§ The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)
With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement to the House on events in Srebrenica.
Srebrenica was established as a safe area by United Nations Security Council resolution in April 1993. This was followed by an agreement on its demilitarisation between UNPROFOR, the Bosnian Government and Bosnian Serb military commanders, signed on 17 April of that year.
In June 1993, the UN suggested that up to 36,000 troops could be necessary to implement the safe areas concept. The United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands responded well, but many others did not. The total committed amounted to only 7,500—a significant shortfall. This has had substantial implications for the safe areas policy. A Dutch contingent of UNPROFOR troops was deployed to Srebrenica to replace the original Canadian contingent.
The reality is that neither side properly observed the provisions on demilitarisation. It is this that lies at the root of events over the past few days. For three months, there have been sporadic attacks by each side against the other. Some 450 Dutch troops were in Srebrenica when fighting escalated over last weekend.
During that fighting, one Dutch soldier was killed by Bosnian Government forces on 8 July, and 30 Dutch soldiers were taken by the Bosnian Serb army as they withdrew from outlying observation posts to a blocking position 1.5 km to the south of the town. On the evening of 10 July, Bosnian Serb troops launched an infantry attack against this position, the Dutch returned fire, and the attack was abandoned.
At about midday on 11 July, however, Bosnian Serb forces launched a further attack, using mortars and tanks. Srebrenica town came under fire, with shells hitting the hospital and the Dutch compound. The Dutch commander requested NATO close air support. Two missions were launched, resulting in the destruction of Bosnian Serb army tanks. Meanwhile, Dutch troops helped to evacuate the hospital and withdrew from the compound, as it was under heavy shelling and undefendable.
The Dutch blocking position was bypassed, and, at about 1800 hours, Dutch UNPROFOR troops withdrew northwards to their compound at Potocari. They took with them some 2,500 displaced persons and some 80 to 100 who are wounded. Latest reports indicate that some 30,000 displaced persons are now in the Potocari area, several thousand of them in and around the Dutch compound, and that Bosnian Serb forces now effectively control the whole of the Srebrenica enclave.
I have spoken this morning to the Dutch Foreign Minister, Mr. Van Mierlo. He confirmed that the Dutch troops remained in their compound. He has no reports of casualties. The compound is not at present under attack, but food and water supplies are running low. Dutch commmanders are in touch with General Mladic, who is now is Srebrenica, about getting relief to the displaced persons.
We are in close touch with our allies and friends about the next step, and I have instructed our chargé in Belgrade to speak to President Milosevic. Our immediate priorities 948 are to get food, water and medical help to the displaced persons in the Potocari area and to offer any help to the Dutch that they need; secondly, to safeguard the other enclaves and in particular the British forces in Gorazde; thirdly, to pursue action in the United Nations Security Council in response to this Bosnian Serb aggression. Our overall objective should remain, despite the difficulties, to restore Srebrenica as a safe area, but on the basis of a genuine implementation of the demilitarisation agreement of April 1993.
On the humanitarian situation, I spoke to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees last night. I understand that UNHCR is seeking to negotiate access to provide help to the to displaced persons and assistance to those who expressly wish to leave. We have offered technical assistance to UNHCR from Overseas Development Administration experts in the area.
On the position in the other enclaves, there is continued sporadic shelling around Zepa, which is guarded by Ukrainian forces. There are no reports of increased activity by Bosnian Serb forces around Gorazde. Hon. Members will nevertheless share my concern about the safety of British troops there.
We are in constant touch with UNPROFOR commanders on the ground about developments, and we shall take appropriate measures to safeguard the security of our troops. Part of the rapid reaction force is deployed in theatre, where it will be able to support UNPROFOR's political and humanitarian objectives.
At the United Nations we, the United States, France, Germany and Italy are co-sponsoring a draft resolution which was circulated yesterday evening. This condemns the Bosnian Serb offensive; demands that the Bosnian Serb forces withdraw immediately from the Srebrenica area, that the Bosnian Serbs immediately release all detained UNPROFOR personnel and that all parties allow unimpeded access for the High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian agencies to the safe area to alleviate the plight of the civilian population; and requests the Secretary General to use the resources available to him to restore the safe area status of Srebrenica. I look to see a resolution along these lines in New York today.
Beyond those immediate priorities, we have to consider the implication of these events for the political process and for the future of the UN forces. I am seeing Carl Bildt, the new European negotiator, immediately after this statement. He has already travelled extensively in the region, and has had three lengthy negotiating sessions with President Milosevic.
