Other Questions. - Kosovo Crisis.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

7 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which he will intervene to alleviate hardship and hunger in Kosovo having regard to recent developments there; whether he will accelerate the degree of assistance available in view of the urgency of the situation brought about by continued violence and the onset of winter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22096/98]

Frances Fitzgerald

Question:

21 Ms Fitzgerald asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the measures, if any, he is recommending to ensure the safe return to their homes of hundreds of thousands of displaced Kosovans; and, in the interim, the measures he is proposing so that these people receive food, medical attention and clothing. [19973/98]

Dick Spring

Question:

27 Mr. Spring asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the role Ireland is playing in the resolution of the Kosovo crisis. [22166/98]

Michael Creed

Question:

44 Mr. Creed asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the implementation of the accord on Kosovo. [22036/98]

Gay Mitchell

Question:

67 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the situation in Kosovo; and the role of the EU and Ireland in trying to resolve the crisis there. [22055/98]

Richard Bruton

Question:

71 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the discussions, if any, he has had with his EU counterparts on possible NATO strikes against Belgrade. [22061/98]

Michael Creed

Question:

83 Mr. Creed asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps, if any, Ireland intends to take at the United Nations level to pursue a chapter VII intervention in Kosovo; and the role he envisages the EU can play in resolving the crisis. [19975/98]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

92 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the Irish position on Kosovo, Serbia; the support, if any, intended for the NATO stance on this issue; the alternatives, if any, put forward by the Irish Government through the Council of Ministers of the United Nations with a view to the immediate cessation of violence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22311/98]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

93 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the measures, if any, proposed by Ireland to address the serious problems of starvation and homelessness in Kosovo, Serbia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22312/98]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

94 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the direct action, if any, open to Ireland to positively influence the situation in Kosovo with a view to an immediate cessation of violence and the protection of those who are homeless and in danger of starvation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22313/98]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7, 21, 27, 44, 67, 71, 83, 92, 93 and 94 together.

The Minister could get a job in a bingo hall calling out numbers.

It is all about the winning numbers.

I have reported to the House on a number of occasions on developments in Kosovo, most recently in my statement on 15 October. I outlined then the objectives of the international community which are: to bring an end to hostilities, with a withdrawal of Serb forces and a lasting ceasefire; to get talks aimed at a political solution under way; and to provide urgently required humanitarian assistance to the displaced and in particular shelterless Albanian population. Clearly these objectives are interlinked. The humanitarian crisis can only be addressed adequately when the ceasefire is secure.

At the time of my statement the agreement between American Ambassador Holbrooke and President Milosevic had just been reached. The terms of that agreement were focused on securing immediate compliance with Security Council Resolutions 1160 and 1199. In addition, however, the agreement spelt out a series of measures to restore normality to Kosovo through political measures, the holding of elections and the restoration of and respect for the human rights of all citizens of Kosovo.

The parties must now urgently start negotiations on a political solution and the future status of Kosovo. President Milosevic must stand by his agreement with Ambassador Holbrooke, and the Kosovo Albanian leadership must engage in serious dialogue without preconditions and with the widest possible representation in its negotiating team. For its part the EU will remain actively involved in supporting the negotiating process, notably through the activity of its special envoy. These points were emphasised by the General Affairs Council at its meeting on 26 October.

The Holbrooke-Milosevic agreement and the Security Council resolutions demand that the parties to the conflict assume their responsibility to carry out all the demands made of them by the international community. A key element has also been entrusted to the OSCE, which has been asked to establish a large verification mission on the ground in Kosovo. The initial step to establish this mission was taken on 16 October through the signing in Belgrade of an agreement by the Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE and the Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Another agreement providing for the establishment of an air verification mission over Kosovo, complementing the OSCE verification mission on the ground, was signed by the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and the Yugoslav Chief of General Staff in Belgrade on 15 October. Subsequent to this, the United Nations Security Council on 24 September, acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, adopted a further Resolution, No. 1203, which calls on the parties to ensure that the personnel of the Kosovo verification mission are not subject to the threat or use of force or interference of any kind. Resolution 1203 affirms that, in the event of an emergency, action may be needed to ensure the safety and freedom of movement of verification mission personnel.

