Kosovo

Part of New Schedule 2 – in the House of Commons at 10:04 pm on 31st March 1999.

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Photo of John Maples John Maples Shadow Secretary of State 10:04 pm, 31st March 1999

In last week's debate on Kosovo, I think that we were all agreed that in President Milosevic, we are dealing with a very evil man. If anyone had any lingering doubts about that, they must have been dispelled by what we have read in our newspapers and by the truly tragic scenes that we have seen on television over the past few days of refugees evicted from their homes, sleeping in the open and having to flee for their lives. We welcome the aid that the Government are helping to organise and the role of the RAF that the Secretary of State has described. We continue to support the Government in their efforts to resolve this crisis and bring an end to the atrocities.

During the past few days, the Secretary of State has set out some objectives for the military campaign. I want to ask him some questions about two of them. One objective was to do very serious damage to Serbia's military capabilities and another was to stop the atrocities in Kosovo. The Secretary of State has reported considerable progress in achieving the first objective. He tells us that many of the SAM—surface-to-air-missile—sites and planes have been destroyed. Will he confirm that quite a bit of Serb air defence capability is still intact? Serb troops still have missile sites and can operate hand-held, shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles that are a particular danger to low-flying aircraft in the daytime.

There has been some success in that matter, but there has not been success in the second objective of stopping the atrocities. The atrocities plainly and brutally continue and the bombing appears to be having little effect on the ground. The Secretary of State has told us that he is convinced that the matter can be resolved by air power alone. Will he tell us whether there are any plans to alter the nature of the air campaign to achieve that? The problem seems to be that although sophisticated bombing techniques are very good at taking out large military installations, they are not much use in attacking individual trucks, tanks or the groups of soldiers perpetrating the atrocities in Kosovo. He has told us that there are additional B-1 bombers at Fairford and that they will help. I understand that there are also American JSTARS—joint surveillance target attack radar system—and A-10s in the area. Does he think that those new military assets will help NATO forces to restrict Serb ground forces and prevent them from committing atrocities in Kosovo?

I think that I am correct in saying that there were eight and there are now 12 RAF Harriers and about 240 people in Italy, plus tankers. Will the Secretary of State tell us whether there are plans to deploy any more UK air forces in the region? Will the NATO force in Macedonia—the potential peacekeeping force—be brought up to the planned 28,000 from its present strength of about 14,000?

The use of ground troops to fight their way into Kosovo has been ruled out by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the Secretary of State for Defence and by the President of the United States. Can the Secretary of State confirm that there has been no alteration to that policy? Has he seen the announcement by the Russian Defence Minister that seven ships of the Russian Black sea fleet, including missile-carrying and anti-submarine frigates, are leaving their Black sea port to—in the Defence Minister's words— monitor the conflict in Kosovo". Those troops will have to pass through the Bosporus and I understand that that requires Turkish permission. Has NATO been consulted on that matter and does the Secretary of State believe that it presents an additional threat?

Today, the Prime Minister set a new objective for the military mission—that the test of success is for the Kosovars to be able to return home. Will the Secretary of State tell us whether that rules out not only any outcome that involves leaving Kosovo in Serb hands, but any partition of Kosovo? In last week's debate, we asked the Secretary of State whether the Government had a longer-term strategy for achieving Balkan stability. We express the hope that there is one. I should be grateful if the Government would address that question and if the Secretary of State would share his thinking with us, if not tonight at some other time.

I hope that the Secretary of State is right—that President Milosevic is rattled and that he is huddled in his bunker—but I fear that this is all going to be more difficult and will take much longer than the Government seem to think. I am sure that the whole House is thinking of our armed services in the theatre, especially those who are in danger. We wish them good fortune, great success and a speedy homecoming.