I will be discussing with him how he can use his channels to the parties to help stabilise the situation in Srebrenica, as well his broader objective of a negotiated settlement to the Bosnian conflict and mutual recognition between the republics of former Yugoslavia. Later today, Mr. Bildt will meet the contact group to discuss these developments.
On the future of UNPROFOR, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the House yesterday that the continuing fighting in Bosnia was putting the future presence of the United Nations forces at risk, and that the warring parties had to indicate soon that they were prepared to return to the negotiating table to reach a political solution. That remains the position.
949 There is no question about the value of UNPROFOR's work. This is the largest peacekeeping operation in the history of the United Nations. Forty thousand troops are involved, drawn from almost 40 countries. They have saved tens of thousands of lives. Casualties in the Bosnian war have fallen from 130,000 killed in 1992 to 2,500 in 1994. They have contained a conflict which threatened a wider Balkan war. They are providing support for more than 2.7 million people in Bosnia who have been affected by the war.
But to operate, they require co-operation from the parties. UNPROFOR is not configured to fight a war. We must rely on the judgment of UN commanders on the ground as to whether they remain able to carry out their mandate; so withdrawal must remain an option. The structure for a political solution is there if the parties choose to use it, but they have to recognise that negotiating time is running out.
§ Dr. David Clark (South Shields)
I thank the Secretary of State for coming to make the statement, and congratulate him on his new appointment. I wish that he were here in rather less sombre circumstances.
Clearly, we are in a serious position. The whole House will share the Foreign Secretary's condemnation of the Bosnian Serbs for the manner in which they have ignored the wishes of the civilised world and overthrown a United Nations safe area. It is an outrageous act of aggression, which places the lives of thousands of innocent people in jeopardy, and the world cannot simply sit by.
The continued presence of UNPROFOR is something with which we concur. We still believe that a worthwhile job is being done in Bosnia by British troops and our allies in UNPROFOR and, as long as our troops are there, doing a worthwhile job, we hope that we can support them.
However, our immediate concern must be for the people of Srebrenica, who are being forced out of their homes in their thousands, often for the second or third time. They are experiencing ethnic cleansing, not only once or twice but sometimes three times. Will the Foreign Secretary tell us a little more about his plans and those of the United Nations for ensuring that those unfortunate people are provided with food and shelter? What negotiations are taking place with the Bosnian Serb authorities so that we can get food to the refugees there?
Will the Foreign Secretary also tell the House what consultation he has had with the French authorities? We understand that they favour a much more robust military approach to the retaking of Srebrenica. What consultation has the Foreign Secretary had with the French authorities, and what is the Government's view of the French proposals?
What is the position of the rapid reaction force? We heard a great deal about it when it was announced five or six weeks ago. We understand from the Foreign Secretary's statement that the rapid reaction force is in the vicinity of Gorazde, but why was it not called to be sent to Srebrenica? After all, we had three days' notice of what was happening in Srebrenica. Where was the rapid reaction force? Where were the guns that would have filled the gap between air strikes and hand guns? That question must be answered.
950 What is the Government's policy towards the other safe areas, especially those in the eastern enclave? What are the Government doing to try to ensure that demilitarisation in those areas is a fact, not a myth? There is no doubt that, unless there is demilitarisation, or unless one has thousands and thousands of troops, one cannot defend the safe areas. Will the Foreign Secretary accept that no action in Srebrenica can be seen in isolation from the rest of Bosnia, especially the two safe areas in the east that I just mentioned?
Of course, the whole House is doubly concerned about Gorazde, because troops from our country are there. What is the position of British troops in Gorazde? Have they got plenty of reserves? Do they have the facilities to protect themselves? Do we have the assurance that the rapid reaction force, which the Foreign Secretary mentioned, will be there in time? It is no use arriving too late in that situation.
May I press the Foreign Secretary on the basic issue of consultation? At the end of the day, both sides agree that there is no military solution in Bosnia; there will have to be a political solution. Will he confirm that there have been no discussions between the contact group and the belligerents in Bosnia for a number of months? Will he say a little more about when such contacts will be renewed, because they are critical?
Finally, what has happened in Srebrenica came about because of a mismatch between the commitments given by the world through the United Nations, and the resources made available by the countries that make up the United Nations. Will the Foreign Secretary impress on other countries through the United Nations that it is imperative that this cannot happen again?
It is no use making pious claims unless other countries are prepared to try to ensure that there is sufficient force to ensure those aims are adhered to. What we have to do in the international councils is say what we mean and mean what we say; otherwise, it is simply not worth doing.
