I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his question.
The crisis in Kosovo is of increasing concern. Since the Contact Group last met, we have received reports of numerous incidents involving fighting between the Yugoslav Army and Kosovar Albanians. The number of Yugoslav security forces in the province increases daily. Last week, Belgrade claimed that its soldiers had killed 17 members of the Kosovar liberation army, who they said were among 200 armed men crossing the border with Albania.
The reality is that President Milosevic continues to choose violence and repression over dialogue. The increase in the number of heavily armed soldiers, tanks and artillery pieces in the province, and the repression that they are imposing on the Kosovar people, are a direct block to any political solution. It is difficult to have any confidence that the Yugoslav army is acting proportionately and in observance of human rights. Although a large number of alleged terrorists have now been killed, no terrorist has yet appeared before a court and Milosevic has still not offered a meaningful dialogue, including the international involvement requested by the Contact Group.
When the Contact Group first met to discuss Kosovo on 9 March, it spelt out a 10-point action plan for a return to stability and also adopted four sanctions against the Belgrade Government. Action has now been taken on all the measures that can be adopted by the international community.
Last Monday, at the meeting of the General Affairs Council, we committed all the countries of the European Union to a ban on Government export credit to Belgrade and a ban on visas for certain members of the Yugoslav Government.
The United Nations Security Council has now carried a resolution imposing an arms embargo on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Both the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the European Union have stepped up their monitoring activities in Albania and on its border with Kosovo. The European Community monitoring mission has been deployed within Kosovo. The Contact Group has fulfilled its commitment to meet representatives of the countries of the region to seek their views and to reassure them of our commitment to stability throughout their region.
Although the European Union, the OSCE and the United Nations have fulfilled each of the measures recommended by the Contact Group, it is a matter of deep regret that President Milosevic has taken few of the steps demanded of him by the Contact Group.
It was against that background that senior officials from the Contact Group countries met yesterday in Rome to assess the performance of President Milosevic. They had been tasked to measure it against benchmarks set at the meeting that I chaired in London. They were united in their assessment that he had failed to meet those benchmarks.
Yesterday, therefore, the Contact Group agreed to implement a freeze on the funds held abroad by the Governments of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and of Serbia. We also agreed that, on 9 May, if there has been no change in Belgrade's approach, we shall take action to stop new investment in Serbia. I must tell the House that Russia alone in the Contact Group has so far dissociated itself from those further measures.
I hope that the House will join me in sending a clear message to Belgrade: that the international community is united in rejecting violence, the abuse of human rights and the denial of legitimate political expression.
Equally, we are united in calling on the Kosovar Albanians to renounce terrorism and to engage in political dialogue. No quarter can be given to terrorism, but the fight against terrorism must not become an excuse for widespread repression. We do not support independence for Kosovo, but we believe that its present status must be enhanced through meaningful autonomy. We are therefore determined to promote political dialogue on an enhanced status for Kosovo between Belgrade and Pristina as the only course that is likely to produce a stable, peaceful outcome.
We have set out a clear choice for President Milosevic. If he chooses peace and reconciliation, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia can be accepted into the family of democratic nations of modern Europe. If he chooses repression and ethnic confrontation, he will himself condemn his country to deepening and continuing isolation. I am sure that the whole House will join me in urging him to choose peace and reconciliation.
Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that more than 150 people have been killed in Kosovo in the past two months alone? On 7 April, I asked him to take a lead in urging that observers be stationed in Kosovo, on pain of increased sanctions against Serbia. He referred in his reply to the presence of the EU monitoring mission. Will he tell us more about its activities? How long has the mission been in Kosovo? How many members does it have? Are they allowed to operate without let or hindrance? Do they have free access to the parts of Kosovo that they want to visit?
