HC Deb 05 July 1995 vol 263 cc375-7
15. Mr. Home Robertson

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what consideration he has given to improving Britain's contribution to United Nations conflict prevention activities, with particular reference to the rapid reaction force in Bosnia. [30909]

Mr. Hurd

We have taken the lead in trying to strengthen the United Nations in preventive diplomacy and conflict prevention. Last September, I made some specific proposals for the UN to give more effective help to regional preventive diplomacy in Africa, and in 1993, with the French, outlined proposals to help enhance UN capability in that respect. We strongly support UN work to prevent conflict in Macedonia and Burundi.

Where preventive diplomacy has failed, we are also working to improve UN response to conflict. Britons are serving in six UN peacekeeping operations. We have made proposals for improving the planning and management of those operations and have seconded British experts to New York to help implement them.

In Bosnia, as the hon. Gentleman knows, we have played a leading role in deploying additional troops to form the rapid reaction force to which he refers. The force will increase the effectiveness of UNPROFOR in its peacekeeping activities. It is not there to impose a solution. The priority remains to bring the parties to a negotiated settlement.

Mr. Home Robertson

I welcome the deployment of a stronger United Nations force to Bosnia, and particularly the participation of rapid reaction units from Britain. As the situation in Sarajevo is worse than ever, with the three-year siege continuing, the return to indiscriminate shelling and sniping and the closure of the air bridge and all road access, will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the Government and other members of the United Nations intend that the new rapid reaction force should be able to protect humanitarian aid convoys to the city of Sarajevo and other isolated communities in Bosnia?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman does not exaggerate the seriousness of the conflict. I received a sombre report this morning from Mr. Carl Bildt, the new European negotiator, who is working very hard on the military agenda, to make it possible for UNPROFOR to function effectively on the ground with the minimum of consent from all concerned, including the Bosnian Serbs, and on the contact group agenda towards a negotiated settlement.

The arrival of new units and the reinforcement of units in the UN force will make it somewhat easier for UN commanders to take the action to which the hon. Gentleman refers. However, the hon. Gentleman recognises that they do not transform the strategic position; they increase the choices in a tactical situation for the UN command.

Sir Patrick Cormack

May I thank my right hon. Friend for all he personally has done to try and bring peace to that troubled part of the world? Does he agree, however, that it is important that President Milosevic should use his best endeavours to persuade the Bosnian Serbs to lift the siege of Sarajevo; Is he confident that President Milosevic is doing all that he can?

Mr. Hurd

Yes. I believe that President Milosevic realised some time ago that the only future for his country, Serbia, lies in a negotiated peace and that he must use what influences are at his disposal to bring the Bosnian Serbs to the same conclusion. Neither he nor we nor anyone else has yet succeeded in that, but it is in his interests and intentions to continue.

Mr. Robin Cook

The Foreign Secretary will be aware that we welcome the reassurances that no undertakings were given to the Bosnian Serbs in return for the release of the hostages? Does he therefore share our concern at the repeated failure of the UN to respond to the escalating breaches of the UN mandate by the Bosnian Serbs? Can he confirm that only one sixth of the aid required is getting through to Sarajevo and that cases of starvation are now being reported from Bihac? Does he agree that, having shown the necessary resolve to secure the release of the hostages, the UN must show same resolve to protect and feed civilians in towns that the UN itself has declared safe areas?

Mr. Hurd

Small amounts of aid are getting through to Sarajevo and the enclaves, but they are too small. The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right that the humanitarian position has deteriorated. The choices before the UN commanders are not enviable. They now have a greater range of troops and equipment, which will increase quite substantially during the coming month, but it does not transform the basic position: they have to judge—and we cannot do so on their behalf—what is possible without making the position worse. I hope and believe that they will able to make further progress, partly as a result of Mr. Bildt's efforts, which were extremely vigorous, and partly through the reinforcements that they have received.

Mr. Jenkin

I join the tributes already paid to my right hon. Friend, particularly for his unfailing courtesy towards those who have not always sought to make life easier for him.

Is there not a lesson to be drawn from the involvement in Bosnia—that whatever contribution we make to the UN, these operations would be easier if they were premised on the unequivocal support of all the major NATO powers before we embarked on them?

Mr. Hurd

I believe that it is right that NATO should be involved to the extent that it is involved in the enforcement of sanctions and in providing the possibility of air strikes. I have always been anxious—I think that the House has appreciated this—that we should not, in Bosnia or Yugoslavia, build up a situation in which the NATO powers are on one side and the Russians on the other. That would be a bad outlook. We have avoided it with the contact group, which includes Russia.

If, however, my hon. Friend is saying that there needs to be absolu[...] [...]olidarity between the main western allies, all the members of the European Union and all the members of NATO, he is entirely right. At the moment, the policy that the international community—to use the shorthand phrase—is pursuing in Bosnia has that solid support.