§ Mr. Rifkind
May I thank the hon. Gentleman for his personal good wishes? I certainly agree with him that, when the Security Council expresses a policy, it is necessary that those who vote for that policy and support it provide the means of implementing it. I am proud that the United Kingdom is one of those countries which has responded, both in the spirit and in the letter of what has been called for.
The hon. Gentleman asked me a number of questions, to which I shall try to respond briefly. Refugees are the immediate priority. There are up to 30,000 or 40,000 refugees from Srebrenica, many of whom were in Srebrenica as refugees. The immediate requirement is their food and shelter. The UNHCR is currently engaged in providing that, and of course we shall give full support to that objective.
The hon. Gentleman asked me whether we had had contact with our French allies. I did indeed speak to the French Foreign Minister last night. The French have indicated publicly their interest in a possible military response to reverse the situation in Srebrenica. We are awaiting more information from them as to the details of what they have in mind.
Clearly any military operation would be complex. Srebrenica is 170 km from central Bosnia, and therefore any forces going by land would have to continue along a 951 very long stretch of road, most of which is controlled by Serb military forces. Within Bosnia at the moment, there are no helicopters of a kind able to transport such military force. Having said that, the French have indicated an interest in a military response. We need to hear the precise details of what they have in, mind and whether that is perceived to be a militarily realistic solution to this matter.
The hon. Gentleman also asked me about the rapid reaction force. At the moment, some 1,100 additional British troops have arrived in Bosnia, as well as the additional French reinforcements. The 24 Airmobile Brigade has not yet been deployed, because we need to get the agreement of the Croatian Government and the Croatian authorities. Much of that work has now been done, but it has not yet been completed. If the rapid reaction force wishes to be involved in Srebrenica, it will have to traverse that route of 170 km of Serb-held territory. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman must reflect on whether that is a realistic obligation to impose upon it.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the safe areas policy as a whole. The key to the Srebrenica area is whether the Serbs can be persuaded to withdraw from Srebrenica in exchange for the demilitarisation of the town. That is not an unrealistic objective, because both sides agreed to that policy two years ago. It is unfortunate that neither side implemented what they had committed themselves to.
The hon. Gentleman asked me about consultation with the various parties. The most recent development, of course, was the appointment of Carl Bildt, who has been working very closely with Mr. Milosevic to seek a solution involving the recognition of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the suspension of hostilities. Some considerable progress has been made, but clearly there is still a long way to go.
§ Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater)
Did my right hon. and learned Friend hear the comments of Dr. Boutros-Ghali on the radio this morning, in which he seemed to imply that the military response in a particular situation should depend on the individual Government to whom the troops belong—in this case, the Dutch Government? Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that, in this very difficult and dangerous situation, it must be the responsibility of the commanders on the ground to determine the correct military response?
In connection with the serious humanitarian situation facing us, is it not clear that the only immediate prospect of help must lie in his last plea: there must be the clearest assurances on demilitarisation, lack of military activity, from within the enclave outwards? We would then be entitled to demand the withdrawal of the Bosnian Serb forces.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I very much agree with my right hon. Friend's last observation. Clearly, one of the major causes of tension in recent weeks has been military activity from both the Bosnian Government forces in Srebrenica and the Bosnian Serb forces on the outside. That does not excuse the aggression of the past 48 hours, but we must be aware of the background. Clearly, demilitarisation would be a way in which to ensure the continuation of the enclave and the safety of those within it.
So far as Dr. Boutros-Ghali's comments are concerned, I am sure that the Secretary General recognises more than most of us the crucial requirement that any use of military force in Bosnia-Herzegovina must be based on an 952 assessment by the force commanders and their recommendation that the objectives for which it was used could be realised in that way.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)
Does not the sad history of Srebrenica, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just related, show that to call an area a safe area, without either the political will or the military resources to keep it safe, is worthless? Is it not now time to try to re-establish the last vestiges of the authority of the United Nations in Bosnia, and would that not be accomplished by the creation and maintenance of a permanent humanitarian route into Sarajevo over Mount Igman?
§ Mr. Rifkind
In answer to the hon. and learned Gentleman's first question, clearly there are two points at issue. There is not only the unwillingness of the international community as a whole to provide the additional forces necessary, but the question of the mandate that would be needed to enforce a safe area if military activity were initiated by any of the parties against it. As for the other matters that the hon. and learned Gentleman raised, I agree with his observations.