Has the Red Cross continued to visit or monitor the area? What progress has been made on the extension of the mandate of the UN force on the border between Macedonia and Serbia, which my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) requested on 7 April? The Foreign Secretary told the House on that occasion that he was exploring with Albania and other neighbouring states how they might be provided with similar security and reassurance. Can he tell us what progress has been made in achieving that objective? Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what confidence he has that the measures announced yesterday will be effective and what action he proposes to take if they do not have the effect that he and the whole House want them to have?
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his statement of support for the position taken by the Government and by the international community. It is an important signal to Belgrade that those there should understand that there is unity, not division, in the attitude of the international community.
The tragedy of Kosovo is that I am not able to confirm how many people have been killed. The figures for the past week have come from the Belgrade authorities. We have not been able to obtain any independent verification of them. I can say only that, from the figures that we have, the number killed certainly exceeds 100 and is most certainly far too high. Each one of the deaths is a cause for regret.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about monitoring. The European monitoring mission that has been deployed in Kosovo is technically attached to Belgrade. It has extended its remit and practice to provide controls in Kosovo. Our understanding is that, by and large, it has had a fair degree of ability to operate in the populated areas in Kosovo. I should add that, as a result of a decision of the Contact Group, every EU country is encouraging its embassy in Belgrade to send its staff on monitoring missions and provide a presence in Pristina and Kosovo. I should like to pay particular tribute to the defence attaché at our embassy in Belgrade, who has regularly toured Kosovo, often at considerable risk.
The Red Cross has deployed to Kosovo. My understanding is that it is continuing its presence there. The truth is that none of us has monitors in the remote mountainous regions where recent clashes took place. Such regions are, by and large, accessible only by the kind of military vehicle that the Yugoslav army has deployed.
On the issue of UNPREDEP—the UN preventative deployment force on the border with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia—I am pleased to say that there is a consensus at an international level that its mandate must be extended. The best way of doing that, and what is the best mix between an UN mandate and a NATO presence, are under discussion, but I assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that I am confident that we shall be able to extend that remit.
The OSCE monitors are now deployed in Albania. They and the European Community monitoring mission regularly visit, from Tirana, the border with Kosovo. We continue to be in dialogue with the Albanian Government as to how we can improve monitoring and observance of their border with Kosovo.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked me what confidence I have in the response of President Milosevic. I must say that I would be unwise indeed to express any confidence in President Milosevic's behaviour. I met him shortly after the crisis began, at the very beginning of March, and I very much regret to say that he did not appear to show any understanding of the importance that the international community attaches to this issue. Nor did he appear to recognise that, if he wishes to defuse the growing difficulty of violence with Kosovo, the way in which to do so is not by escalating the violence but by promoting political dialogue. I therefore cannot give the right hon. and learned Gentleman any assurance on behalf of President Milosevic. I can, though, assure him, and President Milosevic, that the international community will continue to show determination and resolve in giving priority to bringing the issue to a peaceful, not a violent, conclusion.
At the London conference that the Foreign Secretary convened, by skilful diplomacy, he kept a substantial degree of unity among the outside powers. We now understand that Russia has dissociated itself from the present range of measures. How does my right hon. Friend read that Russian position? It could be quite dangerous if Russia were, for example, to go beyond a technical dissociation and supply arms and other materiel to the Yugoslavs. How significant is it that Russia has dissociated itself from what was a common position?
Russia cannot—nor, for that matter, can any other country—now provide military equipment or materiel to the Government in Belgrade without being in defiance of a UN Security Council resolution for which Russia itself voted. On the arms embargo, I expect Russia to abide by the agreement that it gave to the Contact Group and the resolution it supported at the UN. It is a matter of regret that Russia has decided not to participate in some of the wider economic sanctions which have been applied. There is undoubtedly a risk that that division in the international community, and the practical support it may offer from Russia to Belgrade, could give heart to President Milosevic in ignoring the strong signals sent by the international community.
