HC Deb 10 May 1994 vol 243 c147
10. Mr. Duncan Smith

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made of the military situation in Bosnia.

Mr. Rifkind

The situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina remains generally calm, although sporadic small arms and mortar fire continues, together with some artillery fire in certain areas. The ceasefires in central Bosnia, Sarajevo and Gorazde are generally holding.

Mr. Duncan Smith

My right hon and learned Friend is resisting the siren calls for more troop deployments to Bosnia, but does he agree that the complex situation in Bosnia demonstrates that Britain, when it needs to co-operate, must do so with NATO? Does he also agree that we must, however, retain the capability to operate independently in the defence of British interests?

Mr. Rifkind

Yes, I very much agree with my hon. Friend. NATO has been, and remains, central to our policy on the defence of the realm and any question of closer European co-operation on defence matters is, of course, subject to the overriding importance of maintaining the primacy of NATO as fundamental to our defence interests. That is, and will remain, our defence policy. Some of the remarks that were attributed, I hope mistakenly, to my hon. Friend in an article in The Sunday Telegraph were quite bizarre. We have no intention whatsoever of supplanting NATO as the central plank of our defence policy.

Mr. Jim Marshall

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the military situation in Bosnia has dictated that British forces are now involved in three roles—humanitarian relief, peacekeeping and peacemaking?

Mr. Rifkind

We have certainly been willing to see British forces used in Bosnia to assist the United Nations to carry out its mandate. That mandate does not involve a combat role for British forces and nor will it be allowed to be changed in that direction. We support warmly any way in which the British forces can assist the United Nations in its humanitarian and peacekeeping role.

Mr. Cormack

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree with those British soldiers and others who have expressed concern at Mr. Akashi allowing Serbian tanks to pass through the exclusion zone? [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. Could there be a little less noise in the House? It is extremely difficult to hear. Could the conversations be quieter, please?

Mr. Rifkind

It is for Mr. Akashi to explain his thinking in allowing the movement of Serb tanks through that zone. I accept that, on the face of it, it was a most unexpected exercise of his discretion, but we hope that he will ensure that his approach is consistent with the UN's policy.