HC Deb 14 October 1991 vol 196 cc40-7 4.37 pm
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Douglas Hogg)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement on events in Yugoslavia.

When the House rose for the summer recess, it was clear that Yugoslavia was facing a major crisis—and indeed Europe a major challenge. Since then, and despite many determined attempts by the European Community, the crisis has deepened. The fighting that we have witnessed is dreadful.

Together with our European partners, we have tried to restore the peace. British monitors have been involved in the European Community's efforts to stabilise the situation in Slovenia and Croatia and to negotiate local ceasefires. We hope that this operation will soon be extended to Bosnia-Hercegovina and other areas. The bravery of the monitors is much to be commended and their presence in Slovenia has significantly contributed to the peace in that republic. Yet more important is the conference in The Hague, convened under Lord Carrington's chairmanship, to discuss the future of Yugoslavia. This is the only framework in which the various parties can discuss their differences—it is important that it should continue.

Sadly, there have been repeated ceasefire violations— on both sides. The Yugoslav federal army has continued to bombard civilian targets, despite the signatures of the Serbian President and the Yugoslav Defence Minister on numerous ceasefire agreements. Irregulars on both sides have been active. It is proving extremely difficult to halt the fighting. Political leaders on both sides must reassert control over the military and the irregulars. We shall apply all the political pressure that we can. European Community Foreign Ministers have looked closely at the economic and other measures which can be applied to Yugoslavia. We are considering the suspension of the Community trade and co-operation agreement with Yugoslavia and also an oil embargo. We will consider other steps, including action at the United Nations. We need to ensure that as far as possible the measures are selective, hitting the guilty rather than the innocent.

The only solution that can last is a political one, freely reached among the Yugoslays themselves. There is no military solution to this problem, let alone one imposed from outside. In the present circumstances "peacekeeping" is not a policy option—because there is no peace to keep: we cannot use our forces to separate the combatants. In common with our European partners, we are clear that there cannot be a peacekeeping role until there is a durable and effective ceasefire and until all the parties agree to have foreign forces deployed on their soil. Also, it is vital that a peacekeeping operation should in itself contribute to a solution of the underlying political problems.

Yugoslavia cannot be held together by force: nor can the old Yugoslavia be recreated. The republics that wish to achieve independence will have it: that principle is not in doubt: what is still uncertain is when and how. The independence of one or more republics should not be achieved at the expense of others. We believe that it is right to work for an overall settlement. Without one there can be no effective guarantees for the rights of minorities; unless minority rights are protected the region will remain unstable.

Together with our partners, we are ready to help the people of Yugoslavia to find a way out of their nightmare. The fighting must stop. Wholehearted negotiations must begin. That is the only way forward.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

I thank the Minister for his statement. Like him, we deplore the loss of life and the damage to property consequent on the tragic conflict in Yugoslavia. We condemn the bombardment by the Yugoslav federal forces of the international treasure of Dubrovnik. All such action must stop, or else the international community must take action to stop it. We support all efforts by the European Community and the work of Lord Carrington to end the fighting and to bring an end to the conflict, because without that no settlement of these difficult problems is possible. We also pay tribute to the courage and dedication of the British monitors.

Although we endorse all the action that has been taken by the European Community, we believe that the United Nations Security Council should be more actively involved. Resolution 713 of 25 September rightly commends the efforts of the European Community, but, equally rightly, states: the continuation of this situation constitutes a threat to international peace and security". We support the arms embargo that was imposed by that Security Council resolution. Although we would support the suspension of the European Community's trade and co-operation agreement and an oil embargo by the EC, we believe that such action should be much wider in scope and should be undertaken by means of a Security Council resolution. Will the Government consider sponsoring such a resolution?

It is clear that the Yugoslavia that was can never be put together again. The new structure that will emerge from the present turmoil must respect national and ethnic aspirations within a context of stability and guarantees for the rights of minorities. Whether those objectives can be achieved will be a critical test of the new world order.

Mr. Hogg

I agree with a great deal of what the right hon. Gentleman has said and am grateful to him for the support that he has given the Government. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the United Nations Security Council has a role to play. He knows that the British Government supported resolution 713 and played a part in its drafting.

