HC Deb 04 July 1995 vol 263 cc126-7
2. Mr. Home Robertson

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made of the impact on international security of the lifting of the arms embargo on Bosnia. [30556]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)

We believe that that could lead to a serious escalation in fighting in Bosnia, which would jeopardise the humanitarian effort and the international peace process, and would lead to the withdrawal of UNPROFOR.

Mr. Home Robertson

Has the Secretary of State yet managed to convey to the United States Congress that lifting the arms embargo at this stage would certainly lead to pre-emptive strikes by those who have heavy weapons—not only the Bosnian Serbs, but the Croatian forces? As we are in a position now where the Bosnian Serb army has been blocking and attacking humanitarian aid convoys in Sarajevo and other enclaves for several months, how soon will it be before the new United Nations rapid reaction force is in a position to intervene to protect those convoys?

Mr. Rifkind

There has been some progress in convoys getting through to Sarajevo and Gorazde, but I agree that the position remains serious. A significant part of the new rapid deployment force is already in Bosnia and is available to the theatre commander. We would expect further reinforcement of that force to be able to be sent out in the near future.

Mr. Key

Has my right hon. and learned Friend discussed the effects of lifting the embargo with our French allies? Without divulging any details, can he assure the House that he has discussed, and is familiar with, the French rules of engagement and that they are the same as ours?

Mr. Rifkind

I met my colleague the new French Minister of Defence last week, and I can assure my hon. Friend that both France and the United Kingdom believe that it is necessary to have robust rules of engagement to ensure the full protection of our forces in Bosnia, who will have the full freedom to use the force that they believe is necessary to defend their lives and to perform the duties that they are entrusted to carry out.

Dr. David Clark

If the arms embargo were to be lifted, as the Secretary of State implies, we would have to evacuate the UNPROFOR forces. That would mean that 24 airmobile brigade would have to go in. Has the Secretary of State heard from the Bosnian and the Croatian Governments at this stage as to whether they are prepared to allow 24 airmobile to go in?

Mr. Rifkind

We are at the moment discussing with the Croatian Government the use of the port of Ploce as an initial base for 24 airmobile brigade. I hope that that matter will be resolved in the very near future. Of course a substantial part of the British reinforcements is already in Bosnia—almost 1,000 extra men—and we would expect the advance party of about 400 of 24 airmobile to set out for Bosnia as soon as we can reach agreement with the Croatian Government on the lines that I set out a few moments ago.