The OSCE in Vienna is now urgently addressing the arrangements which need to be put in place to establish the Kosovo verification mission. For the OSCE this is an undertaking of unprecedented size and complexity. The issues which it is addressing range from finance to structure, organisation and the nature of personnel requirements. The OSCE has established a special planning unit to address these issues and Irish personnel are contributing to the work of this unit.

We have indicated to our EU partners and to the OSCE our readiness in principle to contribute to the verification mission. The precise size and composition of our contribution will depend on the needs of the mission, which are currently being identified by the OSCE, in addition to the availability of resources. It is likely at this stage that the OSCE may adopt a phased approach to the build-up of the mission, and, if that is the case, our approach would be similar. I expect that the priority requirement in the first instance would be military expertise. As protection of human rights and democratisation are key components of the mission's overall task, these aspects also need to be intensively addressed at the earliest possible moment.

Security of personnel in the Kosovo verification mission is a matter of paramount concern. This is also the view of my EU colleagues at the General Affairs Council. I assure the House that I and my colleagues in Government will take this aspect fully into account when we come to make decisions about Irish participation. As part of our planning process, I have instructed Ireland's Ambassador to the OSCE to travel as soon as possible to Kosovo as head of an Irish technical mission to establish at first-hand the requirements, conditions and safety aspects involved. Pending the establishment of the verification mission, monitoring is continuing through the Kosovo diplomatic observer mission and the European Union monitoring mission. In due course the former will be absorbed into the verification mission while the latter will maintain its separate identity. Ireland will have a presence in the European Union monitoring mission and is providing extra resources to replace personnel diverted into Kosovo from elsewhere in the region.

The agreement between Ambassador Holbrooke and President Milosevic came about only as a result of the exercise of maximum pressure by NATO on Belgrade. While the question of air strikes by NATO was a matter for that organisation, EU Ministers were conscious of the role that a credible threat could play in reaching the recent agreement. As I made clear to the House in my statement on 15 October, I regretted that it was only the threat of force rather than the power of dialogue which finally brought about the agreement. Since then, Resolution 1203 welcomed the signing of the agreement on an air verification mission over Kosovo by NATO and FRY. The General Affairs Council of 26 October expressed its support for the air verification mission and said it would welcome the participation of Russia and other non-NATO countries in it.

The humanitarian dimension remains the single most immediate priority in Kosovo. For that reason it was also central to our discussions at the EU Council. The EU Presidency has prepared an action plan for the return of refugees and displaced persons which pays particular attention to the needs of those most in need of assistance against the onset of winter. Ireland has already allocated £200,000 for humanitarian assistance: £50,000 to the International Federation of the Red Cross for refugees in Albania and £150,000 to the International Committee of the Red Cross for its relief effort in Kosovo, which will be spent on food, clothing shelter and health care for the most vulnerable. The Government will consider further assistance as more information on needs emerges.

The European Commission, through the European Community Humanitarian Office, has announced aid totalling 18.5 million ecu. Overall humanitarian assistance of the EC and its member states for 1998 will total about 44 million ecu. I assure the House of the Government's determination to do everything possible to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe in Kosovo and to bring about a just settlement. I will continue to keep the House informed of developments.

The Minister shares the abhorrence of the House in regard to what has happened in Kosovo. In relation to his instruction to our ambassador to the OSCE to report back to him on the safety of operations in Kosovo, will the Minister ask either this ambassador or another relevant person to examine the humanitarian needs in the area to ensure our contribution is generous, given the suffering people there have endured? If the tyrant Mr. Milosevic does not keep to the agreement, will the Minister agree NATO does not require any further UN authorisation given that it has authorisation to carry out strikes against Belgrade? If that happens will the Irish Government support such strikes in terms of logistics, fly-over facilities, landing or refuelling arrangements or in any other way that may be necessary?

So far as the mission is concerned, the so-called technical mission I am sending under the leadership of our ambassador, Mr. Brendan McMahon, the humanitarian needs will be given top priority. The savagery with which the people there were treated is beyond belief. It is difficult to perceive the type of treatment meted out to them. For that reason, I welcome the Deputy's remarks.