§ Mr. David Howell (Guildford)
We all appreciate that it is the clear thinking of my right hon. and learned Friend in his new job that is needed in the present agonising situation, rather then more pious hopes and cliches. I applaud his ambition that we should somehow restore the safe area around Srebrenica, and that we should not abandon the refugees.
However, the question hangs in the air: can we really deliver on those ambitions? Can we protect the refugees, as they are not being protected around Srebrenica today? Has the time not come to reconsider, and will my right hon. and learned Friend please reconsider with his colleagues and other Foreign Ministers, the restraints that prevent the so-called Bosnian Muslims from defending themselves more effectively, as they are desperately trying to do around Sarajevo even now?
§ Mr. Rifkind
One recognises that there are conflicting interests that we are trying to safeguard. I assume that, in the latter part of his remarks, my right hon. Friend was referring to the arms embargo. The fundamental problem remains, as it has always been, the fact that it is not possible to reconcile the United Nations lifting the embargo with the continuing UN presence in Bosnia-Herzegovina. So far, when faced with that predicament, the Bosnian Government have always concluded that they wished the UNPROFOR presence within Bosnia-Herzegovina to continue. I believe that that is a correct judgment, and we must wait to see whether it remains their view.
§ Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)
Looking back on that long and bitter civil war, and from the Foreign Secretary's statement, is it not clear that the most successful part of what we have done has been the humanitarian aid? Many lives have been saved, and many people who would otherwise have starved have been supplied; whereas military interventions, including air strikes, have been the least successful, as has been most recently established.
Can the Foreign Secretary give an assurance that, when we assess what can and cannot be done, the one thing that will not be abandoned is the humanitarian aid, and that what will be considered most carefully is whether it is wise to enter the war as a participant military force?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I agree with the general thrust of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks. The humanitarian achievements of the United Nations in Bosnia have been of a remarkable, perhaps an unprecedented, kind. It is probable that more lives have been saved in Bosnia as a result of UN intervention than that organisation can claim in any previous UN operation in any part of the world. Therefore, it is crucial that that huge benefit is not recklessly thrown away because of other disappointments and frustrations.
Of course, if the UN can use both its mandate and the forces available to it to achieve other benefits, so long as they do not jeopardise the humanitarian operation, that is well worth striving for, but I entirely accept that there is a limit to what one can achieve unless one is prepared to cross the rubicon and become a combatant in a war. The UN is not prepared to do that.
§ Mr. John Biffen (Shropshire, North)
I warmly congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his appointment as Foreign Secretary.
Does he ever reflect on the wisdom that echoes down the ages in Bismarck's comment that the Balkans were not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier? In that context, is it not incumbent upon us to make the most realistic assessment of our current military commitment in that part of the world, of what it seeks to fulfil, and of how those two can be reconciled—and to determine that, ultimately, that judgment will be undertaken by a British Government answering to a British Parliament?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I thank my right hon. Friend for his personal good wishes. On the final point that he raised, I can confirm that any question about the future of the British forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina will be a matter for the Government and Parliament of this country, and we will not seek to transfer that obligation to any other place.
So far as the thrust of his main question is concerned, while we certainly take the view that there is no justification for the United Kingdom becoming involved as a combatant in the war that is taking place in Bosnia, we do believe that there is an obligation upon this country—as upon other countries—to do what can be done to help save lives and to reduce the nature of the conflict. We have national interests which would be seriously affected if the war were to continue indefinitely, or spread to other parts of the Balkan region.
Therefore, if there is a role for British military forces that does not involve them becoming combatants but which can help advance some of those interests, I believe that that objective should be pursued. While recognising the limits of what can be achieved, we must not ignore the very real benefits which are available.
§ Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)
Is the Secretary of State aware that I have constituents with sons serving in the Royal Welch Fusiliers in Gorazde, and that the fusiliers have been placed by somebody in as exposed a position as the Dutch were at Srebrenica? Can he assure the House that added protection will be provided for the fusiliers at Gorazde? My constituents want to know where the rapid reaction force is, because their impression is that it is neither very rapid nor much of a force.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I know that the right hon. Gentleman met the Minister of State for the Armed Forces yesterday, and discussed various ways in which we can enhance the 954 protection available to the British troops in Gorazde. So far as the rapid reaction force is concerned, the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that the approval of the Croatian Government and authorities is required if 24 Airmobile Brigade is to use Ploce on the Croatian coast.
