Parliament: Lords urged to back Blair over Kosovo

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The Independent Online
SERB FORCES were carrying out "obscene political dogma" and the "most vulgar criminal activity imaginable" against Kosovar Albanians, the Government said yesterday.

Lord Gilbert, a defence minister, told peers how people were being driven out of their homes at gunpoint and robbed of precious possessions such as wedding photographs because they were in silver frames.

"I think most of all of the children, who have lost their toys, lost their pets, lost their friends are in a strange country, are probably separated from their parents, have probably lost a father, may have lost uncles, may have lost brothers. They have lost hope and are very seriously traumatised.

"And it is wonderful to see occasionally how life comes back to them when people give them new toys," he said during a debate on the position in Kosovo.

He urged Conservative backbencher the Earl of Lauderdale not to press a vote on an amendment regretting that the bombing raids on Yugoslavia have "resulted in the killing and maiming of civilians as well as damage to the economy of Eastern Europe through the blockage of the Danube, without clear sanction in international law or by resolution of the United Nations Security Council".

Peers should support the Government if there was a vote, he said, "not least to demonstrate our support for the brave young men and women we have out there, to let them know that we are proud of them and to make it clear to them that we are confident that their cause is just and it will prevail."

He said it was difficult for Nato to assess the morale of Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic, because "on any normal basis that we would understand, the man is behaving totally irrationally. It is possible he thought we weren't going to attack, and we wouldn't sustain an attack.

"But how he can possibly sit in his bunker and contemplate the damage that is being done to his country, from one end to another, and think that the game is still worth the candle, completely defeats me."

The Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres, revealed he had been involved in talks with the three spiritual leaders of the Muslim, Roman Catholic and Orthodox communities in the war-torn region prior to the conflict.

"There is democratic opposition in Serbia to the Milosevic regime," he reminded peers. "I hope in the efforts to find peace and achieve the democratisation of Serbia, the role of the faiths will be recognised."

Lord Moynihan, for the Opposition, expressed his party's continuing support for the military action. "Now is the time to ensure that in this confrontation between barbaric tyranny and necessary force, between vicious intolerance and respect for human rights, between tyranny and democracy, the values of Nato must prevail," he said.

But he raised questions about Nato tactics and sought assurances about strategy, saying there was now a "more sombre mood of uncertainty".