The Government is deeply concerned at the situation in Kosovo and the violent incidents which have arisen there since the end of February. Together with our EU partners, we have condemned unreservedly the violent repression of peaceful expressions of political views, including peaceful demonstrations, by the Serb authorities as well as the use of violence and terrorism by the ethnic Albanians to achieve political ends. In our statement of 2 March, we called on the parties to exercise restraint and to resolve the situation through dialogue. However, the cycle of violence continued in early March leading to a large number of deaths, including those of women and children.
I will outline the steps being taken by the international community with our support to attempt to defuse the immediate crisis, bring about full respect of human rights in Kosovo and prevent overspill effects in the neighbouring countries. In spite of the insistence of the Belgrade authorities that Kosovo, as an integral part of Serbia, is an internal issue in which the international community cannot interfere, it is absolutely clear that the abuse of human rights in Kosovo and the threat to peace and security in the region are matters of direct and legitimate concern to the international community.
In fact, in recent weeks a number of international bodies have been seized of the issue. In addition to the involvement of the EU, which I will describe, the United Nations Security Council yesterday adopted a resolution on the issue and there has been detailed consideration by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the OSCE, which has appointed Mr. Felipe Gonzalez, former Prime Minister of Spain, as special representative of the Chairman-in-Office. Mr. Gonzalez has also been mandated by the EU to act as its special envoy. In both cases, the brief of Mr. Gonzalez not only covers democratisation matters but has been expressly extended to include Kosovo. I understand that confidence-building measures for neighbouring states, Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, are under active consideration in NATO, among other institutions.
On 5 March the President in office of the EU, Foreign Minister Cook, encountered considerable resistance in Belgrade to any international involvement. In response to this negative reaction and also to appeals from the ethnic Albanian leadership for international involvement, the Contact Group of Foreign Ministers, which, in addition to four EU states, includes Russia and the United States, was convened on 9 March.
The Contact Group called for negotiations between the sides, a range of actions by international agencies and the introduction of a certain number of sanctions against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, accompanied by a warning that further measures would be taken if the Belgrade authorities did not take immediate action to end repressive acts in Kosovo and enter into genuine dialogue.
The European Conference, comprising the 15 EU member states and the Commission, together with the 11 applicant states, had its inaugural meeting in London on 12 March at summit level. The Taoiseach and I fully supported the decision of the conference to maintain strong pressure on Belgrade. At the informal meeting of the EU Foreign Ministers in Edinburgh on 13 and 14 March, which I attended, it was agreed that immediate action be taken within the EU to implement these sanctions. A common position of the Union, providing the legal base for implementing these measures was adopted by the Council on 19 March.
The sanctions cover four areas: an embargo on arms sales, which in effect confirms an existing prohibition in the case of the EU and which now through the Security Council resolution adopted yesterday is extended to all states; a ban on the sale of goods which could be used in internal repression or for terrorism; a moratorium on government-financed export credit for trade and investment, including government financing for privatisations in Serbia, and a ban on visas for senior FRY and Serbian representatives responsible for repressive action by FRY security forces in Kosovo.
The question of further sanctions will be considered by the international community if the present unsatisfactory situation persists and if the FRY authorities refuse to comply with its demands. They have been told that they must control their security forces, ensure that they refrain from the use of force against innocent persons and act in accordance with internationally accepted standards. The FRY authorities must also enter into a genuine dialogue and negotiations with the ethnic Albanians, also known as "Kosovars". It is equally important that extremists on the Albanian side should not be allowed to undermine the work and role of Dr. Rugova and his associates, who pursue the course of non-violence. It is furthermore important that people sympathetic to the Kosovar cause should not be misled into supporting advocates of violence, namely, the so-called Kosovar Liberation Army.
Against a generally grim background, I should point out that the signing of an agreement on 23 March by the Serbs and the ethnic Albanians to implement finally the measures of the Education Agreement of 1996, which had its origins in Rome and which will allow the ethnic Albanian students to return to state educational facilities, does provide a small beacon of light. A further positive element is the constructive attitude being shown by neighbouring countries to date. Were this co-operation not present, any overspill from Kosovo might set off an incalculable and disastrous chain reaction among some or all of them.
It is now incumbent on the political leadership of both sides to enter into negotiations without preconditions. They should do so with urgency and particularly in order to use to the full the time available before the next meeting of the contact group.
Last Wednesday, 25 March, the Contact Group, meeting in Bonn, while considering that the Belgrade authorities had made an insufficient response to their demands of 9 March, deferred a decision on the imposition of further measures for a period of four weeks. Since then, and in order not to leave Belgrade in any doubt about the EU's approach and seriousness of intent, the EU Council of Ministers last Monday underlined that the measures set out in its common position of 19 March would not be lifted, and that others would need to be considered unless the requirements specified by the contact group were met in full.
The resolution of the United Nations Security Council adopted yesterday, which substantially endorses the approaches set down by the contact group, the EU and the OSCE, is an indication of the determination of the international community to make progress on the issue.