Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th April 1998.

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Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Conservative, Chichester 12:00 am, 7th April 1998

If he will make a statement on the situation in Kosovo. [36531]

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

We vigorously condemn the excessive force used by the Serbian security forces in Kosovo in recent weeks and deeply regret the loss of lives there. As the United Kingdom has presidency of the European Union, I visited Belgrade to record our concern and I also called a meeting of the contact group in London to respond to the crisis. Our central objectives are the withdrawal of paramilitary special police from Kosovo and a meaningful dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina to secure greater autonomy and enhanced status for Kosovo.

We want to be able to accept the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia into the European family of democratic states, but we cannot do so unless Belgrade starts to accept modern standards of human rights and ethnic tolerance.

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Conservative, Chichester

What are the Government doing to prevent the spread of conflict to Macedonia? There are currently just under 1,000 lightly armed troops in Macedonia, mainly from United States forces, but how many more do the Government think it would be appropriate for the United Nations, or possibly NATO, to deploy there?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

The day after the contact group meeting, I spoke to President Gligorov of Macedonia, who particularly welcomed the commitment in our statement at the contact group that the mandate of the UN force on the border between Macedonia and Serbia be extended beyond its expiry date this June. We are working on how we can achieve that extension, and whether it should be done through the UN, NATO or other regional groupings.

I do not think that the number of troops is as significant as their symbolic force. The hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) is right in saying that most of the troops are from United States forces, which gives immense confidence to Macedonia that anyone who infringes its border is taking on the United States —the numbers are less important than the clear symbolic support that they represent.

We are currently exploring with Albania and the other neighbouring states how we can also provide them with similar security and reassurance, so that we contain tensions from Kosovo and they do not spill over into a regional conflict.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Labour, Exeter

Following that reply, will my right hon. Friend say why the Albanian Government's requests for such deployment have so far been refused?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

We have explored with the Albanian Government the possibility of a partnership for peace project in Albania, to demonstrate the country's close ties with NATO and NATO's close interest in it. I met the Prime Minister of Albania after the most recent contact group meeting at the end of March; we had a very useful exchange, and he warmly appreciated the strong support of Europe and the contact group for the neighbouring countries. We are determined that any continuing disruption in Kosovo will not spill over. Moreover, we are determined that Belgrade should stop behaving as it is in Kosovo, and achieve a settlement there, which is the key to securing that region's security.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State

Does not the Foreign Secretary agree that early action in this very dangerous area could save great grief later? Why does he not take a lead in urging that observers be stationed in Kosovo on pain of increased sanctions against Serbia if the Serbs do not agree?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

First, I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point, which is exactly why I went to Belgrade the week after the killings. That is also why the contact group met within two weeks of the killings, and why the British presidency ensured that all the sanctions that were approved by the contact group on 9 March were fully implemented by the European Union within 10 days. We have acted, and we have acted with speed.

Three major sanctions are now in place against Belgrade: first, the arms embargo, which the Security Council has now cleared; secondly, a ban on visas for senior members of the Belgrade authorities; and thirdly, a freeze on credits for investment or participation in privatisations by the Serbian Government—that is vital because that is the way in which Mr. Milosevic pays for his police activities. We are committed to a further meeting at the end of the month, when we shall review progress.

On observance, we have repeatedly pressed for Pristina and Kosovo to be open to an international presence. I am pleased that, because of contact group pressure, the Red Cross was able to visit the area and to monitor what is happening. Our embassy in Belgrade regularly and routinely visits Kosovo.