He also knows that the Secretary-General has been invited to report to the Security Council and that he has sent to Yugoslavia Mr. Cyrus Vance who, I hope, will report back to him before the end of the week. It may very well be that we should seek another resolution, but, by the nature of things, we must await the report of the Secretary-General's representative.

I entirely agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said about minority rights. The protection of minority rights is one essential if a peaceful solution is to be long lasting.

Mr. David Howell (Guildford)

Is my hon. Friend aware that Ministers' efforts to deal with the tragedy during the summer months are much to be commended, as are the Herculean efforts of Lord Carrington in trying to bring peace to the tragedy? We all admire what he has undertaken to do.

Both my hon. and learned Friend and the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said that Yugoslavia cannot be recreated and that the various republics will achieve their independence. I am sure that they are right about that, but would it not be wise at this stage to advise the Serbian expansionists and Mr. Milosevic that that will happen—that there will be independence and that the Serbian minority in Croatia must be guaranteed its position and its safety, and that, given that that independence will be recognised by the EC and the wider community of nations, there is no point in Mr. Milosevic, with the help of the federal troops, continuing the bombing, killing and bombardment in an attempt to seize Croatian soil? Would not that be the way to bring home the utter pointlessness and futility of this tragedy continuing?

Mr. Hogg

Again, I find myself in considerable agreement with what has been said. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his kind remarks about Ministers and entirely endorse his comments about the sterling efforts of Lord Carrington. The Serbian Government know the positions of the European Community and the United Kingdom Government—that we think that the republics will achieve their independence and that that principle is not in question. Indeed, Mr. Milosevic appears to have conceded that Croatia is entitled to its independence. However, the Serbians need to understand that the international community will not accept or tolerate any change in internal frontiers by force. I took the opportunity of a recent meeting with the deputy Prime Minister of Serbia to spell out that fact clearly.

Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber)

If we accept that there is now no Yugoslavia, why are we talking about sanctions? If sanctions were applied to the whole of what was Yugoslavia, they would inevitably be one-sided as we are witnessing an all-out attack by land, sea and air on Croatia by the Serbian military leadership.

Has the resolution of the plenary session of the Council of Europe on 21 September, which argued for recognition of Slovenia and Croatia and for the sending of a United Nations peacekeeping force, been drawn to the Minister's attention? Does he agree that the chances of such a peacekeeping force succeeding are now greater because it could supervise the withdrawal of the federal troops from Croatia and give the Serbian enclave some confidence? Will the Minister reconsider his position? Does he recognise that, contrary to what he has said, many people feel that, on this matter, the European Community and the United Kingdom have been slow, divided and ineffective?

Mr. Hogg

I do not agree at all with the hon. Gentleman's last criticisms. The European Community has acted in a co-ordinated and coherent way and its policy has been broadly supported. The hon. Gentleman does, however, have a point about sanctions. The trouble is that sanctions are a blunt instrument, which is why I said that we are trying to devise a selective approach to that matter.

With regard to peacekeeping, I must reiterate what I have already said. It is not a case of peacekeeping, because there is no peace to keep. It would be a case of using our forces to prise combatants apart, which is wholly different. A situation may arise in which a peacekeeping force could be deployed, but it has not yet arisen.

There is, of course, an argument in favour of recognition, but, as the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) rightly said, the problem is that minority rights are at the heart of this matter. I refer, for example, to the issue of minority rights for the Serbian enclaves within Croatia. They are best safeguarded within an overall agreement. In an ideal world, recognition of independence should follow that overall agreement.

Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud)

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that from the Croatian point of view the United Nations arms embargo is merely a reinforcement of the current position, which means that the federal troops—in reality the Serbian troops—have hundreds of tanks, guns and aeroplanes, while the Croatians have only a motley variety of small arms? Is not there a danger that the Serbians will advance village by village and slaughter the majority of the Croatian population?

Mr. Hogg

I know that my hon. Friend was in Croatia last week and therefore brings to this sad question a great deal of personal experience and knowledge. However, we would not advance the cause of peace in that part of the Balkans by introducing more weaponry. There is a great deal of weaponry already there. I would not urge the House, or, indeed, anyone else, to import arms into Croatia.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

I commend the emphasis placed by the Minister on the political and humanitarian efforts made by the EEC, but will he watch the French, Germans and Italians, who seem to be leading us into a military involvement? If they want to know more about it, they should have a word with the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), who can tell them that it is a good deal more difficult than it looks from the outside.

