I will do my best. I am appalled by the human tragedy inflicted on the population of Kosovo by the criminal and barbaric acts perpetrated by the Serb authorities. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees estimates that more than 700,000 persons have either fled or been deported over the past six weeks from Kosovo into the neighbouring countries of Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Montenegro. The number of internally displaced could now be around 800,000. Practically the entire Albanian population of Kosovo is affected as the Belgrade authorities maintain their policy of depopulation.
I am gravely concerned about the fate of those Kosovo Albanians remaining in Kosovo. There are reports of mass executions, individual arbitrary killings, the use of civilians as human shields, rapes, torture and other ill-treatment of civ ilians. Refugees have also been killed as a result of military action, including by NATO.
The arrival of such large numbers of refugees in the neighbouring countries risks not only overwhelming the humanitarian efforts to assist them, but also triggering political and economic destabilisation throughout the region. Added to this is the problem of providing humanitarian assistance, in terms of basic food and medical supplies, to those still inside Kosovo.
The Government's position, and that of our EU partners, is very clear. At the last General Affairs Council on 26 April it was agreed that this policy of deportation and destruction of a people could not be allowed to succeed and that those who planned, authorised and executed it should be held personally accountable and brought to justice before the International Criminal Tribunal at The Hague. The OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission and other international organisations are gathering evidence from refugees on behalf of the international tribunal. However, statistics on the scale of these crimes have not yet been made available.
Maximum pressure from the international community on President Milosevic and his regime must be maintained. Within the EU, a number of measures to broaden and tighten existing EU sanctions have been agreed, together with a ban on the delivery of oil and oil products to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia from member states. I assure the House that Ireland is strictly and fully implementing both these measures, and those decided by the UN Security Council, and will continue to do so.
As a result of the crisis in Kosovo, suffering and death is also being inflicted on the population of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as a whole, including innocent civilians. The human cost and consequences of the policies of the Belgrade Government are unacceptable and further devastation and destruction must be avoided.
Questions are also being asked about the efficacy of the NATO bombings. There are concerns about the high level of what is somewhat euphemistically described as "collateral damage", including civilian deaths and damage to the Yugoslav economy. It seems incredible that just as international peace efforts are beginning to gather momentum, the Chinese embassy should have been hit. I am also concerned at the damage caused to a hospital in Nis and the use of cluster bombs against civilians. In light of recent developments, NATO should reconsider its strategy of bombing infrastructural targets and centres of population in Serbia and Montenegro.
Human life and human rights must not be devalued. This is a dimension to which the UN Secretary General and the UN Commissioner for Human Rights have referred in recent statements. It was also at the heart of deliberations at the recent session of the UN Commission for Human Rights during which our views were made known.
The overwhelming majority of the international community is agreed that a political solution is urgently needed. The primary imperative has to be the swift movement to negotiations and political dialogue. It is essential that the United Nations has a key role and also that Russia is involved. At the meeting of G8 Foreign Ministers in Bonn on 6 May, the basis for a political solution was agreed in the form of seven guiding principles. These build on the five principles identified earlier by the EU and the UN Secretary General.
Additional InformationThese principles are: the immediate and verifiable end of violence and repression in Kosovo; the withdrawal from Kosovo of military, police and paramilitary forces; the deployment in Kosovo of an effective international civil and security presence endorsed and adopted by the United Nations, capable of guaranteeing the achievement of the common objectives; the establishment of an interim administration for Kosovo to be decided by the Security Council of the United Nations to ensure conditions for a peaceful and normal life for all the inhabitants in Kosovo; the safe and free return of all refugees and displaced persons and unimpeded access to Kosovo by humanitarian aid organisations; a political process towards the establishment of an interim political framework agreement providing for substantial self-government for Kosovo, taking full account of the Rambouillet accords and the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the other countries in the region the demilitarisation of the KLA and a comprehensive approach to the economic development and stabilisation of the crisis region.
The G8 is preparing elements of a United Nations Security Council resolution and will draw up a plan of further concrete steps towards a political solution. I welcome this very positive development. However, the difficulties inherent in implementing these principles should not be underestimated. It is essential that the authority of the United Nations in dealing with this major international crisis should be restored and the Government will actively support these efforts. I also note as a step in the right direction the announcement yesterday by President Milosevic of a partial withdrawal of Serb security forces from Kosovo.
Turning to Ireland's contribution to humanitarian assistance, the Government is conscious of the great humanitarian needs of the Kosovar refugees and the host families in the region. It has given £2.6 million in emergency assistance since the conflict in Kosovo began, including £2.4 million within the last month. The funding has been channelled through a number of Irish NGOs and UN organisations for their humanitarian programmes. In addition, the costs of bringing refugees to Ireland are being met by the Exchequer. It is estimated that these costs will amount to between £13 million and £14 million in 1999. While the response of the international community to appeals for assistance by the UN and other humanitarian agencies has been generous, there is no doubt that further assistance will be required and we intend to respond positively.
EU ministers recently approved the mobilisation of a further 250 million euros for the relief effort. Of this, 150 million euros has been earmarked for the European Community Humanitarian Office. This is in addition to the 32 million euros already disbursed in the region by ECHO on behalf of member states.
Ireland has agreed to take up to 1,000 refugees and I am happy to report the arrival of the first group to Ireland last night. I congratulate all those who worked so hard to put arrangements in place to ensure a warm welcome. The Government is doing everything possible to help them adjust to their new environment. Preparations are well in hand for subsequent arrivals over the next few weeks.
Next Monday EU Foreign Ministers will again consider how best the European Union can support efforts to bring about an early political solution, address the humanitarian crisis, and plan for regional reconstruction through a stability pact for south-east Europe. The Government will also be active in support of complementary activity through the United Nations and the OSCE. The challenge is no longer simply the achievement of our objectives for Kosovo – it is to ensure peace and stability in the entire Balkan region and to strengthen the international system which is facing its biggest challenge since the ending of the Cold War.