Although it can be difficult and frustrating working through a Contact Group in which there is no ready unanimity, it is much better that we preserve that forum as the basis for dialogue with other countries, such as Russia, which may not immediately share our approach to the situation to bring them on board as often as we can—as we did with success on the arms embargo. Finally, I note that, although Russia has not chosen to support the specific sanctions, it is frank and open in sharing our assessment of the situation in Kosovo and the need for international action.
Is it not clear that an already explosive situation in Kosovo is likely only to deteriorate further unless the Milosevic Government abandon their provocation towards the ethnic Albanians and, in particular, their defiance of international opinion? What is the Foreign Secretary's assessment of the possible consequences for the fragile and tentative gains made in Bosnia if the unrest continues?
May I repeat to the right hon. Gentleman the proposals that I made earlier this week in a letter, one of which he has almost accepted—that the UN force on the Kosovo-Macedonia border should be strengthened? The Foreign Secretary has said that its mandate might be extended, but it is essential that the force should be strengthened. In view of the apparently favourable attitude of the Albanian Government, should not a NATO force be established to screen the Kosovo-Albania border? In addition, the Russian Government may not wish to associate themselves with all the conclusions of the Contact Group, but should they not, none the less, be asked to persuade Mr. Milosevic to draw back before it is too late? Finally, without in any way endorsing military action, should not NATO officials be asked to study how the alliance's resources might best be used to preserve human rights and to maintain stability throughout the region?
On the last point, we remain in close dialogue with our NATO partners. We have examined what may be the best form of the continuing international military presence on the border of FYROM with Serbia. Exactly what that mix would be, and quite who would be best placed to ensure the right level of presence, is under discussion. I can guarantee that it will be extended and appropriate to the perceived threat and task for that force.
The hon. and learned Gentleman raised an important aspect of the current crisis—it is not confined simply to Kosovo, and the growing tension there can spill over elsewhere. It would be a deep tragedy if the mounting tension within Kosovo were to put in reverse the hard-won gains made within Bosnia. As the House will know, I recently addressed the assembly of Republika Srpska in Banja Luka. The change in politics there under the Administration of Mr. Dodik has been quite remarkable. The greatest source of hope for the future within Bosnia is if we can build on that to achieve reconciliation between Serb, Bosniak and Croat. We are determined to make sure that that is not put into reverse, and we are looking to see how we can make sure that the border of Bosnia is also secured. I totally echo the hon. and learned Gentleman's opening thought. The great tragedy of the current situation in Kosovo is that President Milosevic is now the best recruiting sergeant for the Kosovar liberation army.
I understand the concern that prompts my hon. Friend's question. We discuss with our partners possible responses that may be needed. Previous experience has suggested that military involvement purely for humanitarian purposes would work only where there is acceptance by the host Government. At present, there is no prospect of that. The way forward is political dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. That is the objective of the international community, to which we shall work. We must weigh carefully any suggestion of a military presence against the consequences of it elsewhere in the region. They would not always necessarily be peaceful, nor welcomed by all of the countries in the region.
The Foreign Secretary has made welcome remarks about the tightening of sanctions. The reality is that sanctions appear to have had little effect on Milosevic; if anything, they deepen the nationalism in Serbia, although we should go ahead with them.
The key issue is the spread, and the risk of the spread, of the conflict to other parts of former Yugoslavia. The Government still do not appear to be doing enough to press for an increased military presence in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. It is welcome that existing forces are to have their life extended, but is he pressing for a substantial increase in those forces and, if so, what level does the Foreign Secretary think is appropriate to offer an effective deterrence to possible Serb aggression in Macedonia?
I shall respond to the hon. Gentleman's second point, and then deal with his first point.
We must weigh carefully the purpose of the force on the border of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Its purpose is to provide a clear signal of confidence to the Government in Skopje and a clear signal of our concern to Belgrade, to make sure that it understands that concern. The great majority of the troops on the border are American. The number on the ground is much less of an important signal to Belgrade than the fact that they are American. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall make sure in our discussions, which are active at present, that whatever force is deployed will be appropriate to the task and the purpose of the force.
