HC Deb 12 May 1993 vol 224 cc788-93
4. Mr. Ancram

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has received on achieving a long-term solution to the political problems in the former republic of Yugoslavia.

5. Mr. Malcolm Bruce

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what measures he assesses to be the most effective in bringing to an end the fighting in Bosnia Herzegovina.

8. Mr. Winnick

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the latest United Kingdom position over the conflict in former Yugoslavia.

9. Mr. Connarty

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions have taken place with other United Nations countries regarding the conflict in former Yugoslavia; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Hurd

Despite the intransigence of the Bosnian Serbs, we continue to regard the Vance-Owen plan as an indispensable lead into peace in Bosnia. Our policies are directed towards getting the Bosnian Serbs to accept the plan, carry it out in good faith and desist from further attacks. That means increasing the pressure on them by stepping up still further the growing effectiveness of sanctions and testing the declared will of President Milosevic to carry out his intention to cut off supplies to the Bosnian Serbs and allow international monitoring of the border. In case the Bosnian Serbs cannot be persuaded to comply, we are considering with our partners and allies the possibility of using stronger measures, not excluding military options. We also agreed in the Foreign Affairs Council on Monday on the need to express to the Government of Croatia our dismay at recent actions by Bosnian Croats in central Bosnia and around Mostar.

Mr. Ancram

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply and welcome the fact that he has not been driven off his sensible dual-track approach by ill-judged insults from certain safely distant American politicians during the past few days. In that context, will my right hon. Friend welcome the constructive statement from the American Government today that deployment of United States ground troops in Macedonia is being considered, particularly as it will give the American public a better appreciation of the complexities of what is happening on the ground throughout the former republic of Yugoslavia?

Mr. Hurd

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I do not thing that it serves any purpose to start exchanging accusations across the Atlantic. I do not think that some of those remarks would have been made if those concerned had seen the exchanges that have taken place between the allies in recent days, or if they had understood the nature of the effort and the risks which some of us, including Britain, are making in Bosnia at the present time. I agree with my hon. Friend's second point. If the United States were to decide to reinforce the Nordic battalion in Macedonia already referred to, that would be welcome from our point of view.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that it is more than ever important that aggression, wherever it comes from, is not seen to be rewarded? As more and more ground is gained by that aggression, with the loss of Srebrenica and Zepa, it becomes more difficult to secure the peace. Can the Foreign Secretary therefore say what measures he will recommend to the allies to ensure that Gorazde does not suffer the same fate?

Mr. Hurd

The Serbs have not, of course, occupied either Srebrenica or Zepa. In my main answer I dealt, I think, with the hon. Gentleman's point. We believe that so long as the Bosnian Serbs continue to push forward in eastern Bosnia, the pressures against them must be built up. The new element in the last few weeks is the declared intention of President Milosevic to put pressure on the Bosnian Serbs. That is being partly carried out. It needs to be tested. What we and the Americans have recently agreed, and what is now being carried forward in the Security Council, is that we should propose and agree that there should be monitors along the border between Bosnia and Serbia so as to prevent the flow of illegal traffic.

Mr. Winnick

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that there is bound to be much disappointment that the leading western countries have not—so far at least—been able to get their act together in dealing with Serbian aggression and vile ethnic cleansing? As for the Foreign Secretary's reference to Belgrade, is not it a fact that if the Belgrade leadership appears to be—I emphasise "appears to be"—dissociating itself from the Bosnian Serb warlords, it is because of the fear of armed intervention? Should not that lesson be carefully learnt, be it here in western Europe or in the United States?

Mr. Hurd

The allies are agreed on the effort which we are carrying forward. That is to say, the Europeans, the Americans and the Russians are agreed on the need for a political process—I have mentioned the Vance-Owen plan—on the need for effective sanctions, with the Americans and the Europeans working together, and on the need for the humanitarian effort: our troops on the ground, a big United Nations effort and the United States and other air drops. All that is agreed and is going forward. There is consultation on further measures. As for the hon. Gentleman's second point, one can never be sure what moves people to change their policy. It may be the undoubtedly growing effectiveness of sanctions. It may be, as he suggested, the hints of possible military action, which we are not excluding. One cannot be sure. Nor is it certain that the change is a substantial and permanent one. That is what now has to be tested.

