Kosovo — Question

– in the House of Lords at 4:26 pm on 15th September 2011.

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Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench 4:26 pm, 15th September 2011

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their assessment of the current situation in Kosovo.

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench

My Lords, it is a long time since this House last discussed Kosovo, so for that reason I am very pleased to be able to introduce this debate. Kosovo is a highly symbolic place for two rival nationalisms. It was the centre of the great medieval Serb monarchy and contained its royal monasteries. In Ottoman times, it became more and more inhabited by Albanians, who declared independence in the 19th century at Prizren in Kosovo. The subsequent clash of cultures has led to great suffering in recent years. During Tito's time, Kosovo enjoyed a high level of autonomy and was modestly prosperous.

Milosevic, however, imposed direct rule, and the Albanians developed parallel institutions for education, welfare et cetera. When the tyrant began to drive out the Albanian population, NATO responded with a bombing campaign and the Kosovo Liberation Army fought back. It was thus that in 1999 Kosovo came to be occupied by KFOR and administered by UNMIK. In February 2008, Kosovo declared its independence, and this was confirmed by the International Court of Justice 18 months later. Its population is estimated at 1.8 million, of whom some 92 per cent are Albanian. This compares with 1.6 million people in Northern Ireland and somewhat over 600,000 in neighbouring independent Montenegro. Kosovo has a Parliament of 120 members, and by now has been recognised by 81 states. It is a member of the World Bank and the IMF.

This incomplete recognition is due, in part, to the fact that Kosovo does not have full control of all its territory. North of the Ibar River, the mainly Serb population has partly broken away and linked itself to Serbia. Mitrovica is a divided city, and last year I stood on the bridge marking the divide between Albanians and Serbs. Currently the Kosovo Government are trying to assert their control over the crossing points and customs posts between northern Kosovo and Serbia. At the same time, three northern Serb mayors have declared no confidence in Serbia's negotiator in the bilateral talks that are being held in Brussels and being mediated by a British official. I therefore ask Her Majesty's Government what there view is of the current Kosovan actions. Should not the border issues be settled by negotiation?

I am inclined to be somewhat critical of the international groups in Kosovo, which I have already mentioned and to which I would add EULEX, which has responsibility for the administration of justice and some oversight of law and order. No doubt they have suffered language and culture difficulties, while frequent rotations of staff have hindered full understanding. Nevertheless, they have been overconcerned with stability and have tended to avoid confronting difficult issues, such as the conditions of the Roma minority or relations between the historic Serbian Orthodox monasteries and their neighbours.

Will the Government seek to ensure that the right lessons are learnt from past experience, and that the activities in Kosovo of the European Union, the OSCE and the Council of Europe are better co-ordinated? Can the Minister first say to what extent Kosovo now has its own system of justice? Are the civil and criminal courts fully functioning? Secondly, given the still high unemployment, have Kosovo's large mineral resources been fully, or even begun to be, brought into production?

To come back to the monasteries, almost all are on beautiful sites. The smaller ones cause little difficulty and often have good relations with their Albanian neighbours. Of the two major ones, Peç is a community of nuns and the seat of the Serbian Orthodox Patriarch. Deçani is a community of monks. Both are UNESCO cultural and historic sites, and I have visited both of them. They should not, however, be considered just as monuments of the past. They support living, functioning communities and are of huge symbolic importance. It should not be necessary, 12 years after the war, for detachments of KFOR to stand guard at their gates, checking the credentials of all visitors. This has the perverse effect of cutting off the residents from their neighbours.

Through two world wars, earlier Balkan struggles and the whole of the Ottoman period, the local Albanians successfully protected the monasteries against external violence. This traditional local situation should be restored, bringing free access for bona fide visitors and pilgrims, and freedom of movement for the monks and nuns. I believe this to be quite possible; indeed, my friend and colleague who founded the NGO called the Soul of Europe for peace-building work, first in Bosnia and now in Kosovo, has been invited by both sides to facilitate good, normal relations. The nearby Kosovar municipalities are keen, and the veterans of the KLA are also willing to sit at the table. Will the Government give more than just verbal support to this initiative? It has great potential as a confidence-building measure that would help further the wider bilateral negotiations already mentioned. Can the Government give some indication of how far those negotiations have already progressed and about their future prospects?

