HC Deb 02 February 1994 vol 236 cc878-82
7. Mr. Winnick

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on Her Majesty's Government's current policy towards the conflict in Bosnia.

12. Lady Olga Maitland

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the latest developments in Bosnia.

Mr. Hurd

With our European Union partners, we continue to support the co-chairmen's efforts to bring the parties to a negotiated settlement. The Bosnian parties met in Geneva on 18 and 19 January and are due to meet again on 10 February. With other UNPROFOR contributors, we are continuing the humanitarian relief effort. On my visit to Bosnia recently, I saw the first-rate contribution that our troops and civilians are making despite the obstacles and dangers that they face. We are committed to maintaining that effort through the winter. We are considering the future of UNPROFOR with others concerned, and I carried that further in New York and Washington yesterday and the day before; but no decisions have been taken.

Mr. Winnick

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that in view of the continuing tragedy in Bosnia there can be no justification for allowing the British troops to leave?

Indeed, what the right hon. Gentleman has just said confirms that. Any troops who left would leave Bosnia's civilian population entirely at the mercy of the local warlords.

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that the fact that the international community has so far failed to end the aggression perpetrated by the Serbs and Croats may, unfortunately, encourage others in various unsettled parts of Europe to carry out similar acts of aggression and ethnic cleansing? The tragedy does not affect Bosnia alone.

Mr. Hurd

I think that I am right in believing that the hon. Gentleman has consistently—or at any rate, for a long time—advocated military intervention, or at least air strikes. How does he reconcile that stance with urging us to continue our current military and humanitarian efforts? We must ensure that we have the right balance between the effectiveness of our troops and the effectiveness of the aid effort and find ways of improving both; we need to make a calm judgment on the basis of the latest evidence.

I have encouraged the Secretary-General of the United Nations to report on the new thinking of the new staff whom he has on the ground. On the basis of that report, and in consultation with allies and partners, we shall be able to reach a considered conclusion on the right balance—probably next month.

Lady Olga Maitland

Will my right hon. Friend join me in sending condolences to the family of Paul Goodall, the aid worker who was so brutally murdered last week, together with our sympathy to the families of the two men who were shot? Is my right hon. Friend aware that those aid workers were sent out to Bosnia through the Crown Agents in Sutton in my constituency? Does he recognise that aid workers are largely unsung heroes in Bosnia? Moreover, the message that has come back to me is that they are determined to continue their work, which they consider to be a moral imperative.

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend is right. I know of her interest in the matter through the Crown Agents in her constituency. It is striking that, despite the tragic murder of Mr. Goodall, his comrades have clearly said that they want to continue. So the Overseas Development Administration has decided, after a temporary suspension of our convoys, to resume its work, which is clearly the wish of the people who drive. I saw for myself that, despite all the obstacles and the dangers that they run, they rightly believe that the aid that they get through contributes substantially to reducing the suffering, the cold and the hunger, of the people whom they help.

Mr. Corbett

While joining in the expression of sympathy to the family of Paul Goodall, may I commend the courage of my constituent, Simon King, who was injured in the same incident and may I thank, through the Foreign Secretary, all those concerned with Mr. King's rescue and care? Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that Mr. King and his colleagues are expected back in the United Kingdom on Saturday and that all proper arrangements have been made for them? In thinking about the future of our part in the humanitarian effort in Bosnia, will the Foreign Secretary pay special regard to the wish of Mr. King, his colleagues and many others that it should continue?

Mr. Hurd

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. We have ensured that the two survivors of that tragedy are properly looked after. We must consider not just whether to continue the humanitarian and military effort but whether it is as well organised as it could be or whether improvements can be made. Three new minds are at work on the problem that the hon. Gentleman raises: Mr. Akashi, whom I saw in Split, acting on behalf of the United Nations Secretary-General did a good job in Cambodia and is looking at the civilian side; General Sir Michael Rose, who everybody knows is an outstanding and thoughtful soldier; and the new French general, General de la Presle. We must consider not just whether we should continue, but, if we and the other troop contributors continue, how we can improve the present balance of effort so that more help reaches the people who need it.

Mr. Cormack

Does my right hon. Friend accept that Bosnia still has a Government in which Croats, Serbs and Muslims serve together? Will he admit that the British Government recognise that as the legitimate Government of Bosnia? In that context, is it not unfair to treat it merely as a warring faction?

Mr. Hurd

We regard the Bosnian Government as one of the parties that need to reach a negotiated settlement. We believe that the Serbs are mainly responsible for the fighting, but the Croats joined in later and are also to blame. All three sides have committed atrocities. But the point that is emerging more and more clearly and on which there is total agreement in Washington is that a negotiated settlement is needed. Yesterday in Washington, I was trying to explore how the United States can be associated more clearly and openly with the negotiations, not in discussing a settlement imposed on the Bosnian Government in Sarajevo but in trying to associate the Americans more completely with the search for an answer that all three parties will freely accept so that it can last and bring the war to an end. It is clear to me that there will be no military victory. If a settlement is to be negotiated, the sooner it is done the better.

