atlantic Council is meeting to hear reports about progress on compliance, and I think that it is likely to conclude that Milosevic has made progress but has a long way to go yet. Therefore, I think that it is quite likely that we will resolve that we must keep our guard up. It is not yet the time to let that guard down.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): If, as appears possible, it may not now be necessary to use the attack aircraft of NATO's air forces, would it not make sense to use NATO's transport aircraft to help to meet the priorities already established by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees? Is it not the case that, in communities that were first razed to the ground and then looted, it is not only food and blankets that are required but medicines, equipment to restore essential services such as electricity and water, agricultural implements and building materials? If necessary, should we not have a Kosovo airlift to prevent the humanitarian disaster which we all dread?

Mr. Cook: I can certainly assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that, if the United Nations should approach us for support in the transport of goods to Kosovo, we would be very willing to consider that sympathetically because we would not want essential goods not to get through because of the lack of logistics. One of the reasons that we are anxious to get the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe verification mission up and running on the ground is precisely so that we can have those members of that team in every village and town, not merely to stand by and observe but robustly to intervene and make sure that they broker access to humanitarian goods and that the people of Kosovo are given the chance to come through this winter.

Chile

6. Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar): If he will make a statement on the UK's relations with Chile. [54290]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): I met the Deputy Foreign Minister of Chile, Mr. Mariano Fernandez, on Saturday. I explained to the Minister that the Government of Britain had no power to intervene in the court proceedings concerning Senator Pinochet, and nor would it be proper for us to direct the police in the execution of a magistrate's warrant. I also stressed to Mr. Fernandez the determination of the Government to prevent these legal procedures from undermining our excellent relations with the democratic Government of Chile.

Mr. Pickles: Will the right hon. Gentleman join me in congratulating the people of Chile on the smooth transition from dictatorship to a robust democracy? Does he agree that one of the most remarkable features of that is that opponents of the former regime worked side by side with people who supported it, forswearing individual

27 Oct 1998 : Column 141

acts of violence, to build a strong and robust democracy in Chile? Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that that balance between opponent and supporter is a fine one and that outside influences are not welcome in that process? If he agrees with that, has he had an opportunity over the past fortnight to pass on that view to other members of the Government?

Mr. Cook: Of course there is a fine balance in direct conciliation and accommodation in Chile. That fine balance includes 14 current prosecutions outstanding against Senator Pinochet.

Of course we warmly welcome the progress of Chile and many other countries of Latin America towards democracy. One of the important founding stones of democracy is the rule of law and the clear principle that politicians should not decide who is arrested and who is not, and it is that principle that we are upholding in Britain.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): I have never had tea and sympathy with General Pinochet, and, having visited Chile during the reign of terror in the early 1980s and seen the way in which the oldest and longest democracy in Latin America had had its democracy subverted, I would never seek to parley with that gentleman. However, our views are surely irrelevant: will my right hon. Friend confirm that, once a proper application had been made under the Extradition Act 1989, we had no option but to let due process proceed?

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. One of the most curious features of the past few days and the comments on them is the idea that the Bow Street magistrates issuing a warrant and the Metropolitan police executing it somehow adds up to a left-wing conspiracy. The Government are clear: due process of law must be carried out and it must not be warped to fit anybody's political agenda.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe): Is it not correct that the handling of this arrest and the possible extradition of General Pinochet have been bedevilled by chaos and confusion throughout? Why have the Government still not established whether or not the Spanish Government, as opposed to one Spanish judge, are applying for his extradition? Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that the Home Secretary had a discretion not to authorise the grant of a warrant and could at that point have taken into account many factors, including the implications of the arrest for the future of democracy in Chile?

Mr. Cook: The right hon. and learned Gentleman wrote to me last week saying that, if an extradition request were made, of course the normal processes and procedures should be followed. It is difficult to see that sentiment in the question that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just put to me. Of course we have had no contact on the question with the Spanish Government. It would be deeply improper to do so. The extradition request has been processed by entirely competent legal authority in Spain. It is for the Spanish authorities to decide whether they wish to withdraw it, not for us to decide whether we should ignore it. The Home Secretary was entirely proper in allowing the due process of law to

27 Oct 1998 : Column 142

proceed. There was a time when the Conservative party would have prided itself on being the party of the rule of law. It is rather sad that it has now departed from that principle of our constitution.

Mr. Howard: Does the Foreign Secretary not appreciate that the rule of law in this matter includes a discretion for the Home Secretary to take into account factors such as those that I mentioned, before authorising a warrant? On what conceivable basis does the Foreign Secretary allege that it would be improper to ask the Spanish Government whether they, as opposed to one judge, want General Pinochet to be extradited?

Mr. Cook: It is a matter for the Spanish legal authorities to decide whether to proceed with this, just as it is a matter for the British courts to decide how to proceed on it. Of course, areas of discretion are available to the Home Secretary after due process and after the matter has been before the courts. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is really saying that there were occasions when, in secret, he squashed a warrant for extradition, he should tell the House when it was.


Next Section

IndexHome Page