Mr. Connarty

Is the Foreign Secretary aware of the perception outside the House of the lowering cloud of shame over the Governments of Europe and America because of the lack of military intervention? That does not include, obviously, the troops we have put there who are giving humanitarian aid. Is the Foreign Secretary aware that at a meeting in this very House the Bosnian Foreign Secretary and the Bosnian UN envoy said that we are keeping their people alive until the Serbs come to kill them? Is not it time to end the delay, to stop buck-passing to the Americans and to commit ourselves to military intervention to deal with ethnic cleansing and create a safe haven now for those Bosnians who are left in their own country?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman is the first I have heard in the House, throughout many months of debate, to propose a military intervention on the ground to impose a particular solution. No Government whom I know of, and certainly not the Government of the United States, propose that. The House debated this matter on 29 April. I carried away from that debate the very strong feeling from all parts of the House, although not from all individuals, that hon. Members were in favour of the pressures that we are building up and of the line that we are taking and that they were also in favour of substantial prudence before going into further types of involvement without calculating the consequences. The kind of phrases that fell from the hon. Gentleman's lips are a little bit easy for those who do not carry the responsibility for the result.

Mr. Cormack

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the situation in and around Mostar is becoming increasingly critical? Is he further aware that President Izetbegovic has asked for Mostar to be declared a protected zone? Will he give his support to that request?

Mr. Hurd

I had not heard of that request. The situation in Mostar is serious, but the Spanish troops—the European troops who are escorting humanitarian convoys in that area—have done their best to calm things down. Ceasefires have been negotiated and I believe that there has been some dying away of the fighting, although it comes and goes. We take the matter very seriously and I know that the German Foreign Minister is going to Zagreb. The presidency of the Community, as a result of our meeting on Monday, will express our deep concern to the Croats about the matter, as there is no doubt that the main responsibility is theirs.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith

I understand my right hon. Friend's reluctance to avoid trading insults across the Atlantic, but is not there support in the Senate, and possibly in the Administration of the President, for arming the Bosnian Muslims? Is it still the Government's view that that would seriously jeopardise the humanitarian relief that we give the Bosnian Serbs, Muslims and others and that were we to agree to such an American request that work would have to be abandoned and other initiatives that have already taken would be jeopardised?

Mr. Hurd

The House discussed this subject on 29 April and the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) and other hon. Members supported our reasons for having reservations about this option, not the least of which is the one that my hon. Friend mentioned. It is hard to imagine how the humanitarian effort and the troops escorting the convoys could continue—at least in their present form—if that option were taken. No option has been excluded, because the situation may change, but our position on that particular option has not changed.

Dr. John Cunningham

Is not one of the tragic lessons of the middle east that pouring armaments into areas of instability and conflict does not lead to early political solutions or to peace? Should not we emphasise that point to those who want the United Nations arms embargo on Bosnia to be ended?

Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider what he said a few moments ago about the Croatians? Is not an expression of dismay a slap on the wrist for the Croatians? Should not we take the same attitude to the Croatians as we take to the Bosnian Serbs and is not the time long overdue for the Security Council to make explicit its ultimatum to the Serbs and the Croatians that, if they do not sign the ceasefire and uphold it, limited air strikes will be used against them?

The right hon. Gentleman should support, as he has hitherto, the urgent need to strengthen the United Nations presence in Macedonia and significantly to increase the presence of Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe monitors in Kosovo to make it clear to President Milosevic that we need convincing of his good faith in respect of Kosovo and Macedonia.