It has been suggested that the authorities will agree, but there are some final discussions which must be resolved before the force can deploy. Notwithstanding that, 1,100 British troops have arrived in Bosnia in addition to those who have been there in the past. They are taking part in the multinational brigade part of the rapid reaction force.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)
I wish my right hon. and learned Friend well in all he does. Does he agree that what is at stake is not just Bosnia and the poor innocent civilians who are fleeing, but the whole credibility and authority of the UN itself? Does he agree that there are occasions when it is entirely proper for the UN to take armed action against those preventing a UN mandate from being fulfilled? Does he accept that, if Karadzic's Serbs—a gang of brigands who do not represent the whole Serbian population in Bosnia—get away with cocking a snook at the international community, it will be a recipe for international anarchy?
§ Mr. Rifkind
My hon. Friend makes his point, and I understand his strength of feeling on the subject. But the UN can only be expected to achieve results if its member states are prepared to provide assistance to the UN. The harsh and unavoidable truth is that there are very severe limits both on the number of forces that member countries are prepared to send to Bosnia and on the mandate that they are prepared to accept should be the basis on which the forces are sent. Given that fact, some of the criticism that the UN has received in the past couple of years has been misdirected and totally unjustified.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
Is the Foreign Secretary aware that this has been the saddest and most humiliating blow that the UN has suffered since the organisation was set up? Does not the responsibility lie with the leading democracies, for their sheer lack of resolve in dealing with criminal aggression?
Is it not clear that the Serbian military forces were encouraged day in, day out in the past few weeks by the knowledge that there would be no military retaliation on the part of the UN? Those troops knew that they could carry out aggression such as has been committed, and they knew that they could get away with it. The failure lies with the leading democracies. It has been a shameful day for the international community, and the Foreign Secretary should recognise that.
§ Mr. Rifkind
It is easy for the hon. Gentleman to make bellicose noises, but unless he wishes to advocate the deployment of many tens of thousands of British and other forces to Bosnia in a war-fighting role, I am afraid that his protestations, although no doubt sincerely felt, add little to resolving the real issues before us.
§ Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)
Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that UN peacekeeping, as opposed to peace-making, can be carried out only with the support of the parties in the area, and that safe zones can be defended only by conventional warfare, which in reality—I believe rightly—the UN Security Council will not authorise? Is not the conclusion that there is a role for 955 the UN in Bosnia seeking diplomatic progress and looking after desperate humanitarian problems, but currently no role for UNPROFOR?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I agree with part of what my hon. Friend says. Clearly, the United Nations must recognise what it is capable of achieving, and the limitations of that capability. But within that framework, UNPROFOR is continuing to provide a viable asset for the UN, which could not be resolved in its absence. The extent to which convoys have been able to deliver aid would be crucially less without military escorts in many areas. The extent to which the Croat Muslim reconciliation in central Bosnia requires to be monitored needs a military presence and that, too, could fall apart if UNPROFOR withdrew.
In those and a number of other areas, I believe that UNPROFOR continues to be of considerable significance, which implies that we need a military presence, but not at any cost. The balance of advantage and risk must be constantly monitored, and we, along with other contributing countries, are currently engaged in that.
§ Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles)
As the Foreign Secretary twice referred to the need to listen to the judgment of UN commanders on the ground, why has he conspicuously failed to give his full backing to General Smith's plan to relieve the siege of Sarajevo by opening the route over Mount Igman? Is not that failure to give General Smith the Government's backing a green light to the Bosnian Serbs to carry on defying the UN with impunity?
§ Mr. Rifkind
The hon. Gentleman is totally misinformed. We are entirely willing to support any proposal that General Rupert Smith or the force commanders believe is capable of delivering aid to either Sarajevo or any other part of the country that requires it. The hon. Gentleman must not make claims based on a misunderstanding of Her Majesty's Government's position. I know that the force commanders have been looking at ways of using the Mount Igman route. If they conclude that that is a realistic way to deliver aid, we shall be happy to support them.
§ Sir Cranley Onslow (Woking)
In view of what my right hon. and learned Friend said a moment ago about the French Government, is he confident that it understood in Paris that the UN forces are in Bosnia for humanitarian and peacekeeping purposes, not to get sucked into a war?
§ Mr. Rifkind
Yes, I believe that the French Government share our view about the role of the UN forces. They have made a number of clear and unequivocal statements to that effect. They have been quoted in the past 24 hours as asking whether UN forces could be used to relieve or reverse the situation in Srebrenica. Clearly, the priority now with regard to that suggestion is to see exactly what they have in mind, in what way military forces could be used, and whether there would be a prospect of success.
§ Miss Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that, when we strip away all the fine words, conferences and good intentions, the real policy of the international community over the past three years is to drip, drip, drip, and give in to the Serbs time after time? 956 Can he give one example of the Serbs keeping their word? Is it not time to lift the arms embargo and allow the Muslims to defend themselves?