I am sure your Lordships would wish to see Serbia, Kosovo and their neighbours all playing their full parts in the European institutions. This would bring historic antagonisms to an end and greatly benefit their people. However, this cannot just be engineered from on high. It must be built upwards from the hearts and minds of people in villages and small towns. That is why I conclude by asking why community development is not built into the briefs of the international agencies, in particular those working in Kosovo. We have people, particularly in Northern Ireland and in multiethnic English cities, who have great experience in peace-building and community development. This could be a truly effective form of technical assistance. I saw something similar in Moldova during a 10-year period after their civil war. I commend this idea, and look forward to the Government's response.

Photo of Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Liberal Democrat 4:35 pm, 15th September 2011

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for giving us this unusual opportunity to discuss the state of Kosovo. It is a great pleasure to follow his wise words. I will concentrate my remarks on two perspectives that have been of large concern to the European Union and the Council of Europe during the last years. I first visited Kosovo in the late summer of 1999, where I met Mr Bernard Kouchner, who was the high representative in the wake of the reconstruction and development plans for Kosovo.

Since then, the EU, both in its member states and institutions, and most particularly the European Commission, has played a very prominent role in the reconstruction and development of Kosovo. It is worth reminding ourselves that the European Union is the largest single donor, I believe, to the reconstruction of Kosovo. I think we have forwarded more than €2 billion to Kosovo since my first visit in 1999. I welcome that assistance and I particularly welcome, and wish to draw attention to, the valuable work of EULEX, which is working on the European justice system in Kosovo.

I also draw noble Lords' particular attention to the valuable work that EULEX is doing on child trafficking and on bringing criminals to justice. I also commend the work of the high representative and vice-president of the European Commission, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, in this area. Of course, EULEX is a technical mission that mentors, monitors and advises, and the legal basis is the Council joint action of February 2008.

Noble Lords will be aware of several quite significant problems that Kosovo has faced in human rights. I will first mention the extraordinary problem of a number of families in grave difficulty since 1999. They live on the tailings of lead mines. Perhaps the most infamous one is Osterode. In 1999, I visited those families with Mr Kouchner, a medical expert. A number of Roma and other families had been placed on the tailings of the lead mine.

All of us in this House are well aware of the dangers to human health of lead. They are dramatic and drastic. Mr Kouchner, on behalf of the international community and the European Union, pledged to the families, who then numbered thousands and certainly now number many hundreds, that they would be moved within 40 days. Generally speaking, 40 days on the edge of a lead mine is far too long for lead ingestion, particularly for children and babies. I should like to draw the Minister's attention to the gravely unhappy fact that those families are still there.

I have examined the World Health Organisation's statement and I spoke with Mr Kouchner again recently. I wrote to him in 2008, when I also spoke to him. It is extremely sad that in the summer of 2000, although Mr Kouchner ordered his UN medical team to assess the extent of the lead contamination, these families have not been moved. The WHO report from the medical team declared that the families should be moved immediately and the camps destroyed. Blood tests carried out on some of the children showed that they had the highest levels of lead poisoning recorded in medical history, so the situation is extremely grave. When I met some of those families, I could see the impact of lead poisoning that has now gone on for over a generation. Because no records have been kept in the area and therefore no deaths have been recorded, it is difficult to say how exactly many stillbirths, deaths on arrival, maternal deaths and deaths of people in their early thirties can be attributed to lead poisoning. Many people have slow learning capabilities that may be due to this poisoning. However, the blood levels recorded in the children indicate the most devastating outcomes. As Mr Kouchner himself wrote to me:

"Ces progrès sont toutefois insuffisants"- it simply is not good enough.

I was pleased to learn that the British Government had addressed this issue. David Miliband, the previous Secretary of State, wrote a good letter on 17 February 2009. He also pledged that the Foreign Office, various different members of the European Commission and the European Union, and of course the Government of Kosovo themselves, would do everything possible to support these families more effectively by placing them somewhere where they could survive. But I have to say that since UNMIK handed over the management of these places-I would not call them camps-to the Government of Kosovo, very little progress has been made. They were handed over in the first half of 2008 and are now the Government's full responsibility. However, although the Commission has continued to provide financial assistance in the form, for example, of the €1.2 million CARDS project and much in the way of food provisions, legal assistance, basic household appliances and so on, the situation remains the same for one of the saddest and most tragic groups of people I have met for a long time. I wish to draw the Minister's attention to this tragedy.