The hon. Gentleman made a fair point when he drew attention to the need for care so as not to drive the population of Serbia back behind President Milosevic, especially given that, over the years, more and more of them have shown a tendency to differ from him. When I was last in Belgrade, I met a number of young people who were associated with the independent radio network. Their views were as cosmopolitan, as pluralist and as forward-looking as those of young people in any other capital of Europe.
It is important that we send a signal to those of alternative views within Serbia that there is an alternative future for it: if President Milosevic and the Government in Belgrade responded to the offers and demands that we are making, we should be willing to work positively with Serbia. It is important that we send that signal if we are to maximise the courage of those who want to speak out against President Milosevic, rather than maximise Serbian support behind him.
My right hon. Friend rightly talks about the need for conversation between Pristina and Belgrade, but, as President Milosevic has just had a massive referendum result, which would seem to cement him into his position, and the Albanians in Kosovo will talk only if there is an international presence at any talks, there seems to be an impasse.
Although we encourage my right hon. Friend and the Contact Group to get such talks going as soon as possible, is there not a case not only for strengthening the presence in Macedonia on the border but for putting in an international force on the Albanian border to show the determination of the international community that what is happening in Kosovo will not extend to other countries, where there could be a conflagration if signs and demonstrations are not made in respect of defending the Albanians in Kosovo?
Will my right hon. Friend give more detail of the presence at the feast of which there has been little discussion—the United States Government? What is their attitude, and are they giving a lead, as they have in the Balkans where Europe has failed in the past?
We remain in close contact with our colleagues in the United States and we work closely with them in co-ordinating the position that we take to the Contact Group. It would be fair to say that all that I have expressed from the Dispatch Box today would be entirely shared by Madeleine Albright, the US Secretary of State. I hope to discuss those matters and others with her when she is in London this Sunday evening.
My hon. Friend referred to the referendum result. That massive referendum result seems to be a classic illustration of the maxim that if one writes the question one will get the answer that one wants, and in that case—[Interruption.] Our questions were entirely fair and received a perfectly fair and honest reply. I do not think that even those Conservative Members who are indulging in hilarity would defend the question as drafted by President Milosevic. We have no problem defending our questions, nor have the people who voted in large numbers for them.
My hon. Friend also referred to the need for international facilitation for the talks between Belgrade and Pristina. Those talks will happen only if there is some degree of international involvement. That is why we have recommended that Felipe Gonzalez, the representative of the President of the OSCE and of the EU, should have his mission accepted in Belgrade and should be allowed to start work there. We are willing to facilitate those talks and we believe that that is the best way in which those talks can start.
Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that the international community, through the Contact Group, had information and intelligence that the situation in Kosovo was likely to deteriorate before violence took place there? Will he undertake an examination of how the Government use intelligence and information in order to spark Contact Group action and sanctions against members of the international community, such as President Milosevic, in advance of violent happenings when the Government have information available to prevent such things happening at the time, rather than wait for violence to happen and for us then to appear to be driven by our television screens?
I am not aware of any specific intelligence of the character to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but we have responded rapidly and robustly to the developing situation. Within two weeks of the violence, we had the first meeting of the Contact Group which applied the first four sanctions. We now have in place an arms embargo and a number of economic sanctions. That compares and contrasts favourably with the international community's record back in 1991 at the first break-up of the former Yugoslavia when it took almost a year to apply any sanctions. We are now in a position where we have to review whether those measures are sufficient and whether others are required, but no one could fairly accuse the Contact Group or the EU of not responding with speed on this occasion.
My right hon. Friend has already referred to the disproportionate and oppressive deployment of Serb forces in Kosovo. Without necessarily drawing any conclusions, will he take this opportunity to confirm that NATO has the capacity to maintain effective and accurate surveillance of those forces?