§ Mr. Rifkind
The sad but undeniable fact is that all the parties to the Bosnian dispute have given their commitment in writing on many occasions and failed to deliver on many occasions—that phenomenon is not peculiar to one side in the conflict. One is entitled to say to the hon. Lady that the main achievement of the UN forces is that hundreds of thousands of men, women and children are alive today who would not be alive but for the UN presence.
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)
I accept my right hon. and learned Friend's analysis that to withdraw now would be a policy of betrayal and despair, and that to enforce military action would be a policy of folly. I am glad that he has reacted as he has to the French proposal. But does he agree that, if we are to be effective at delivering humanitarian relief and protecting refugees, it is imperative that, when action must be taken, it is taken swiftly, decisively and with conviction, and that too often none of those qualities has been apparent?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I agree with that observation. It is very important that the force commanders are given the support they require, so that, if they do wish certain action to be taken, they are not prevented from carrying out that action by considerations that are not appropriate or relevant.
§ Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)
Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept my congratulations on his achievement in becoming Foreign Secretary? Many of us would regard his new job as a fitting continuation of the admirable tenure of his predecessor. But does he now realise that it is absolutely essential, if he is going to prove himself in his new job, that he has to mount the resolution of the French Foreign Secretary and do something about the criminal activities of the Serbs?
Does he not realise that humanitarian protection cannot be provided without the use of military power? If our forces in Bosnia are to have any meaning or significance, they have to be used. Would it not be perhaps some strength to him to rid the western view of its pusillanimity so far—to ask our chaps in Gorazde whether they want to take action against the criminal activities of the Serbs? If the Government have not got it, those chaps have certainly got the guts and the balls to do it.
§ Mr. Rifkind
The hon. Gentleman is, of course, correct to say that, in order to achieve the humanitarian objectives of the United Nations, the military has a role to play and a contribution to make. It was with that very much in mind that the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands announced the sending of substantial reinforcements to Bosnia. A significant proportion of those forces are now in theatre and will help the force commanders to protect convoys and get the aid through to those who require it.
§ Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Mailing)
Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the British contingent to UNPROFOR does not have the role, the numbers or the equipment with the surrounding contingents to carry out a war-fighting role in Bosnia? 957 Will he also confirm that it is no part of the British Government's policy that their present role should slide into a war-fighting role in that country?
§ Mr. Rifkind
It is crucial that the remarks made by my right hon. Friend are observed, not only in the policy that is pursued by troop-contributing countries, but in the rhetoric that their political spokesmen use. One of the great mistakes of the past three years has been for the United Nations, NATO and individual Governments to use a rhetoric that implies a capability that has never been provided.
It does no good service to the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina to create expectations that cannot be delivered. It is far better to concentrate on the real benefits that the United Nations can provide in Bosnia. Those are already significant and substantial, and I believe that that is the way in which we can properly win the trust of the people of that country at present.
§ Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon)
Will the Secretary of State accept my personal congratulations on his appointment, as an old council friend? Will he also accept that there are serious doubts, first, that the rules of engagement that are currently involved are sufficient to protect our forces in theatre, and, secondly, that the rapid reaction force, as it is being deployed, will be able to secure the safe havens? Thirdly, can he explain to the House why, when he spoke about a political solution, the name of Radovan Karadzic, who steadfastly refuses to come to the conference table, was never mentioned?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind opening remarks. Regarding the position of Mr. Karadzic, obviously any political settlement must be acceptable to the Bosnian Serbs as well as to the Bosnian Government if it is to have any prospect of being achieved. The efforts that have been made in recent weeks have involved seeking to use the influence of Mr. Milosevic, and that has been beneficial in several aspects—such as in the release of the hostages some weeks ago—so obviously we must be prepared to consider not only that route but any other that might be productive of success.
§ Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)
It could not be a better time to have a Foreign Secretary with so much experience in defence matters. However, may I ask my right hon. and learned Friend what lessons have been learnt from the Srebrenica debacle that are applicable in Gorazde, where we have deployed 300 Royal Welch Fusiliers and many Sappers?
Following the earlier question about rules of engagement, will those rules change if those troops have to take off their blue helmets and put on brown helmets as members of NATO?
Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that our rapid deployment force would not get anywhere if it were not for the assistance provided by our ally the United States of America,, with its heavy lift capability? Should we not have that capability ourselves?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I pay tribute to the United States for providing that lift capability. We appreciate its assistance very much, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will consider the question of the United Kingdom's having the same capability.
