Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:21 pm on 18 May 1999.

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Photo of Mohammad Sarwar Mohammad Sarwar Labour, Glasgow Govan 8:21, 18 May 1999

A number of hon. Members have referred to the recent civilian casualties as a result of the NATO bombing, and to the need for dialogue and diplomacy. They are right to stress the need for diplomacy, and I agree that dialogue must always be tried before force is used. However, in this case, all diplomatic and peaceful avenues have been exhausted. NATO has been forced by the intransigence of the Serbs into taking this action.

It must not be forgotten that the Serbs were given every opportunity to resolve the issue peacefully, but repeatedly failed to take those opportunities. In fact, President Milosevic and his troops continued to commit atrocities against innocent men, women and children. Milosevic and his forces have deliberately and brutally ethnically cleansed tens of thousands of Kosovar Albanians from their homes in Kosovo. That is the latest event in a campaign of Serb nationalism and ethnic cleansing that Milosevic's regime has waged during the past 10 years in various parts of the Balkans—in Croatia, in Bosnia and now in Kosovo.

The ethnic cleansing in all those countries, including Kosovo, occurred long before NATO started the air campaign. It must be remembered that Milosevic had created thousands of refugees in Kosovo long before the NATO bombing. The 10,000 Kosovar Albanian refugees in the UK bear that out. Ethnic cleansing was happening at a much slower pace before, so it was not as apparent as it is today—particularly to outsiders.

Milosevic signed up to the October package negotiated by Richard Holbrooke, only to violate each of its main elements. The Rambouillet negotiations would have led to a democratic self-governing Kosovo, which would have remained within Yugoslavia and in which the Serbs would have been allowed to station troops. The Kosovar Albanians showed the foresight and moral courage to put their names to the Rambouillet accords, but the Serbs refused to do so, and instead embarked on yet another wave of ethnic cleansing.

Even then, the allies tried, through the person of Richard Holbrooke, to make last-ditch efforts to persuade Milosevic to agree to a peaceful solution to the crisis, but to no avail.

Milosevic has been given every opportunity to resolve the Kosovo crisis peacefully, but has refused to take any of them. If one looks at the past 10 years of Milosevic's rule in Serbia, one notices the manner in which he has manipulated ethnic differences in the Balkans to fuel conflict and to remain in power. Only by keeping Serbia and the surrounding countries in a state of perpetual crisis is he able to remain in power. There is the method in his madness.

When hon. Members say that dialogue rather than force should have been used, I say to them that, when faced with such intransigence and such wilful disregard for international opinion, the NATO countries had no choice but to use force against the Serbs. It is for that reason that, despite a number of setbacks, the reasons for military action remain as strong as ever. Tragic mistakes and events must not be allowed to diminish the justice of NATO's cause or weaken the alliance's will and determination to see the crisis through to its end.

From conversations with my constituents during the crisis, I have noticed that public support for the NATO action, rather than wavering, seems to have increased as the campaign has gone on. As pictures of the victims of ethnic cleansing have appeared on our television screens, so the public has come to understand the true nature and scale of the evil being perpetrated in Kosovo and the need for military action.

The Government have the full support of the people in my constituency for military action in Kosovo. From conversations with constituents, I have noticed that not only has support for NATO action increased, but so has the awareness of the limitations of bombing alone to resolve the crisis. Support in this country for a ground invasion has increased. The air campaign has been instrumental in weakening and destroying Serbia's air defence and military capability and destroying the military and logistical infrastructure that has allowed the Serb forces to perpetrate atrocities against the Kosovar Albanians.

I am not sure that air strikes will be enough to make Milosevic back down. The air campaign so far has not forced President Milosevic to end the atrocities in Kosovo and meet NATO's demands. We have an obligation to give serious consideration to a military presence on the ground to end the humanitarian and refugee disaster that Milosevic has created. After the atrocities that the Kosovar Albanians have been experiencing, such a military presence would give the refugees the confidence to return to Kosovo.

Failure to see the crisis through to its end would give a clear signal to evil dictators all over the world that they can commit atrocities like those being committed in Kosovo and get away with it. We must not allow that to happen. We must not be distracted from trying to resolve the crisis. We must continue our military action until Milosevic agrees to the Rambouillet accords. We must see this through to the end.