On the question of additional cash assistance, the Government will examine the possibility of adding to our contribution, in addition to whatever other moneys may be available from ECHO — the humanitarian arm of the European Union — which has made a substantial contribution.

On the question of strikes and the necessity of a further resolution, we have come to the end of resolutions at the United Nations. My information is that that is where the buck stops. It is a matter for President Milosevic to proceed with his undertakings with Ambassador Holbrooke and we will support the UN resolution. It is interesting to note, as a matter of information, what might be seen as a prospective shift in German policy to where we stand. The penultimate paragraph of an article in the International Herald Tribune of 4 November 1998, contributed by Mr. William Drozdiak of the Washington Post Service states:

In addition, although Germany joined other NATO states in approving air strikes against Yugoslavia, unless it halted its military action against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, senior German officials said any new crisis would require a reappraisal of whether such attacks could be launched without the explicit approval of the UN Security Council.

The Social Democrats and the Greens have long supported ambitious disarmament proposals that may cause friction with the United States. As NATO embarks on a major strategy review, many critics of nuclear weapons expect the new German government to argue for pledges of "no first use" of nuclear weapons and other initiatives to wean the alliance from its dependence on those weapons as a strategic deterrent.

On the initiative I have adopted in relation to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, we may well have a strong ally in the new government in Germany.

I support any contribution the Government may make to alleviate the humanitarian disaster which has been wrought on the people of Kosovo. Is the Minister confident the international mission will bring about a situation in Kosovo whereby refugees can return home with their safety guaranteed, given the disasters and the brutal murders that have taken place in the past 12 months? Is he confident the international community can establish conditions whereby the refugees will have protection from the threat of Mr. Milosevic and his troops?

That is a fair question which deserves a serious answer. So far as the safety of returning refugees is concerned, I understand, subject to clarification, a large majority have returned to their homeplaces and that in many instances their villages have been destroyed, some beyond recognition. It is a terrible disaster. On the question of monitoring the mission, I have already set out the position — the European Community Monitoring Mission will support the verification mission when it becomes a reality. The OSCE is handling this complex problem with the view to getting the verification mission on the ground as a matter of urgency. As Deputy Gay Mitchell has said, Mr. Milosevic is a wretched leader who seems to have no concern for his own people, least of all the majority Albanians in Kosovo who make up 80 per cent of the population. To return to Deputy Spring's question, we must keep a close and critical eye on the movements and actions of this individual who presides over the problems of the semi-autonomous area of Kosovo. For that reason we will ensure we contribute increasing amounts of financial assistance and continue to articulate the concerns of many organisations here who have put forward their views and concerns in relation to the treatment meted out to the people of Kosovo.

When does the Minister expect an Irish contingent will be ready to travel and will it comprise military or Garda personnel? Will he give an undertaking that there will be no question of sending privately hired personnel? Apparently the United States has decided to hire mercenaries to travel. It would be grossly improper for this country to do that.

I indicated on a previous occasion we would listen to our technical experts and propose, in the first instance, that 30 members of the Defence Forces would travel. We would need the professional expertise of our Defence Forces who have performed honourably for many years in similar situations with enormous courage. We would also consider the prospect of increasing that number to 50. There is no question of civilians being sent; we need highly trained, highly alert individuals for this work. There is no question but it is a dangerous situation. As Deputy De Rossa implied, we will have to ensure, as far as possible, the safety of these personnel in the context of our international obligations.

I do not want to labour this point, but is the Minister aware that if the troops we sent to Kosovo had the opportunity to hone their experience within Partnership for Peace they would have been better equipped to do their job from the start? Our Army troops and personnel are hampered because of our lack of willingness, unlike other European Union states, including neutral states such as Switzerland, and the former USSR states with the exception of Tajikistan, to participate in Partnership for Peace.

That flies in the face of what is happening in relation to the specific organisation that is contemplating the complexity and organisation of the verification mission. The OSCE is undertaking the mission. We have been parties in an honourable and generous way to the OSCE mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina. We have done great work there and that had nothing whatsoever to do with membership or otherwise of the PFP. In a reply to a parliamentary question I undertook to open a national and internal debate on membership of the PFP and return to the House with the Government's decision on which a debate will take place in due course.