Kosovo Developments: Statements.

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.

I am glad of the opportunity to contribute on this issue, which has occupied the hearts and minds of all those who have read newspapers, watched television or listened to radio in recent years, especially in the last year and a half, when it has received greater international attention. In July I attended an informal meeting of chairmen of parliamentary committees on European Affairs in Brussels, which was also attended by invitees from applicant EU countries from eastern Europe. The most remarkable moment was during an impassioned address by an Albanian representative, who drew our attention to the serious problems besetting the region and the difficulties which were likely to arise. He said that, even as he spoke to us the slaughter was continuing and the international community appeared incapable of intervening in a way which would force Serbia to see the error of its ways and make President Milosevic take account of world opinion.

Every freedom loving person must be shocked by the atrocities in that region, which we have seen on television. What affects us most is the inability of observers to do anything more than we are doing today, that is, expressing our revulsion. As time passes, we will hear of atrocities far worse than anything so far made known to us. In recent days, military police have told refugees it was safe to return to their homes, whereupon they shot them.

At a time like this, we must reflect on what the EU, the OSCE, NATO and the USA have been able to achieve. It concentrates our minds on the recurring problems since the fall of the Iron Curtain, when old allegiances and historic differences have re-emerged. There is a great need to establish a force which can keep the peace but is also sufficiently resourceful to make an impact on those at whom it is directed. As the Minister said, the slaughter of ethnic Albanians would have continued but for the intervention of NATO and the threat of force. In those circumstances one must ask why this did not happen before.

We know the various backgrounds and cultures which are interwoven in this area. In view of the slaughter which has taken place, including the annihilation of villages, action must be taken and responsibility rests more than ever before on the EU, the UN and NATO. It is sad that we must rely on NATO to deal with problems in Europe. If the perpetrators of these atrocities think NATO or the US are otherwise occupied, they feel free to continue without having to answer to anyone — they are not democrats so this does not worry them. However, we must follow up their atrocities by examining them in an international war crimes tribunal. The tribunals already dealing with that region must step up their work and challenge those in authority who are doing nothing to halt the present slaughter and everything to ensure it continues.

We must also consider our role. We want to see an equitable and lasting peace, we have seen similar problems on our own island and have first hand experience of those matters. Whether we like it or not there comes a time when we must come down on one side or the other as to whether a course of action should be followed. It may be said that we are neutral and cannot advocate military intervention, and many in this country would throw their hands up in horror at such a suggestion. However, having observed what has gone on for so long, there is no sense putting forward resolutions which clearly are ineffective. EU member countries, like Ireland, must be sufficiently persuasive to convince the perpetrators of violence to talk.

The Minister also made the valid point that the ethnic Albanians have their own agenda which might not be good for the stability of the region or, ultimately, the rest of Europe. This brings us back to the need for a Europe-based approach to the problems of the region, which could best be taken by the EU. Perhaps the OSCE would be a suitable vehicle. Whatever means is found to deal with the problem, it must be found soon.

It is to be hoped that the proposals put forward by Mr. Holbrook will be successful. If the Serbian authorities feel the US is disengaging from the problem or has other pressing issues to attend to, President Milosevic and his cohorts will proceed on the same basis as previously. The most shocking thing about current events is that we see what is happening night after night on our televisions, graphically presented in every household, but we can do nothing about it. Even though we are all Europeans, we tend to divorce ourselves from the immediate arena and say that someone else should do something.

Unfortunately, the only way peace can be restored, even in the interim, is in the way now being proposed. Negotiation without the threat of force have been shown in the past to carry no weight in that region.