My second point derives from my present position in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. In January this year the Council of Europe accepted a report by Dick Marty, the special rapporteur on trafficking in human organs from Kosovo over the past decade. It is a gravely worrying report. I am pleased to say that on 15 June the European Union appointed a special prosecutor to investigate trafficking in human organs in Kosovo. I believe that the prosecutor will be supported by investigators, and the Kosovo Government have declared that they will collaborate with this prosecution. However, I wish to put on the record that Dick Marty is requesting an international investigation because, as noble Lords will be aware, there are purchasers for these organs.

There is a marketplace, and some evidential trails indicate that perhaps some eminent or better known persons in the wider Europe may have been involved in, or at least had knowledge of, this issue for over a decade. Sadly, organ trafficking does not appear to have stopped. A particular tragedy is that medical advances have meant that an organ, a liver or kidney, can alas be taken from a six year-old child and usefully placed in a middle-aged man. That used not to be the case. The result is that children in Kosovo are gravely at risk of organ trafficking, as well as through associated trafficking throughout Europe and the wider world.

I hesitate to put such sombre facts on the record, but I have the greatest confidence in the British Government and the Foreign Office, and I wish to request support for the resolution of these problems.

Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench 4:44 pm, 15th September 2011

My Lords, it is a great pleasure and privilege to join my noble friend in this debate. I apologise for being here after his opening speech because of unforeseen delays due to the closure of the Jubilee line and so forth. I also apologise to the government Whip and the opposition Whip and thank them for allowing me to come in at this late stage. In fact I have not missed anything: I have already read what my noble friend kindly gave me and I was here to hear the noble Baroness. It is a pleasure to be here.

As a tennis player, may I salute Novak Djokovic for winning the US Open? I had the opportunity to watch him win one of the earlier rounds in New York two weeks ago. While he is Serbian, his family comes from Zvecan in Kosovo. I can only hope that while he will be a young and loyal ambassador for Serbia, he will also be able to represent the special problems of Kosovo itself as he travels around the world.

My excuse for being here is that I have long stood beside my noble friend and others, including the noble Baroness, in arguing the case for greater autonomy for minorities in Africa and the Middle East and most recently South Sudan, which I visited in February. In fact there is a stronger parallel there than I had realised since religious, language and cultural differences are as relevant as territorial integrity and human rights abuses on a dramatic scale such as we have just heard from the noble Baroness. The comparison stops there because in Kosovo's case, in spite of the ICJ ruling on UDI last year, true independence is still a good way off. I will be interested to hear the Minister's forecast.

The international guarantees are much more complicated in Kosovo as they involve several different institutions including the EU itself. Starting with the EU, I hope that the Minister will first clarify any differences there may still be between the UK and EEAS. Britain's role has been critical since 1999 and while there is virtually no public interest or awareness of it in this country, our support for KFOR, UNMIK, EULEX and the other institutions has been well maintained by this Government, which is to be welcomed.

Earlier this year, arguments were surfacing in the Commons EU Scrutiny Committee between the Minister's colleague David Lidington and the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, about the respective roles of the EU special representative and a representative in the International Civilian Office. A similar problem was occurring in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Will the Minister say whether there is still double hatting and whether these posts in Kosovo, having been nominally de-linked, still overlap and are therefore slowing down the critical process of negotiation? It is vital that the Pristina-Belgrade dialogue continues and is facilitated at the highest level.

At our own EU Committee during the summer, I asked Mr Lidington about the EULEX programme and whether the rule of law extended into the north or stopped at the internal frontier. His answer then was that there was no agreement at all about the mandate of institutions, principally the judiciary and the police north of the river at Mitrovica, and I expect the Minister will confirm that that is still the position. But it is the major sticking point, because lawyers and judges have made hardly any progress against organised crime such as we have just heard about-trafficking and offences against young people in vast no-go areas of the north. The EULEX programme there is still at a standstill.

There was fierce resistance along the internal border late in July when Kosovo quite reasonably attempted to strengthen its policing authority and since then the UN has sought to calm things down, although the underlying tensions of course remain. NATO has flexed its muscles and KFOR has had a change of command. Serbs in the north continue to protest against KFOR's presence just metres over the border by blocking roads between the two communities.

