Former Yugoslavia

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 1:46 pm on 15th January 1997.

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Photo of Lady Olga Maitland Lady Olga Maitland , Sutton and Cheam 1:46 pm, 15th January 1997

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on current developments in former Yugoslavia. [9234]

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

Throughout this crisis, the British Government have been pressing President Milosevic in the clearest possible terms to accept democratic principles and to recognise the opposition victories. On 2 December and on subsequent occasions, I called on President Milosevic to respect democratic institutions and the election results. Moreover, we have backed those words with action. We cancelled the December visit to the United Kingdom of the Deputy Prime Minister of the former Republic of Yugoslavia and we have strongly supported the EU decision to suspend the planned extension of trade concessions to Belgrade. We have also invited a leading member of the Serbian opposition to London. We will continue to maintain this pressure for as long as it is necessary.

Photo of Lady Olga Maitland Lady Olga Maitland , Sutton and Cheam

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his encouraging words. As he knows, half a million people have been out on the streets of Belgrade for 55 days protesting against a thoroughly discredited regime. Much as I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's remarks, is he aware that the public in Belgrade are under the impression that Her Majesty's Government have not been as supportive of the opposition as they have been? Will he press the endeavours that he has described to give public and unequivocal support to the opposition, who are undoubtedly reflecting the will of the people of Yugoslavia today?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. The cancellation of the visit to this country by the Deputy Prime Minister of the former Republic of Yugoslavia goes beyond the action of any other European Union member state. We strongly identify with all those who are seeking respect for democratic elections and for the result of the elections that have already taken place. There has been some limited progress in the various concessions about which we have heard recently, but we will continue to apply national pressure and pressure along with our friends and allies until President Milosevic shows total respect for the democratic process.

Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing , Liverpool, West Derby

I support the Government's attitude in respect of the manipulation of elections in Serbia. However, can the Foreign Secretary explain why there is a difference between our attitude to Serbia and our attitude to Croatia? Not long ago, the mayor of Zagreb was refused office by President Tudjman; yet, while sanctions are threatened against Serbia, Croatia is rewarded with a place in the Council of Europe. What is the explanation?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

We certainly do not have double standards. Along with other member states, we were cautious about Croatia's application to join the Council of Europe, and it perhaps took longer than had been anticipated. We attach importance to the significant events to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack , South Staffordshire

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the disturbing events in Belgrade in recent weeks show where most of the blame lies for the appalling misery that has been inflicted on the former Yugoslavia in recent years? Do not those events justify the warnings that some of us gave as long ago as 1991?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

I do not think that there has ever been any disagreement about the disgraceful way in which Mr. Milosevic encouraged many of the problems that existed in not only his country but Bosnia-Herzegovina to evolve. In so far as there were differences of view, they were not about the origin of many of the problems but were about the best way to address them in subsequent years.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Looking a little further on Yugoslavia, is not one of the most substantial obstacles to the return of normality to that country the presence of so many anti-personnel land mines, which were scattered indiscriminately by all sides in the conflict? What steps are being taken to clear those land mines, which take their toll of civilians rather than soldiers? In view of the increasing support for a ban from former senior military commanders and other notable figures, why will the Government not take a lead and, once and for all, abandon the production, use, export and sale of all anti-personnel land mines?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

I welcome the statement by a Red Cross official this morning welcoming the Government's policy. That policy is simple and straightforward: we support a multilateral, universal ban on land mines, as called for in several quarters. We welcome the support given to that policy, as does the Red Cross.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook , Livingston

May I associate the Opposition in full with the Government's criticisms of the refusal by President Milosevic to accept the democratic outcome of elections? Does the Foreign Secretary agree that, if it is the case that the public in Belgrade are not aware of those criticisms, it may be because television is totally under the control of President Milosevic? Have not the events of the past few weeks demonstrated how much further the president must travel to guarantee the freedom of the broadcasting media and the independence of the supreme courts? Finally, can the Foreign Secretary confirm that there can be no question of President Milosevic receiving the aid that he was promised in the Dayton agreement unless he carries out his obligations to deliver democracy to Serbia and to deliver war criminals to the international tribunal?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

I very much welcome the right hon. Gentleman's remarks. One of the most important ways in which freedom is suppressed in that country is by control over the media, and one of the successful examples of international pressure has been the efforts led by the United Kingdom to allow the reopening of the independent radio station that Mr. Milosevic closed in December. That station is now functioning again and, through that means and others, the people of that country are gaining access to news of what is going on in the world.