Nato Airstrikes In The Federal Republic Of Yugoslavia

  • Don McKinnon
Foreign Affairs and Trade

I, and my colleague Simon Upton, announced yesterday that New Zealand would be giving $200,000 to help deal with the massive refugee problem now unfolding in the former Republic of Yugoslavia. This decision was taken in the knowledge that there is a huge amount of sympathy amongst New Zealanders for the plight of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. I don't think anyone could fail to be moved by the images currently being beamed into our homes every night.

If you can understand why a war lost 610 years ago can influence a conflict today, you might be closer to having the answer to what is happening today.

There is a terrible and complex history to this conflict. But a war 610 years ago is not an acceptable excuse for genocide, crimes and atrocities now being committed in Kosovo.

It is a sad fact that the end of the Cold War has brought destabalisation and pain to those living in the former Republic of Yugoslavia. The Republic has broken up into many pieces and this has been a hugely destabilising influence in the region. Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Macedonia have all broken away. Kosovo itself had a high level of autonomy until Milosevic intervened.

Unfortunately we have also seen ethnic conflict and, in the course of that, ample evidence of what those who follow President Milosevic are capable of. The atrocities committed in Bosnia by Serbs, lead by Karadic, backed by Milosevic, were just the beginning. Milosevic, quite frankly, is at the core of the problems in the Former Republic of Yugoslavia.

Massacres in Bosnia, in Srebenica, in Amici, in Nova Kasaba, at Kravica and at al Sandici, shocked the world. But ultimately it was the UN followed by NATO which brought a more stable situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Now we have conflict in Kosovo, where the situation deteriorated substantially in 1998. An incredible amount of effort has been put into finding a peaceful and enduring solution. Last year in September the UN Security Council passed a resolution demanding a cease fire in Kosovo. In the face of threats of force Milosevic agreed to a OSCE Verification mission in Kosovo. But sporadic fighting continued.

On 16 January this year 45 men were killed in the village of Racak, there was a deafening silence and FRY's refusal to cooperate with investigations led to international condemnation. Negotiations continued in an attempt to find a peaceful solution; with parties meeting in Rambouillet, over three weeks ,and then in Paris. People came to the table in good faith. A solution was agreed to, but Milosevic yet again walked away.

Now, once again, we are witness to Milosevic's brutality. The current round of ethnic cleansing - the results of which we have all seen on our televisions screens over the past week - started 4 days before the NATO bombing began.

Now other areas in the region, for instance Montenegro, have reason to be concerned at Milosevic's continued aggression.

I understand fully concerns about taking military action. But in the circumstances NATO has been faced with an impossible choice. To do nothing. To stand by and watch a human catastrophe unfold, to see innocent men, women and children die. To witness the most horrific case of ethnic cleansing we have seen in Europe since the end of World War II. Or to take military action to stop, to try and stop at least retard, Milosevic's forces.

NATO's mission is to damage Milosevic's machinery of war. To do this they have focussed initially on taking out the Yugoslavian air capacity and anti-aircraft defence. This has not yet fully stopped Milosevic's campaign which is disappointing. But the next stage will be to take out tank units and other military units; those who are actively engaging against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. This should have a greater impact on Milosevic's effectiveness and there has already been some impact with petrol rationing in Serbia. Hopefully we will see an end to his reign of terror.

As I said last week, to take military action is a very grave step. NATO did not make this decision lightly. No one volunteered groundforces. Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians have now fled across the border to escape Milosevic's paramilitary police and armies. NATO's efforts to stop this disaster are justified. This was recognised by the UN Security Council when Russia's draft resolution condemning NATO action was resoundingly defeated, by 12:3.

I am well aware that China and Russia have different views as declared in the Security Council, and that Russia's Prime Minister Primakov has done his best but failed to bring him back to the table.

I look forward to the day when Milosevic will face the consequences of his actions. New Zealand would certainly support efforts to have him face justice before an international tribunal.

In the meantime, this Government supports NATO's actions. They are necessary actions for a difficult situation.

History will be the final judge, but when faced with similar humanitarian atrocities, history is toughest on those who sit back and do nothing.

There can be no disagreement however that the humanitarian needs are massive.

The United States has put in $US50 million. The EU and individual European countries are making massive logistic movements.