Focus: Kosovo Peace Deal - A world without 'cleansing'

Robin Cook believes the UN must have power to intervene against rogue states
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The Independent Online
Robin Cook is calling for a debate on giving the United Nations a new authority to intervene in the internal affairs of nation states, in the wake of the Kosovo conflict. In an interview with the Independent on Sunday, the Foreign Secretary said that the war had demonstrated that there were "fundamental issues" in international law which needed to be addressed.

Mr Cook said it would have been "totally unacceptable" to refuse to intervene to protect Albanians being ethnically cleansed from Kosovo on the grounds that it was a domestic matter for Serbia. "What this whole episode has thrown up is the unacceptability of governments using aggression against their own people and then claiming sovereignty as a blanket protection for whatever they are going to do."

His call for an international review of the definition of a "just war" implies rewriting the United Nations charter, which specifies that the international community should not interfere in the internal affairs of a particular state. Although Nato bypassed this by highlighting the humanitarian crisis in Kosovo, critics still questioned the legality of the action.

Mr Cook said it was essential that the international community addressed the problem and discussed how the grey area should be clarified. "Kofi Annan [the UN Secretary-General] himself has said that the rights in the UN Charter are not the rights of government but the rights of people, and governments cannot invoke the charter to infringe those rights."

His words, which follow concern that countries will simply bypass the UN Security Council unless it is modernised, echo Tony Blair's description of the conflict as a "progressives' war". In a speech in Chicago in April, the Prime Minister painted a picture of the international community acting as ethical policemen to prevent human rights abuses around the world.

The Foreign Secretary said Nato was becoming a "major humanitarian agency" which had played as crucial a role in constructing refugee camps as in carrying out air strikes. He called for a shake-up of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees which has been criticised for failing to act quickly enough to set up emergency camps for nearly a million ethnic Albanians forced to flee Kosovo. In an implicit criticism of the agency's handing of the crisis, Mr Cook said: "We need to look at the UNHCR to see that it is properly resourced and professionally capable of responding."

But he acknowledged that it would be dangerous for the refugees to return to their homes immediately. "We can't stop refugees who want to walk home ... but we would rather they went back in an ordered way," Mr Cook said. "The immediate problem is not the refugees in the camps but the refugees huddled in the mountains inside Kosovo. The emergency relief operation is getting food and medicine to them, and the next two or three weeks must focus on that."

Britain would pay 14 per cent of the cost to the European Union of repairing Kosovo and the surrounding region, in line with its commitment to EU budgets, he said.

The interview came at the end of a frantic week for Mr Cook. On three mornings, he woke up in London then flew to Cologne for talks with other G8 foreign ministers before returning to London the same night. "As Hubert Vedrine [the French Foreign Minister] said to me on Wednesday, 'We are the new commuters'," the Foreign Secretary said. He described a "dramatic moment" later that day in which all the foreign ministers, who were sitting around a conference table, simultaneously picked up their mobile phones to telephone their UN ambassadors. Russia had agreed the proposed resolution should "go into blue" - meaning that it should become the official draft - and the ministers told their representatives to push it through "without further argument" in an attempt to kick-start the military talks.

The next priority is to capitalise on the deal to shore up western Europe's relationship with Russia. Mr Cook was speaking before the dash by Russian troops into Kosovo, but he is optimistic that a solution will be found. The West will use this week's meeting of the G8 to try to tie Russia in with the promise of more money and influence. "There are very real problems in Russia which are our problems as well," Mr Cook said. "I am concerned that Europe should have a positive working relationship with Russia - European security is bound up with our relations with a stable Russia."