The reported view of the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, is that,

"the future of Kosovo is European".

This seems to accord with the opinion of the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, namely that through Europe we shall be able to guarantee the rights of the citizens of the former Yugoslavia, wherever they may be and divided as many of them remain within the current national boundaries. This means that Serbia will, at some future stage when it has accepted all the safeguards for Kosovo, be welcomed into the European Union. Does the Minister foresee this scenario and, if so, does he agree that since July it has receded even further over the horizon? Indeed, Chancellor Merkel had to warn Serbia only three weeks ago that it would have to dismantle its parallel institutions in the north if it was to have any real prospect of European membership. That is going to take a lot more time to negotiate.

Finally, what are the Government doing to explain what we are doing in Kosovo to our own general public in the UK, who seem quite unaware of the gravity of the situation or the potential risks there? Kosovo is no longer a faraway place in which we have no interest. It is a territory for which we have risked lives in our recent history. In case of any further outbreak of violence, what have the Government done to prepare us for any future commitments which may be forced on us? Also, why have we decided to withdraw our aid programme from Kosovo next year? I am sorry that I have not given the Minister notice of this question but, coming from my background, I have understood the relevance of so many programmes in Kosovo and I am concerned that they are due to be removed next year. Does Kosovo not qualify as one of Europe's poorest communities, urgently needing support for democratic institutions, good governance and the other virtues proclaimed by our Department for International Development?

In conclusion, I pay tribute to all the moderate citizens of Kosovo who recognise the value of international assistance and the strengthening of their institutions over the past decade and who, despite the frustrations, continually seek to win over their nationalist neighbours to ensure that they can live in peace and prosperity in the future.

Photo of Lord Sheikh Lord Sheikh Conservative 4:52 pm, 15th September 2011

My Lords, I am interested in the Balkans and some years ago I used to handle the insurance account of Yugotours, a state-owned travel company which specialised in arranging holidays to Yugoslavia. During the existence of Yugoslavia I visited Slovenia, Serbia and Croatia. Since the independence of Kosovo, I have known the Kosovan ambassador and met him on several occasions. In fact, I saw him last night at a meeting I hosted in the House of Lords. I know the Imam of the Kosovan community mosque in Maida Vale and I have visited the mosque on several occasions and performed its inauguration. I have arranged for Friday prayers to be said in the House and the Imam has led these prayers several times. I have also met various members of the Kosovan diaspora. A high-powered delegation from the country recently came to see me in the House. I chair the Conservative Muslim Forum and one of my executive committee members is in fact a gentleman from Kosovo.

The Prime Minister of Kosovo, His Excellency Mr Hashim Thaci, has stated that he has worked towards three aims: freedom, independence and European integration. These aims are shared by all Kosovans, regardless of ethnicity or political background. In 1999, our Government played a crucial role in bringing about NATO intervention which saved Kosovo, and Britain was among the first countries to recognise Kosovo on 18February 2008, a day after it declared its nationhood.

I feel that our Government should lobby with other countries, within Europe and globally, for Kosovo's inclusion within the international system. Furthermore, we should support Kosovo's and Serbia's EU integration prospects, as their entry will help to maintain peace and stability in south-eastern Europe.

I also believe that membership of the EU for both countries should be considered simultaneously. We should support the Kosovo Government's action in extending the rule of law throughout the territory of Kosovo. I understand that a range of agreements have been reached between Kosovo and Serbia that will pave the way for the normalisation of trade between the two countries. In fact our ambassador, along with other European ambassadors, has met the Prime Minister of Kosovo today to discuss the implementation of the new customs regime.

We should look at the possibility of doing more business in Kosovo. The IPU is arranging a parliamentary delegation to visit Kosovo in October. There are opportunities for investment in Kosovo and the country has a lot to offer potential investors. Although small in size, it has abundant natural resources. Kosovo has large reserves of lignite, lead, zinc, nickel, chrome and bauxite. The ongoing privatisation process presents an excellent investment opportunity in the mining sector. Another sector that presents opportunity for investment is agriculture. Kosovo has large areas of fertile land, and investment in this field will be worth while and bear fruit.