NATO, and our partners within NATO, have a capacity to maintain surveillance, but the mountainous region near the border between Albania and Kosovo is a difficult terrain and our information as to what is happening on the ground is not as full as we should wish it to be. We shall obviously try to obtain the best information that we can and to act upon it, but we are dealing with a difficult Government who operate under a cloak of secrecy, and a mountainous terrain where surveillance is difficult.
The hon. Gentleman asks a question about our intelligence information and he will understand why I cannot respond to it. We seek to understand as best we can from where support is coming. As best we know, the bulk of support that is reaching the Kosovar liberation army comes from fund raising throughout Europe. There is no great secrecy about that.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary's very firm statement, but does he agree that the unity and resolve of the international community are essential if two dangerous messages are not to be sent? First, if it fails, President Milosevic will be reinforced in his view that he can oppress the people of Kosovo with impunity. Secondly, if the view takes root among the people of Kosovo that the international community is unable to protect them, it will undermine the peaceful approach that President Rugova has adopted, which so far has enjoyed the majority support of the Kosovar people. Does my right hon. Friend share my view that, if all that fails and Milosevic chooses the path of repression, the only solution will be to recognise the rights of the people of Kosovo to self-determination?
I must first respond to my hon. Friend's last point. If by self-determination he means a right to independence, I have to say that no voice in the international community supports independence for Kosovo. We must be very much alive to two features when we handle that question: the consequence throughout the rest of the Balkans of such a development and the extent to which what we do would undermine one of the principles that we are trying to apply throughout the Balkans—the inviolability of international borders.
The rest of my hon. Friend's question is perfectly fair and is, indeed, political common sense. If President Milosevic continues on the present path, he will make it much more difficult for the present political leadership of the Kosovar Albanians to maintain their standing pursuit of peaceful reconciliation and peaceful progress. I believe that President Milosevic is fortunate in the leadership of the Kosovar Albanians, who have rejected violence as a means forward, and I am pleased to say that the very large participation by the Kosovar people in the parallel elections there showed their own rejection of the boycott demand of the Kosovar liberation army.
If the sanctions and embargoes outlined by my right hon. Friend today persuade President Milosevic to engage in genuine political dialogue with the ethnic Albanians, does he anticipate former Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez playing a role, analogous to that so ably performed by Senator George Mitchell, in the attainment of a tolerable accommodation between the Serbs and the ethnic Albanians?
Let me first respond to the previous question and say that I am advised that there has been British participation in a long-standing NATO exercise within the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. To respond to the question that has just been put to me, yes, we do see a clear role for Felipe Gonzalez's mission. Whether the type of detailed role that my hon. Friend suggests is one that Mr. Gonzalez, or someone working with his mission, would carry out is a matter for discussion and to be elaborated.
Tragically, we are a long way from that, because we have yet to obtain agreement from President Milosevic that he will receive Mr. Gonzalez's mission. If President Milosevic wishes to take the first step of bringing the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia back into the international community and modern Europe, I urge him to accept as soon as possible that the way to do so is to enter into dialogue with those who are appointed to represent it by the international community.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary's measured tones, but does he find it not only regrettable but ominous that Russia would not associate itself with the Contact Group's decision late last night? If he casts his mind back to the time of the conflict in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, he will recall that many arms, and material and other forms of support, came from the Russian Government or from sources within the Russian Federation. What hope can he give today that sanctions will be more effective now than they were in 1992?
As I told the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) earlier, I can make no confident prediction as to what President Milosevic's response will be. Certainly, if the international community is going to be obliged to assert its will through sanctions, those sanctions will take time to have their effect. Nevertheless, neither the hon. Gentleman nor the House should underrate the extent to which we have put in place a formidable array of sanctions. They include: a ban on Government credit for exports; a ban on investment in the privatisations of President Milosevic; and, unless there is a change by 9 May, a ban on investment. We are also imposing a freeze on his Government's assets. We have chosen measures that will hit the Government and President Milosevic, not the ordinary people of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Those measures are considerable and they will have a serious impact on the functioning of that Government.