Mr. Hurd

I have sketched out again our position on air strikes and the arms embargo, which has not really altered since our debate on 29 April. There was some discussion in the Foreign Affairs Council on Monday about whether we should begin to think of sanctions against Croatia. We reached the conclusion that that was not justified at this stage, but the Croatians should have no doubt that, if the kind of incident that occurred in central Bosnia and has now occurred again in Mostar continues, they cannot expect to have the kind of relationship with the European Community or the international community that they expected.

I have already answered the right hon. Gentleman's point about Macedonia, where a Nordic battalion is in place. If it were strengthened—for example, by an American decision to put ground troops into Macedonia —that would be welcome. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have recognised Macedonia; it is a member of the United Nations and Lord Owen and Cyrus Vance are trying to sort out the detailed implications. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman's point about strengthening the CSCE presence in Kosovo.

6. Sir Michael Neubert

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next expects to meet his European Community counterparts to discuss developments in former Yugoslavia.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

Former Yugoslavia will be discussed at the next General Affairs Council in Luxembourg on 8 June.

Sir Michael Neubert

I pay full tribute to the humanitarian contribution made by British forces in Bosnia, but is not the painful reality that it has saved thousands from being starved to death at the price of thousands of others being shelled to death and that Cambodian-type atrocities will continue unless effective deterrent action is taken? Does not relevant 20th century experience tell us that for defending freedom from ruthless aggressors there is no substitute for a strong Anglo-American alliance, compared with which an attempt to secure agreement and joint action among 12 European nations is little more than a mirage?

Mr. Hogg

It is right to be absolutely clear that many thousands of people in Bosnia are now living who would have been dead, but for the delivery of humanitarian supplies over many months, and that much credit for that goes to the British troops now in Bosnia and to the Royal Air Force. We must also recognise that what we face in Bosnia is essentially a civil war. It is true that it has been supported by men and munitions from Serbia and, as has been made plain by many hon. Members, from Croatia too. In essence, however, it is a civil war and we need to reinforce the pressure now on Serbia to get President Milosevic to put yet more pressure on the Bosnian Serbs to subscribe to a peace agreement.

Mr. Jim Marshall

Does the Minister agree that we must learn lessons from the tragedy now occurring in Yugoslavia, one of which is that the precipitate recognition of the new republics by the European Community exacerbated the problems there? Does the Minister further agree that if there is recognition in other parts of Europe in the coming months and years, hand in hand with recognition there must be an agreement recognising the rights of minorities both within the state with which they reside and in any neighbouring state with which they may have linguistic or other relations?

Mr. Hogg

It is true that the British Government were more cautious about recognising Croatia than were a number of our European colleagues, but by the time we recognised Croatia we all judged that the grounds for refusing recognition no longer existed. The same applied in the case of Bosnia. The hon. Gentleman will keep in mind that there was a referendum, and an independent report commissioned by the EC, in the light of which it would have been difficult to withhold recognition of Bosnia. The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point about minority rights, and it is certainly true in the context of the entirety of former Yugoslavia that the preservation of minority rights within the frontiers is of key importance to any peace settlement.

Mr. Fry

When my right hon. and learned Friend talks to our European partners, will he point out that although the British people are anxious to play their part in resolving the problems in Bosnia, they would appreciate greater assistance from other members of the Community in terms of sending their forces to be shot at and put into danger? If there is to be a general Community solution to the problem, it should not be left mainly to the British and French forces to carry out the peacekeeping in the name of the European Community. I believe that if that were achieved, my right hon. and learned Friend would find much greater agreement about the way forward, and perhaps rather less resistance to the effective use of British forces.

Mr. Hogg

My hon. Friend makes a point of substance. He was right to pay tribute to the French Government for their very substantial contribution. The Spanish Government, too, have contributed. There are also countries which, by reason of their history or their constitutions, or both, would find it rather difficult to make a contribution in what was Yugoslavia.

On the question of peacekeeping, which is a different matter from what is currently happening in the former Yugoslavia, we look for a substantial contribution from outside the European Community. Naturally, I have in mind the deployment of substantial numbers of ground troops by the United States if a peacekeeping force were organised to underpin an agreement.

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