958 As to the rules of engagement, we are in constant contact with the force commanders to assess whether the current rules of engagement are sufficient for their requirements. In the past two or three years, the rules of engagement have changed a number of times, and we are always ready to consider fresh changes should they prove necessary in order to meet our objectives in implementing the mandate.
§ Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)
In addition to the other points of concern rightly expressed by hon. Members, does the Foreign Secretary recognise the impact that the situation in the former Yugoslavia is having on the adjacent newly emerging democracies, such as Romania? What discussions are going on with those countries to ensure that their progress towards democracy and a free market economy is not adversely affected by what is occurring?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I will, as it happens, be meeting the Romanian Foreign Minister in London tomorrow. We are conscious of the fact that, in imposing sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro, we have been required to introduce measures to ensure that there is no damage to neighbouring countries.
§ Sir Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)
Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that the recent incident occurred within a very short period and came as a great surprise to everyone, including those people on the ground? In those circumstances, is it not correct that all we can do is rely on our commanders on the ground to take the right decisions? Is not their room to manoeuvre seriously curtailed by the lack of a back-up force? In view of what might happen in the next two or three months, is it not a top priority to get the rapid reaction force on the ground somewhere, so that it can be deployed if necessary?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I agree with what my hon. Friend has said, with one important qualification, which I am sure he will accept. It is no part of the purpose of a rapid reaction force to become a combatant in the conflict. Its purpose will be to assist the force commander in the protection of UNPROFOR, and to assist with the delivery of United Nations humanitarian supplies to those who require them.
We must not allow ourselves to believe that the rapid reaction force has either the size or the military capability to become a war-fighting machine. It does not have that capability, and we would be perpetrating a cruel deception if we implied otherwise.
§ Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)
May I first congratulate the right hon. and learned Gentleman on following his distinguished predecessor as Foreign Secretary?
Was not the entire UNPROFOR operation undermined from the outset by the uneven-handed approach of the international community? Bosnian Serb villages are put to the torch by commando raids out of places like Srebrenica, and Croatian shells land on Croatian Serb villages near Knin, but the Serbs see air strikes whenever they retaliate. Should we not regard the situation as a civil war? The United Nations has no possibility of solving anything by taking sides in a civil war.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it would be unwise for the United Nations to take sides. However, I cannot agree with the tenor of his other 959 remarks. It is the judgment of Her Majesty's Government and other Governments that prime responsibility for the aggression—including the present situation facing the people of Srebrenica—lies with the Bosnian Serbs.
§ Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)
I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his appointment, just as I congratulate, as ever, our troops on the ground and the staff at land headquarters in the Ministry of Defence on their professionalism.
Can my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that the mission of our military personnel has a clarity of purpose that is not apparent to everyone in this country, and that the rules of engagement are shared between all of the allied forces on the ground? I assure my right hon. and learned Friend that, when the time comes to withdraw UNPROFOR troops, he will have very wide support.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I thank my hon. Friend. There is doubt in some quarters about the clarity of the United Nations mission, because there are calls from various quarters for the United Nations to have a different mission. As United Nations troops are constantly called upon to act as combatants without the force structure or the mandate to do so, the confusion in the minds of many observers is more the responsibility of those who call for such action than it is of the United Nations.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
May I assure the Secretary of State that my son has fulfilled his duties in Gorazde and is now safely back in Britain? However, that does not reduce my concern for serving men and women who do our bidding in bloody awful conditions. Anyone who has been there will know full well the complexities of their existence.
The Secretary of State has already alluded to the nub of the problem. Apart from humanitarian aid, our only success in the past 12 months has been in securing the release of the hostages who were held in custody for such an embarrassingly long time. That was achieved unquestionably with the active persistence and involvement of President Milosevic. In so doing, he downgraded Karadzic in everyone's eyes, and that man lost face considerably.
Will the Secretary of State give the House an assurance that the reports that Milosevic needs a relaxation of the sanctions on Serbia before he helps any further will not be heeded, and that the sanctions will become more stringent until he engages himself as energetically as he did previously?
§ Mr. Rifkind
Another great achievement in the past year has been further normalisation in central Bosnia, where the bulk of the British forces are found. The relationship between the Bosnian Croats and the Bosnian Government in that part of the country has improved radically. It is one of the benefits that we do not want thrown away by the departure of the United Nations forces.