Another great asset of Kosovo is its people. It must be emphasised that Kosovo has a young and educated population with a high literacy rate in foreign languages, and there is an excellent workforce to be employed. Notwithstanding the financial difficulties that a number of countries have suffered, Kosovo has experienced between 4 per cent and 6 per cent GDP growth in recent years, which I hope will continue in future.

In my dealings with the people of Kosovo I have found them to be hospitable and kind, and they have a will to succeed. I hope that the links we have built with Kosovo are strengthened and our friendship with the country and its people will continue to develop.

Photo of Lord Liddle Lord Liddle Opposition Whip (Lords) 4:57 pm, 15th September 2011

My Lords, I think that we would all like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for raising this subject for debate. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, who have spoken; they are all familiar with aspects of Kosovo in a way that I am not. My own personal knowledge of Kosovo was confined to the bunkers of Downing Street and the Ministry of Defence when, as an adviser there in the Blair period, I was greatly involved in the politics of the Kosovo campaign in 1998. It is an unpopular thing to say these days but I was proud of the courage that our Prime Minister, Tony Blair, showed on that issue, and it was a successful episode in what is now called liberal interventionism. We helped to prevent a genocide and secured the right of people to self-determination. From this side of the House we welcome the progress that has been made towards international recognition of Kosovo, including through the recent ruling of the International Criminal Court.

There are serious concerns, however. I did a little bit of homework for this debate, as we spokespersons have to do. I went first of all to an article in Survival by Ivan Krastev on the Balkans:

"Bosnia and Kosovo are trapped in the labyrinthine politics of semi-independence; Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro are small and claustrophobic republics with populist and divisive governments".

He goes on:

"The Balkans currently reflects a mixture of Greek-style economic problems, Berlusconi-style politics and Turkish-level hopes".

That is a rather pessimistic view of the Balkans.

The recent strategic survey-another bible for opposition foreign affairs spokespersons-raises serious concerns about the situation in Kosovo. There are widespread concerns about corruption at the highest levels of the Kosovo Administration. There was what has been described as industrial-scale fraud in the general election of 13 December. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, has referred to the awful business of the allegations of a trade in organs. There is also widespread criminality, which means that Kosovo is the only Balkan entity to have been denied visa-free access to the Schengen area. I think that is the case.

Kosovo needs to address these problems. They are problems not only for the Kosovars but for the Serbian Kosovars. They will not achieve full recognition of their statehood unless they accept the responsibilities that come with it. At the moment they are in this rather awkward in-between position. Fundamental to these matters are the independence and integrity of the police, the prosecuting authorities, the judiciary and the rule of law. That is still seriously in question.

We all want Kosovo to become a member of the European Union one day-at least, I assume we all do. I certainly do, as do the Opposition. However, increasingly there are questions about whether the EU can be the magic wand that spirits away the problems of the Balkans and the former Yugoslavia. There is enlargement fatigue within the European Union. There is a loss of interest in the Balkans, particularly from the Americans, who face many other problems in the world. The EU is incredibly internally focused because of the crises that it currently faces. How can Britain play a role within the EU to keep up the momentum of progress that has been made in the Balkans and take the countries there towards EU membership?

I should like the Minister's view on whether there is something of an opportunity in what has happened in Serbia. I know that Serbia has lots of pluses and minuses but the arrest of Mladic was a great step forward. It showed that President Tadic, who I have met, takes his nation's EU ambitions seriously. That is why this happened. Can we and the EU use the wish of the Serbs to progress their EU membership as leverage to resolve the outstanding Kosovo issues? Kosovo will not get anywhere unless those questions are resolved.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, talked about the Serbian monasteries and whether progress can be made towards autonomy within Kosovo or whether that is unrealistic. Of course, the Kosovars also have incentives to settle these issues if they are to make the final progress that they need towards recognition and getting on the path of EU membership. On behalf of the Opposition, I hope that we will continue to pursue an active policy in these areas. However, we will succeed only if the general framework of our European policy is right. I am sorry if I sound like a record stuck in its groove on this issue but we will have absolutely no influence over our partners if people think that we are heading towards a semi-detached relationship. We will have no influence on shaping the justice and home affairs issues which are so important in the Balkans, particularly in Kosovo-everything to do with criminality, law and the rule of law-if we decide to opt out of it all in 2014. That will not send the right signal about British engagement. Of course, if the rest of Europe allows the Balkans simply to stew in its own juice, we cannot rule out the possibility of future bloodshed. Do not let us imagine that in future the Americans will come to our rescue in sorting out the Balkans in the way that they have done in the past. Unless we are committed to European defence, we will be shown to be very inadequate.

