HC Deb 13 January 1993 vol 216 cc902-4
5. Mr. Kirkwood

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make an official visit to Bosnia to discuss British relations with Bosnia; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Douglas Hogg)

There are no immediate plans for a further ministerial visit to Bosnia. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I visited Bosnia on 22 December to see British troops deployed in the UNPROFOR peacekeeping operation. Our relations with the Bosnian Government are good. As has been said, my right hon. Friend and I met the Bosnian Foreign Minister this morning. The British Government have played a leading role in the international effort to resolve the Bosnian crisis.

Mr. Kirkwood

The Foreign Secretary was right to express the wish, which I am sure is reflected in all parts of the House, that our condolences should be sent to the relatives of the British service man who lost his life this morning.

What representations are the Government making about that tragic death and what consequences will it have for our approach, for example, to the United Nations with a view to beefing up the mandate, to prevent such tragic incidents from happening? What assurances can the Minister give the House about bringing all possible pressure to bear on the Serbs in Bosnia to conclude a speedy negotiated settlement which will satisfy the international community? Finally, can he assure us that no such settlement would preclude the right of the international community to pursue and bring to book people found guilty of crimes during the conflict and recent events in Serbia?

Mr. Hogg

The death of the British soldier is a tragedy. We do not yet know the full circumstances. We shall try to find them out as speedily as possible and we must then determine what lessons are to be learnt. We shall make a report as soon as possible.

On the question of the Bosnian Serbs, the hon. Gentleman is broadly right. We must make it entirely plain to them that if the agreement to which Dr. Karadzic put his hand is not approved and carried forward, the Serbs in Bosnia will face an ever-deepening crisis.

Mr. Temple-Morris

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that British military involvement in Bosnia is, and continues to be perceived to be, purely for humanitarian purposes? Will he endeavour to preserve that position?

Mr. Hogg

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence responded to a similar question yesterday. He confirmed the statement that my hon. Friend has just made and I can confirm it once again.

Mr. Wareing

Does the Minister accept that there is always a danger of the conflict spreading to Kosovo, Macedonia and elsewhere in the region? Military intervention by other powers would turn that risk into an absolute certainty and encourage people in other parts of Yugoslavia who are even more extreme than those who have power. Will he also make it clear to President Tudjman of Croatia that the existence of UNPROFOR in Krajina is essential beyond the end of next February, to ensure that a conflict does not arise there, too?

Mr. Hogg

I entirely agree with what the hon. Gentleman said in the latter part of his question. I saw President Tudjman in late December and told him that the presence of United Nations forces in the United Nations protected areas was, to our way of thinking, a matter of cardinal importance. I hope that the mandate will be renewed when it expires in the latter part of February. As regards Kosovo and Macedonia, I have a great deal of sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman has just said. It is partly for that reason that I am glad that there is a CSCE presence in Kosovo and that a reconnaissance party of United Nations troops is already in Macedonia.

Mr. Churchill

While we must all hope that the Vance-Owen plan brings peace to Bosnia, is it not now a matter of urgency for the international community to move to ensure that all heavy weapons in Bosnia come under direct United Nations control? Will my right hon. and learned Friend make that a high priority for Her Majesty's Government?

Mr. Hogg

In a sense, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has already responded to my hon. Friend's question. The demilitarisation of Bosnia is a very important part of the agreement to which Dr. Karadzic put his signature yesterday.

Mr. John D. Taylor

With many of my constituents serving with the Royal Irish Regiment in Bosnia, I naturally wish to extend sympathy to the family whose son has been killed today.

Does the Minister agree that the Government are placing British troops in an impossible position by asking them to carry out humanitarian work in the midst of a civil war in which, politically, we are seen to be actively opposed to one of the participants?

Mr. Hogg

I think that the proper way to describe the activities of British soldiers in Bosnia is to say that they have been remarkably successful in performing an immensely important task. They have acted with enormous courage and skill and, as a result of what they have done and are doing, tens of thousands of people are now living who might otherwise be dead.