The House will wish to know the latest developments in Kosovo. I will also outline the priorities which must now be addressed if the agreement reached by US Ambassador Holbrooke and President Milosevic earlier this week is to lead to a restoration of order in Kosovo, and the ways in which Ireland can contribute to this process, both directly and as a member of the European Union.
In my most recent statement to the House during the Adjournment Debate on Kosovo on 1 October, and in my earlier address to the United Nations General Assembly on 23 September, I set out the objectives of the international community. These include bringing an end to hostilities, with a withdrawal of Serb forces and a lasting ceasefire; getting talks aimed at a political situation under way and providing humanitarian assistance to avoid the catastrophe which otherwise looms for the large numbers of displaced and shelterless Albanian population.
Within these interlinked objectives the humanitarian dimension is of overriding concern. More than a quarter of a million people in Kosovo have lost their homes; more than 50,000 are living outdoors in appalling conditions, and cannot survive once the winter sets in. In the absence of immediate action, many innocent civilians — men, women and children — will die from exposure, starvation and neglect. The agreement between Ambassador Holbrooke and President Milosevic came about after six months of an indiscriminate reign of terror by the Serbian Government against the civilian population. These actions undermined the moderate Albanian leadership, fuelled the growth of the Kosovo Liberation Army and led to the enormous flow of refugees and displaced persons. These actions have been halted now only by the threat of air strikes. In welcoming the recent agreement, I regret it was ultimately the threat of force rather than the power of dialogue that brought it about.
What has been agreed to by President Milosevic corresponds to what was demanded by the international community six months ago. He and the members of his Government bear great responsibility for the consequences of their pre-varication. For too long the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Government refused to acknowledge or even recognise the international dimension of the crisis in Kosovo. The agreement reached establishes the reality that Kosovo is an international problem.
The recent phase of the crisis came to a head because of the failure of the Belgrade authorities to comply with the demands of Security Council Resolution 1199 of 23 September, thus making inevitable a humanitarian catastrophe and risking serious overspill effects in the region as a whole.
Resolution 1199 called for a ceasefire by all parties and individuals, a real withdrawal and reduction of Serb forces to pre-crisis levels, a start to political negotiations, access by monitors who could also provide reassurance to the local population about safe return, unimpeded access to international organisations delivering humanitarian aid and the investigation of atrocities by the International Tribunal and other international forensic experts and the punishment of those responsible.
The recent agreement addresses all of these aspects, but with additional provisions to ensure effective follow-up. These additions were necessary to ensure full and viable implementation of its terms. Past experience, especially in relation to Bosnia, teaches us that reaching an agreement is only the first step: full and proper implementation is crucial.
It is already clear that many, especially among Kosovan Albanians, are disappointed at the agreement. Statements issued by the Kosovo Liberation Army make it clear that organisation will accept nothing less than full independence. While the final outcome of negotiations between the Kosovo Albanian leadership and the authorities in Belgrade cannot be anticipated, there is a real danger that the political dialogue which should now be pursued with vigour may be undermined by dissension on the Kosovo Albanian side. It is imperative that the conditions for political dialogue as well as for refugee return and speeded delivery of humanitarian aid be put in place as soon as possible.
A key dimension of this aspect will be the establishment of a secure environment. As part of this effort it is intended that the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe establish immediately a very large verification mission on the ground. In contrast to other OSCE missions, it has been made clear that the role of this new mission will be one of verification of the agreement, in addition to monitoring. This entails a more active approach and requires full, unimpeded access throughout the province.
Today in Vienna the OSCE is meeting to establish this mission. I expect that in addition to contributions of personnel from OSCE member states generally, there will be a particular demand for the expertise of the EU, based on its experience with the European Community Monitoring Mission. While many details of the mandate and other aspects of the new OSCE mission need to be clarified, including the question of arrangements for the protection of its members, who would be unarmed, I have already initiated consultations with my colleagues in Government to see how best we can contribute.
Another area in which Ireland can and will contribute is that of humanitarian assistance. The needs are daunting. On 8 September, the United Nations launched a consolidated appeal for the more than 400,000 persons affected by the conflict, and is seeking an amount of US $54.3 million to help avert a human humanitarian catastrophe during the winter. The International Committee of the Red Cross is expected within the coming week to expand its appeal to a total of US $10.26 million to cover the cost of its relief operation in the region.
The Government has already provided £50,000 to the International Federation of the Red Cross for Kosovar refugees in Albania and will contribute a further £150,000 in additional assistance to the area in response to these latest appeals.
Ireland with its European partners has made a contribution to the relief effort through the European Community Humanitarian Office which has announced an aid package amounting to 9.06 million ECU. Further assistance by the European Community Humanitarian Office is being considered in the light of recent developments.
This week's agreement provides a respite, a breathing space in which renewed efforts must be made to address the root causes of the problem. If the vicious circle of violence is to be broken in Kosovo it is essential that progress is made towards an acceptable political solution. There has already been much shuttle diplomacy through international intermediaries between the Belgrade authorities and the Kosovo Albanian leadership. The Contact Group, on which the EU is represented and which consists of France, Germany, Italy, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, the United States and the EU Presidency in office, has been particularly active in this regard, and the Ministers of the Contact Group are meeting in Paris today to assess developments.
The EU has appointed a special envoy, the Presidency's Ambassador in Belgrade, to be involved in this work. Through the Presidency we will be contributing to these efforts. We will also work to ensure that the EU maintains maximum pressure on Belgrade, if necessary through an extension and strengthening of the sanctions already in effect.
The latest developments, which hold promise for a peaceful settlement, came about only as a result of the exercise of maximum pressure by NATO on Belgrade. Given the urgency of the situation and the lack of confidence in Serb compliance, NATO clearly intends to maintain pressure to ensure full adherence to the provisions of Resolution 1199. It would seem desirable that the UN Security Council, which is already seized of the issue, should consider what further steps may be needed to ensure unambiguous implementation of the recent agreement and that it should adopt further decisions in this regard.
The experience of SFOR — the Stabilisation Force — in Bosnia is clear testimony to the value of concerted action and co-operation between the UN, NATO, the OSCE, the EU and other organisations. The seriousness of the Kosovo problem indicates that a similar approach may have to be used in addressing it. Had the agreement of recent days not been reached, we would have been addressing a radically different situation today. The agreement was reached and Belgrade's excesses have been halted but now comes the difficult and painstaking work of implementation.
In the days, weeks and months ahead, a force of 2,000 persons will be drawn from the international community and will be deployed throughout Kosovo. Their task will be challenging, complex and dangerous. We should not be complacent. At most we can be cautiously optimistic, knowing that success will in large part depend on the determination of the international community to see that the agreement is implemented in full, and to maintain whatever pressure is necessary to ensure all the parties to the conflict carry out their responsibilities.
I will continue to maintain close contact with my EU colleagues at the General Affairs Council and in bilateral discussions, such as those which I will have with my Greek colleague in Athens next week. I shall keep the House informed of developments.