In conclusion, like the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, I want to see Britain play a very active role in trying to maintain progress towards Kosovo's independence and membership of the European Union; and, indeed, towards the enlargement of the EU in the whole of the Balkans. However, we will achieve this only if the Government's policy framework towards the European Union is right.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 5:07 pm, 15th September 2011

My Lords, I agree strongly with those who have said that it is high time to have a debate on Kosovo. We should not neglect the western Balkans. Indeed, one of the occasions on which I have represented Her Majesty's Government since the election was at a very useful conference on the western Balkans. This is not something which Her Majesty's Government neglect.

As the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, recognised, there are severe problems in maintaining public awareness. Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, the Arab spring and Libya have driven Kosovo off our television screens and on to, at best, the side columns of page 20 of the quality newspapers. Therefore, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for opening this debate and maintaining his active interest in the Government's policy towards Kosovo.

Her Majesty's Government are a firm supporter of Kosovo's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. Our objective is to see a stable and prosperous Kosovo making progress towards the EU in line with that of the wider western Balkans region. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, that I, my party and many others actively supported the Blair Government's intervention in Kosovo. It was absolutely right. I am a little puzzled that he thinks that the United Kingdom is being stand-offish on European defence just after the conclusion of the Franco-British-led operation in Libya. Her Majesty's Government are not standoffish on European defence. The exchanges that people like myself occasionally have with members of other Governments about whether we are in favour of a "common European army", which those representatives often think would actually not do anything, are a very long way from the practical co-operation with the French and other Governments which we have been pursuing and will continue to pursue. Whether one should accept that what Europe needs next in European defence is a common operational headquarters that will take a number of staff officers away from different countries and not then actually do anything, or whether the way forward is precisely the sort of practical co-operation that we are pursuing, is a matter to which we will no doubt return on other occasions.

Kosovo has been through a period of bitter relations between its majority and minority communities. Mistreatment of the majority under Milosevic's regime was followed by conflict in which both sides committed a number of what one has to call atrocities. It takes a long time for those wounds to heal. They have not entirely healed and none of us from the international community has succeeded in helping Kosovo to establish a stable and well functioning state.

However, the past 15 years have seen the establishment of greater stability across the western Balkans. The region nevertheless requires continued active engagement, as the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, reminded us, because the area is still criss-crossed by ethnic, religious, cultural and historical divisions. Many people are still very poor, organised crime and corruption are still big problems, investment is growing slowly and government remains weak. In all those respects Kosovo is no exception.

That is why the Government unequivocally support Kosovo's ambition to join the EU and NATO. We will support, encourage and, at times, challenge the Kosovo Government on their way to achieving that goal. As one of Kosovo's near neighbours, Croatia, has so successfully shown, progress towards the EU means stability, security, a long process of improvement in institutional, judicial and civil rights, and economic and commercial opportunity. It also means the full implementation of European values-democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of minorities. Regional co-operation has a crucial role to play in bringing political stability, security and economic development to the region. Not only is that a cornerstone of the European integration process but it can act as a catalyst for reconciliation in the region.

Recent events have shown how vulnerable the progress we have seen in the western Balkans can be to the politics of ethnic division. In July, a Kosovo police officer was killed in northern Kosovo, and Kosovans of both Serb and Albanian ethnicity were injured. These events have shown us more than ever why the EU-facilitated dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia is of crucial importance for the future of both countries and for our collective efforts to realise peace and stability in the western Balkans. Many in this House will know Robert Cooper, the senior official who is leading that dialogue. The noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, can continue to rely on Britain's unwavering support for her stewardship of this process. With political will on both sides, it will improve the quality of life for the citizens of Kosovo and Serbia. It will support in a more stable manner the progress of both countries towards EU accession.

