Tuesday, 19 October 2004

Questions (36, 37)

Paul McGrath

Question:

167 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the political situation in Chechnya; the level of support being given by the Government in the aftermath of the Beslan school siege; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25235/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I reiterate the Government's condemnation of the horrific events in Beslan last month. The hostage-takers clearly had no regard for human life and their callous actions served no purpose other than to bring death, fear and harrowing grief to the people of Beslan and Russia.

The Government responded promptly by providing support for humanitarian efforts in Beslan. On 6 September, the Government announced funding of €100,000 in response to the International Federation of the Red Cross appeal to assist families affected by the tragedy. On 14 September, following a meeting between the former Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, and the Secretary General of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Government announced further funding of €100,000 for the IFRC effort. Ireland's support includes trauma counselling assistance for the victims of the siege.

I would also like to recognise the extraordinary response of the ordinary Irish people, including many children, who signed the book of condolence at the Russian Embassy and who, together with many others, contributed generously to supporting the victims of this atrocity.

With respect to the situation in Chechnya, the Russian authorities have made a concerted effort over the past 18 months to build the basis of a new political system there. This policy has included the adoption by referendum of a new Chechen constitution in March 2003 and a presidential election in the republic in October 2003. An extraordinary presidential election was held on 29 August following the assassination of President Kadyrov in a bomb attack in May this year. Following the election of Mr. Alu Alkhanov as President of Chechnya, the European Union expressed the hope that the new president and Russian authorities would make efforts to start a process leading to a genuine political settlement, based on dialogue, reconciliation, respect for human rights and a restoration of the rule of law.

Regrettably, it is clear that the security situation in Chechnya remains very serious and that the civilian population continue to suffer enormously as a result of the conflict. We continue to receive credible reports of human rights abuses against Chechen civilians by both rebels and Russian security forces. These incidents can only hinder prospects for long-term peace and reconciliation.

Ireland and the European Union recognise the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation. We condemn the actions of the terrorist groups. We acknowledge the right and responsibility of the Russian Government to oppose terrorism and crime and to protect its citizens. However, the EU has consistently stated that the fight against terrorism, in the Russian Federation as elsewhere, must be conducted in accordance with internationally accepted human rights standards.

I assure the Deputy that I will continue our work for the promotion of human rights in Russia and to encourage a peaceful solution in Chechnya in the overall context of developing positive Irish and EU relations with Russia.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

168 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the situation in Kosovo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25214/04]

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Elections for a new Kosovo assembly will be held on 23 October. Preparations for the elections have been difficult due to the reluctance of Kosovo Serb parties to participate on the grounds that their security has not been fully assured. The most recent meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council welcomed the statement by President Boris Tadic of Serbia encouraging Kosovo Serbs to participate in the elections, and the subsequent registration by a number of Kosovo Serb parties. It is important that the elections are conducted in a free and fair manner and with the widest possible participation by all communities. The conduct of the elections will be monitored by a Council of Europe observation mission which will include four Irish observers.

Kosovo remains under UN administration, in accordance with Security Council Resolution 1244, which was adopted following the end of the conflict in 1999. The EU fully supports the UN mission in Kosovo, which is working with the provisional institutions of self-government to implement European standards in the rule of law, human rights and protection of minorities in advance of any consideration of the final status of Kosovo. The EU has stressed the importance of the early formation of a functioning government following the election of the new assembly which will continue to work towards the review of progress on the implementation of standards which will be carried out in mid-2005. If this review is positive, it will be followed by a process of negotiation to agree the status issue. These negotiations will inevitably be complex and difficult with implications for the whole western Balkans region. Whatever their agreed outcome, it is clear that the future of Kosovo rests within the region as it moves closer to eventual integration with the EU. The European Union will, therefore, be called on to play the lead role in working with the authorities in Kosovo in the long term.

The EU remains fully committed to a multi-ethnic, democratic Kosovo in which the rights of all communities are fully protected. The ethnically motivated violence in March this year was undoubtedly a major setback. Significant progress has been made, however, towards re-establishing a political process for Kosovo, which must involve the representatives of all communities, and continued dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. The security situation has stabilised, although it remains tense. There are 213 Irish troops serving with KFOR, the UN mandated peacekeeping force in Kosovo. I express the appreciation of the Government for the role being played by members of the Defence Forces in ensuring security and stability in Kosovo.

During Ireland's EU Presidency, the European Council and the General Affairs and External Relations Council paid close attention to developments in Kosovo. The situation will remain high on the agenda of the Council in the months to come. The EU will continue to work closely with the UN mission in Kosovo, and especially with the special representative of the UN Secretary General, Mr. Soren Jessen-Petersen, in preparation for the crucial review of the implementation of standards next year. The EU will also remain in close contact with the US and the wider international community to ensure that the eventual process to address the issue of the final status of Kosovo will also contribute to the stability of the western Balkans region as a whole.