I congratulate the Minister and encourage him to use every opportunity, as Ireland's representative at the Council of Ministers' meeting, to ensure the revulsion of the Irish people is progressed, through the Minister, into encouraging action by the international community to influence NATO or the OSCE to devise a means of ensuring that conflicts of this nature are not allowed to continue, because while a resolution is sought people are dying. The saddest thing about this kind of ethnic violence is that because of the obvious hatred and detestation of communities for each other, the level of the degradation to which they are prepared to go seems worse than anything that occurred in wars that we know about. I hope, therefore, Ireland will use its influence to ensure it is brought to the attention of the oppressors at every possible opportunity that Europe, and Ireland as a member of the European Union, is not at all amused at what has happened, and that the pursuance of war criminals should be a major priority. Every opportunity should be availed of to ensure the perpetrators of these atrocities recognise that they will ultimately have to answer for their crimes and that this will not necessarily be in the long-term.

It is very easy to express solidarity and sympathy with the victims. I do not know what else we can do. However, as time goes by our arguments will get weaker if the same scenario presents itself again and again, if we come up against the same obstacles and have not advanced our cause. I emphasise that at some stage in the not too distant future Europe will have to look seriously at a means of intervening, by way of peace-keeping or peace-enforcement, to ensure regimes such as the one in question are not allowed to engage indefinitely in their atrocious campaigns of genocide.

I applaud the degree to which this and other countries have made aid available. Greater efforts should be made to convey the necessary assistance to the areas that need it most to ensure the unfortunate people who have had to flee from their own towns and villages into the countryside, into the hills and the mountains, are given early protection in a military sense but also in the more obvious and fundamental sense of staving off hunger which must become a serious issue, particularly coming into the winter months. With today's modern technology it should not be impossible to get aid directly to the affected areas quickly. Heretofore military activity was a deterrent, but if military activity can now be controlled to the extent that it is possible to fly in supplies, that must be of prior importance in the context of the onslaught of winter. A week at this juncture might be worth many lives. A month could be worth a colossal number of lives. I ask the Minister to use his influence specifically in the areas in question to do a job that needs to be done as a matter of urgency.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this very tragic issue. What Deputy Durkan has said is interesting in another way, and I want to say in the presence of the Minister that it is becoming very urgent that we have a debate as soon as possible in this House on the future role of the United Nations which would include, for example, the role of the Security Council within a restructured United Nations and the purpose, use and abuse of the veto in the Security Council. The use of the veto in the Security Council in the present instance by Russia is serving as a shield for President Milosevic. When the Minister states there are many on the Kosovo-Albanian side who would not welcome this agreement he is right, for a number of reasons. It begins by omitting entirely what the Kosovo-Albanians stress as a long-term goal of political independence, speaking instead of autonomy. That will almost automatically lead to its rejection by a significant number of those who are involved. On the other side, serious questions have been raised, including the last one on humanitarian aid, its independence and freedom of delivery separate from mediation by the regime of President Milosevic; whether the refugees will return, given the uncertainty of their situation and the presence of those who were the perpetuators of crimes against them; and finally, whether the political dialogue will quench the short to medium-term prospects.

Ten years ago I was Foreign Affairs spokesperson for the Labour Party and I recall the impatience with which people supported the German initiative on the recognition of Croatia. At that time I advised that we should be very careful, that the glue which held together people who differed very much in terms of ethnicity, religion and culture was very fragile. Indeed, in a precipitous way that initiative, taken unilaterally by Germany within the European Union, set a chain of events in motion which visited incredible tragedy not only in the present sense of Kosovo but earlier in Bosnia-Hercegovina. I recall as well some years ago meeting people from Kosovo when visiting the European Union. It is hard to conclude other than they were simply forgotten, left aside in relation to the Dayton Accord and that it was afterwards they were constructed as a regional problem within a bigger problem. Now we are seeing the really tragic results to all of this. In the statements we make, we must also consider the balance between military action and diplomacy. The reason I mention that we need a debate soon on the role of the United Nations is that there is a general drift in international affairs in favour of military action which downplays the possibility and capacity of diplomacy. It is a very serious circumstance in international policy, one that should be part of a fuller debate.

Debate adjourned.