Mr. Wareing

We all share the view of the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) that it is tragic that an aid worker has been shot and others have been injured. Will the Foreign Secretary inform the House on the progress that has been made in investigating who the murderers were in that case? Is it true that they were probably members of the 7th Muslim Brigade, made up of what are colloquially termed "mujahedin"? If that should prove to be so, will he call for the disbandment of that brigade?

Mr. Hurd

I cannot answer accurately about that matter. We asked the Bosnian authorities at once to investigate the murder, and they did so. It is reported that a number of people have since been shot on Mount Igman. We are asking the Bosnian authorities for particulars of exactly what occurred, and who the people involved were. It has been reported that one of them may have been carrying a United Kingdom passport—a document which may or may not have been genuine. There is much obscurity and murkiness about this episode, but we are trying to have light shed on it. I will let the hon. Gentleman know how we get on with our inquiries.

Sir Michael Marshall

What opportunity has my right hon. Friend had to take stock of the current state of sanctions in Serbia and Croatia? In particular, does he feel that the apparent grinding down of the problems faced in Croatia can play a part in helping to end the tragedy in Bosnia?

Mr. Hurd

I am sure that we must maintain sanctions at full force against Serbia until the authorities there comply with the Security Council resolutions. We have to take very careful account of the way in which Croatia has handled the matter in recent months. There is no doubt that this question will be considered again by the Foreign Affairs Council on Monday.

Dr. John Cunningham

We all join in the expression of condolence to the family of Mr. Goodall. However, is not the inescapable conclusion of the past few months that all the objectives set by the London conference on Bosnia have failed—with the possible exception of the humanitarian aid effort, which itself is now in some difficulty? Is not my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) right when he says that, regrettably, the failure to confront not just Serbian but also Croatian aggression in Bosnia is a clear signal to like-minded people in other areas of instability in eastern Europe? Does that not pose a grave threat to the security of central and western Europe too?

Does the Foreign Secretary recognise that when he vacillates about whether to take the troops out or leave them in, he encourages Serbs and Croats to maintain their aggressive stance in Bosnia? If we are to come out of this terrible tragedy with any credibility at all, should not the international community at the very least maintain, if not improve, the humanitarian aid programme, and is that not impossible without the presence of troops on the ground?

Mr. Hurd

The right hon. Gentleman's last point may prove to be accurate. This is one of the things that we have to change. There is no vacillation here. I do not think that the Opposition or the country wants us to act suddenly or unilaterally, leaving others in the lurch. We have to consult countries such as Canada, whose Foreign Minister I talked to on Monday. We have to work with those who are in a similar position. The situation has to be weighed up. In today's world, we cannot do everything in secret. I have been completely open with the House and with the public as to the stage that we have reached.

I should have thought that that was a reasoned process. It is quite contrary to the way in which the Opposition —the Labour party recently and the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) constantly—have performed. Once again the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) has used the word "confront" when talking about how to deal with the Serbs and the Croats. What does he mean? Is he talking of air strikes? There is a case for air support for operations like those to relieve the Canadians in Srebrenica and to open Tuzla airport. However, if the right hon. Gentleman is seriously saying that problems like the siege of Sarajevo and that entire tragedy can be solved permanently by bombing from the air, as he has suggested in the past, he is at odds not only with military opinion here but, as I discovered in Washington yesterday, with a much wider body of opinion. People who advance such arguments in such a vague way need to be pinned down as to what they propose. Otherwise, their advice is less than helpful.

Mr. Elletson

During his recent visit to Bosnia, did my right hon. Friend have an opportunity to calculate the amount of British humanitarian aid that is reaching the people for whom it is intended? Is he aware that many people in this country now believe that humanitarian aid is merely fuelling the warring factions and keeping the war going? Is it not time for us to ask ourselves what on earth Britain is doing in Bosnia?

Mr. Hurd

What we are doing is keeping people alive who would otherwise be dead. What we are doing is providing some assurance of heat and electricity for some hours a day for people in the fearful communist high-rise flats in which many in Bosnia live. What we are doing is providing food that will keep people alive who might otherwise die. My hon. Friend is perfectly right to say that there are obstructions and that not all of the requirements —indeed, much less than we would wish—get through. What we have to judge is whether we can remove the obstructions, bureaucratic and otherwise, and improve our effort or whether it cannot be improved and whether the risks are so great that we should pull out. However, my hon. Friend should be in no doubt about the consequences in humanitarian terms of an abrupt and unconsidered decision to withdraw.

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