The dialogue is slowly making progress. On 2 September, Serbia and Kosovo agreed after the dispute that led to the incidents in July to use Kosovo's customs stamps-thus paving the way for a free flow of trade between Kosovo and Serbia. EU's Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, EULEX, has engaged closely with the Governments of Kosovo and Serbia on how to implement that programme. Tomorrow, 16 September, EULEX will reopen the customs controls that had been disrupted by July's violence. Kosovo's customs officers will be at the gates alongside EULEX staff. This is welcome. But even now we are witnessing efforts by some to undermine this progress, to raise the rhetorical ante, and to provoke further tensions between the communities. The UN Security Council will this evening discuss this question in closed session.

Her Majesty's Government urge the Governments of Kosovo and Serbia to act in a mature and responsible manner during this period of unavoidable tension, to avoid engaging in provocative rhetoric and to do everything in their power to moderate responses to the opening of those two conflict-ridden gates.

Kosovo is now, we hope, moving towards a more stable relationship with Serbia. On northern Kosovo, the EU and the international community have repeatedly said that there can be no change to Kosovo's borders. Any attempts to encourage the partition of Kosovo or to reopen status talks would threaten stability in the entire Balkans region and will be strongly resisted. Kosovo's status has been resolved and there can be no turning back. I think that we are all conscious that the current situation in northern Kosovo is unsustainable. The potential for northern Kosovo to become, if you like, another Transnistria-a lawless area which is a base for organised crime-is there. That would be a danger to the entire region.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, was unkind to EULEX. EULEX has an indispensable role to play in Kosovo. It has nearly 3,000 staff. Unavoidably there is turnover, but not at too fast a rate. It is playing a role in the judicial development of Kosovo in customs and police. That is a vital contribution to enabling Kosovo to meet EU standards for the rule of law. Tackling organised crime and corruption is essential for the long term and for the long-term stability of the western Balkans as a whole. Furthermore, it has a direct impact on organised crime networks operating across Europe, including within the UK. It is also essential for Kosovo to make progress on its European perspective.

Britain currently provides more than 30 secondees to EULEX. EULEX has an executive mandate to enforce the rule of law in the north, as shown by its recent operations to arrest those individuals suspected of involvement in the burning of Customs Point 1 and the murder of a Kosovo police officer in July. Full co-operation from both Belgrade and Pristina is essential for successful EULEX operations in the north. EULEX is a good example of how all member states, whether or not they have recognised Kosovo's independence, can work together in support of Kosovo's European perspective. Indeed, some states which have not yet recognised Kosovo are providing support for EULEX.

On access to monasteries, the United Kingdom consistently urges the Kosovan Government to fulfil the terms of the comprehensive settlement proposal, including on freedom of religion. We understand that relations between the Serbian monasteries, particularly those in the centre and the south, and their local communities, have improved a great deal, and we will give all support to further means to bring those monasteries closer to their communities. We are sorry that we cannot yet provide the more than verbal support asked for-I note that hint-because the United Kingdom budget, like everything else, has its limits, but we have been giving as much support as we can to all those initiatives. We agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, about the importance of intercommunity dialogue.

The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, talked about industry and investment. We hope that the mines will soon reopen. We were delighted recently when the British company Coresteel completed the purchase of the Llamkos steel plant.

On the Roma question, we have been working to assist the rehousing project for Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian residents away from the lead-contaminated camp. That is now under way. We are very sorry that it has not yet been completed.

On organ trafficking, as noble Lords will know, US Ambassador Clint Williamson has been appointed as chief prosecutor in charge of the investigation. We welcome his appointment and it is our firm view that EULEX has the mandate, jurisdiction and resources needed to undertake an objective investigation into these allegations.

On EU aid, DfID, as noble Lords will know, is reducing the number of countries to which it provides development aid. Aid will continue to flow to Kosovo through the interdepartmental conflict prevention pool from which half of the UK aid to Kosovo was provided last year.

I am conscious that I have not answered everyone's points, but I am now out of time. However, I am told that Andy Murray will be Novak Djokovic's best man at his marriage which will take place in northern Kosovo. I trust that that is regarded as an informal British contribution to intercommunity dialogue and good relations in the western Balkans.

I shall write to noble Lords on a number of other points. I conclude by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and I look forward to him maintaining the Government's necessary responses to our policy on Kosovo.

House adjourned at 5.21 pm.