HC Deb 12 April 1994 vol 241 cc7-9
9. Mrs. Gillan

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what proposals he has for the ultimate withdrawal of British troops from Bosnia; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Rifkind

There are at present no plans to withdraw the British contingent. The timing of its ultimate withdrawal will depend on progress towards an overall peace agreement and developments on the ground.

Mrs. Gillan

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that reply and I am sure that we all look forward to the ultimate withdrawal of troops from the former Yugoslavia. In the meantime, and in the light of the events of the past 48 hours, will my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that British troops will not be drawn further into the conflict but will continue to remain dedicated to their impartial peacekeeping role in the former Yugoslavia?

Mr. Rifkind

As my hon. Friend says, it is, indeed, crucial that all United Nations forces recognise their non-partisan role. The recent decision of the UNPROFOR commander, General Rose, to ask for close air support was taken because of the threat faced by UN forces in Gorazde. It is also crucial that the existing mandate of UNPROFOR forces, including those from the United Kingdom, be sustained over the weeks and months to come.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

The Secretary of State will recall that when he recently announced the decision to send additional British troops to Bosnia, he also told the House of the successful diplomatic initiative at the United Nations which had resulted in promises of some 8,000 additional troops from other countries. Does he share the disappointment of many people that, because of the unwillingness of a number of United Nations members to meet their obligations to that organisation, the figure of 8,000 has had to be revised down to 3,500?

Mr. Rifkind

The United Kingdom has fully complied with its commitments, and additional British forces are of course now serving in Bosnia, as are forces from several other countries. As the hon. and learned Gentleman said, however, several of the countries that expressed a willingness to send troops have not yet done so. We very much hope that they will meet their commitments in the earliest possible time frame, because the success of General Rose's efforts, like that of the United Nations effort in general, depends on his having the forces available to carry out the important task with which the UN has entrusted him.

Dr. David Clark

Is the Secretary of State aware that when I led a small delegation of hon. Members from both sides of the House into Gorazde last September, we found only 11 UN soldiers guarding that 750 sq km enclave? The Opposition support the aerial intervention to protect the safe area, but does the Secretary of State share our belief that more ground troops are needed? Will he put pressure on our American allies to contribute some of those troops, and at the same time use his diplomatic skills to ensure that the Russians are not left out in the cold again?

Mr. Rifkind

The purpose of UN personnel in Gorazde is not to protect the city; there is a very small number of UN personnel there. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important for the UN to have the forces that it requires. The United States has said that it would be prepared to provide ground forces in the event of a peaceful settlement in Bosnia. I shall be in the United States over the next few days and I am sure that I shall discuss these matters with my American colleagues.

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