Mr. Hogg

The words of the right hon. Gentleman are wise indeed. I suspect, although I have not asked him, that they would be echoed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery). For the reasons which I have already outlined to the House, I do not believe that we should introduce troops of any kind into Croatia at this time.

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

The House will be grateful to the Minister for giving an account of the Government's policies and actions on this tragic matter during the summer recess. Those actions appear to have the general support of the House.

Following on from the previous question, is my hon. and learned Friend aware that one action of the Government that has the broadest support in the House is that of seeking to curb the desires of those hotheads within the European Community who at one time appeared to want to rush in with armed forces from the Community while the fighting was continuing? The Government's action in dissuading them was most commendable.

Lastly, will the Minister please be good enough to bring up to date his advice to any British citizens who may still be in Yugoslavia and any who are contemplating going there?

Mr. Hogg

May I deal with the last part of my right hon. Friend's question first. Our advice is not to travel to Croatia or to Bosnia-Hercegovina at all and to defer non-essential travel to other parts of Yugoslavia.

On the first part of my right hon. Friend's question, there have been voices in the Community urging a more dashing policy—that we should contemplate either recognition or the deployment of some peacekeeping forces. In fact, the European Community has acted collectively and effectively. But my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has been prominent among those who argued against the dangers of both premature recognition and deploying a peacekeeping force when there was no peace to keep. I assure my right hon. Friend that we shall persist in that policy.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

Will the Minister accept that it is absolutely essential that the Government maintain an even-handed approach to the Croats and the Serbs and that it is easy to be misled by some of the propaganda which seeks to tell us that somehow or other Croatia is a western democracy and Serbia is not? Tudjman and Milosevic—both of whom I met recently, as the Minister knows—appear to be feeding off one another. Both are there as a result of playing the extreme nationalist card—a growing danger in eastern Europe. It is vital that we are not rushed into a premature recognition of the independence of Croatia.

Mr. Hogg

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's remarks and I am conscious that he was in Yugoslavia during the summer recess. I am grateful to him for letting me know his experiences, which was valuable and helpful. I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said. There have been breaches of the ceasefire on both sides. I, too, have met Mr. Milosevic and Mr. Tudjman. In my view, they have both raised nationalistic aspirations which they should not have raised and which are difficult to satisfy. I take the point that we must be even handed, and we shall be.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

What is my hon. and learned Friend's assessment of the motivation of the federal forces and the federal Government of Yugoslivia in continuing this conflict?

Mr. Hogg

It is not easy for me to be sure about this. In any case, I would make a distinction between the federal Government and the federal army, the JNA. I do not think that the federal Government have very much authority. Most certainly, the federal Prime Minister, Mr. Markovic, does not.

I suppose that there are at least two explanations of what motivates the JNA. It is either to protect the Serbian enclaves in Croatia or to reassert and reimpose communist control over the entirety of Yugoslavia, or at least the entirety of Yugoslavia minus Slovenia. I had better leave it to hon. Members to decide which is the best explanation.

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead)

As everyone says, it appears to be true that Yugoslavia is finished. The more that some of us look at it, the more of a bloody pity that seems to be. In all of the Government's dealings in the matter, will they bear it in mind that the issue is not only the fight between Serbia and Croatia or Slovenia but that there are many nationalities in Yugoslavia whose rights and interests must be protected? Will the Minister accept that we must guard against a carve-up of Bosnia by the Croatians and the Serbians together? Perhaps more importantly, will he bear in mind the potential for devastating violence implicit in the continued domination of the 2.5 million Albanians in the Kosovo by Serbia and the dangers of an international conflict arising out of that repression, which goes on almost unreported by the British media?

Mr. Hogg

I am always a little uneasy when I find myself lodged in agreement with what the hon. Gentleman says, but that does not alter the fact that on this occasion I am. I agree that, in the sense that we have known it until this year, Yugoslavia is finished. Whether there will be a new association of a much looser nature remains to be seen.