When economic sanctions helped to change the situation in South Africa, they had the support of the African National Congress, which spoke for the mass of the people there. Has there been any equivalent response in Yugoslavia, or in Kosovo among the majority Albanian population? Do they support sanctions which, in the end, will affect the ordinary people as well as the leadership of the Yugoslav regime?
As far as we are aware, all the steps taken by the Contact Group have had broad support from the leadership of the Kosovar Albanians. Kosovo's economy is quite distinct from that of Belgrade, so I do not believe that the measures that we have adopted have given rise to any tension on their part. The point was made when I last reported to the House that there is some anxiety among the neighbouring countries that we should avoid trade sanctions that would hit them as hard as Belgrade. That is why we have chosen a range of economic sanctions targeted on Belgrade, not on friendly neighbouring countries.
Is not the inconvenient reality that, without the support of Slav Russia, the rest of us can whistle in the wind as long as we like without being able to influence President Milosevic? In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), the Foreign Secretary replied that the Russians had said that they wanted international action. What exactly do they want; what do they think should be done?
I am not entirely sure that my hon. Friend's concluding questions might not be better addressed to Mr. Primakov. I can tell him that, through our dialogue in the Contact Group, we have persuaded Russia—not with any initial enthusiasm on its part—to sign up to the international arms embargo. That is an important gain, given Russia's powerful historic role as a supplier of weapons to the former Yugoslavia. It is true that it would greatly assist the impact of the measures that we have adopted if Russia were an enthusiastic participant in them; but I cannot accept the implication of my hon. Friend's opening comment—that, without Russia's support, we should not try to do anything. It is important that we do all that we can; Europe was an important source of much of the investment and many of the export credits that were going to the FRY. Europe therefore can have a serious impact through the economic sanctions.
While the flaking away of Russia was regrettable, was it not also highly predictable, and did it not strengthen the need for the rest of the Contact Group to remain unanimous in its resolve to stand up to Slobodan Milosevic's nationalist aggression? Is it not now time to accede to the Albanian Government's requests for troop deployments on their border with Kosovo?
As I have said in responding to several hon. Members, we have consulted our partners on this issue. The House should not underrate the extent to which the European Union and OSCE actively monitor the border between Albania and Kosovo.
On whether Russia's departure, or defection, on those measures was inevitable, I can say only that we shall have an opportunity to discuss that again in a fortnight's time when all the Foreign Ministers of the Contact Group will be in London for the G8 Foreign Ministers' meeting. We shall also take up many of those points again with Mr. Primakov.
Much of the media that cater for the Albanian ethnic population have been closed by direct acts of violence or by the actions of a corrupt judicial system. One newspaper was punished by a judge for printing, accurately, a headline reading, "15 Albanians killed", which he irrationally said should have read, "15 terrorists killed". Will the Government act to replace Albanian radio stations that are now silent with alternative stations broadcasting from outside Kosovo?
I shall first respond to my hon. Friend's question, then share in the premise that led to it. Technically, it is not easy to do what he suggests in the terrain between Albania and Kosovo, and there are also serious issues of political sensitivity about beaming radio stations from Albania into Kosovo. Having said that, I do not in any way dissociate myself from my hon. Friend's opening remarks. One of the tragedies of the situation within the federal republic is the way in which there is no genuine freedom of expression, particularly for the broadcast media. There is an absence of freedom of expression in Kosovo for Albanian language broadcasting stations. We continue to press the Government in Belgrade on that, and, although alternative subjects should not be ruled out, we should not avoid recognising that the primary responsibility lies with President Milosevic. He must be brought to grasp the fact that, in a modern Europe, freedom of expression for broadcasting stations is an essential part of a free and democratic state.