The hon. Gentleman is right when he talks about the problems of minorities. I stressed that point in replying to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). The hon. Gentleman is right to emphasise the position of the Albanians, particularly in the Kosovo. There are also many Albanians in Macedonia, for example. He is also right to emphasise the position of Bosnia. All those points underline the importance of not prematurely recognising Croatia and Slovenia. The recognition of those two republics should come in the framework of an overall agreement which addresses particular points such as those which the hon. Gentleman and I have just identified.

Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke)

I accept the broad thrust of what my hon. and learned Friend the Minister has said. I returned from Croatia less than 24 hours ago. Will he give the gravest consideration to Croatia's deep resentment that democracies of long standing have not been more vigorous in championing its bid to become an independent democracy and effectively to deter Serbian aggression? I also stress that Croatia expects the United Kingdom to take a lead in granting a recognition of independence, not least to atone in part for the United Kingdom's role in submitting Croatia to many years of slavery to Marxism.

Mr. Hogg

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has been good enough already to tell me about his experiences in Croatia. I recognise that within Croatia there is a degree of disappointment that European Community countries in general and the United Kingdom in particular have not recognised its independence. However, I and many others urged the Croatians—Mr. Tudjman and many of his colleagues—not to adopt the policy of a unilateral declaration of independence. I am sorry that they did not take that advice because the arguments against premature recognition of their independence are powerful and persuasive.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Why hesitate over an oil embargo?

Mr. Hogg

There are problems with an oil embargo and perhaps I can explain them to the hon. Gentleman. First, we do not think that it would have an early effect because the JNA has substantial reserves of oil. Secondly, there already is an effective cutting of the oil supplies that come from within Croatia and that does not seem to have had a considerable effect on the Serbs for the moment. Moreover, and perhaps more difficult, the main source of supply is Greece, which has made it plain that she would have considerable difficulties with interfering with that oil supply, certainly without the authority of the United Nations. Therefore, there are substantial practical difficulties in the way of an early oil embargo, although we are looking at it extremely seriously.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall take two more Members from each side, but then we must move on.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Will my hon. and learned Friend confirm that our activities in the United Nations go no further than seeking the imposition of economic sanctions if Yugoslavia does not respond to a United Nations resolution, because a wider resolution would be no earthly use unless the UN had the power to make peace rather than just keep it, which, for the time being, is out of the question?

Mr. Hogg

I agree with my hon. and learned Friend's general point. The time is not yet right for a peacekeeping force. It may become right, but it has not happened yet.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

The right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) urged on the Minister the need to restrain the hotheads in the European Community concerning their foolish notions about military intervention. Does the Minister agree that perhaps the most effective way of constraining these hotheads is for the EC to play a subordinate role to the UN in this horrid affair? Despite the Minister's view that an oil embargo, an arms embargo and economic sanctions together constitute a blunt instrument, anything is better than a military intervention urged upon us by the hotheads in the EC.

Mr. Hogg

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has it in mind that the Security Council resolution emphasised the importance of the role being played by the European Community, as, indeed, have the countries of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe. It is easier for the EC to act in the conciliating role in which it has been acting than it would be for the United Nations. There are some within the Security Council who would question the jurisdiction of the Security Council to act in this respect. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that the best way forward is that which is being pursued.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher)

My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right to underline the warning that he has given that independence for the various parts of Yugoslavia could make the position of the minorities much worse than it is even today. I was recently in the Ukraine and Russia and I saw similar dangers there. Will my hon. and learned Friend go a little further in saying that once peace in some way has been achieved the EC can continue a co-ordinated role and perhaps protect the minorities, if necessary with military forces?

Mr. Hogg

I cannot answer that question in quite the way that it is put, because, first, we must secure an agreement which entrenches the rights of the minorities within the republics of Yugoslavia. How best the international community can underpin those entrenched rights has not been resolved. I shall keep in mind what my hon. Friend has said. It may well be that the international community must find some way of reinforcing minority rights in Yugoslavia.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Is there a distinction between the position taken by the British Foreign Secretary and the positions of Community Foreign Ministers on trade restrictions?

Mr. Hogg

I think not—mind you, we are dealing with 12 people who often express themselves not entirely consistently, so one is not wholly certain of the accuracy of such a response. The views of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary have been of immense influence within the Council of Foreign Ministers. I suspect that on every substantial matter he has been leading the consensus.

Forward to