With regard to sanctions, part of the discussions between Carl Bildt and President Milosevic concerned a possible package of measures whereby, in exchange for the recognition by Belgrade of Bosnia-Herzegovina with its present frontiers, there would be a suspension of certain of the sanctions that have been applied against President Milosevic's Government and country. That 960 would be of benefit if it could be achieved. It is too early to say whether we can look forward to the success of that initiative.
§ Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)
Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall that, a few weeks ago, I asked his distinguished predecessor to bear in mind the military maxim that may have been from Bismarck—never reinforce a failure? Has not the attempt by the United Nations to solve the appalling civil war been a total and utter failure? Is not the distinction or the dividing line between the combat activity and the humanitarian activity of our troops becoming increasingly blurred? Will he ensure that the reinforcements will be sent in only to ensure the speedy return of British troops, and the sooner the better?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I do not believe that it has been a total and utter failure. While there have been massive disappointments in certain aspects of the policy, there have been equally great successes. A few moments ago, I mentioned the huge progress that has been made in central Bosnia. When I first visited that area, one had to travel around in an armoured vehicle. When I was last there, one was able to walk about without a flak jacket or any protection in large parts of central Bosnia, where civil war had been raging only 12 months earlier. That continues to this day. It is a large benefit.
It is precisely for that reason that we are reluctant to see the withdrawal of the UNPROFOR forces, as that would be bad news for the enclaves and the rest of Bosnia. We are concentrating our attention today on the problems facing the enclaves, but they are five relatively small areas in a much larger country, much of which is at peace. It is important, if at all possible, that it should remain at peace, and not return to the bloody conflict of 12 months ago.
§ Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead)
What does the Secretary of State, who in his previous job had quite a line in bellicosity, say to the charge on the lips of hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world this morning, that, if oil was flowing in the streets of Srebrenica rather than just blood, 29 countries would quickly have assembled a vast armada of armies and air forces to come to the rescue of a sovereign state and a member of the United Nations that is being invaded and subjected to brutal aggression?
If he does not think that that Is a fair question, let him answer this one. Precisely why has the sovereign state of Bosnia-Herzegovina not been defended in the same way as the sovereign state of Kuwait?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that, strength of his feelings, the contribution by western countries to the UNPROFOR force is very similar to the contribution made by a number of distinguished Muslim countries, such as Malaysia, Turkey and others, which part of the UN force and work.
The reality is that there is a fundamental distinction between Bosnia and the other examples that the hon. Gentleman uses. As he well knows, those who are fighting within Bosnia are Bosnian Serbs, Bosnian Croats or Bosnian Muslims. We have a situation which, whether or not we choose to call it a civil car, is a war between people who all have their homes in the same territory.
961 That makes it a fundamentally different situation from the invasion of a country by a foreign army, and therefore to suggest that the solution that was appropriate in Kuwait is relative in Bosnia is simply unpersuasive and does not commend itself to the British Government or any other Government of which I am aware.
§ Sir George Gardiner (Reigate)
Since it seems increasingly likely that British forces will have to be withdrawn from Bosnia, will my right hon. and learned Friend undertake—in close co-operation, of course, with his colleague the Secretary of State for Defence—total contingency planning, covering almost every detail, to ensure that no British soldiers' lives are lost in the inevitable and eventual withdrawal?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I can say to my hon. Friend that, over the past few months, NATO has been completing a substantial plan that would involve it being responsible for supervising the withdrawal of the UN force, if that should prove necessary. Virtually all the matters relevant to that plan have now been resolved, and therefore, if withdrawal, sadly, became necessary, I am confident that not only British but UN forces could be withdrawn in good order.
§ Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)
Has it occurred to the Secretary of State that things would have been very different if the United States had shown a fraction of the commitment that the Netherlands has given to the United Nations effort in Bosnia? As, I presume, the attack against Srebrenica would have been resisted had the new United Nations rapid reaction force been in place, will the Secretary of State now tell us whether that pre-emptive strike will be rewarded with success? Are we going to do anything about it?
§ Mr. Rifkind
The United States Government have made a major contribution, both in the air and at sea, to the policy of the United Nations. With regard to the rapid reaction force, we can make no criticism of the United States Government, who have made clear their determination, with all the power at their disposal, to provide their contribution to the financial support needed for that force, and also to provide lift facilities to transport the forces to Bosnia-Herzegovina, and in a number of other ways to enhance the equipment available to the force commanders.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)
I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his new job, which he got on merit.
Will he confirm that the safe areas were never realistically able to be defended by the troops deployed there; that the rapid reaction force is not a military force capable of conducting aggressive warfare; and that it is there to defend the troops who are there on humanitarian aid? Will he also confirm that, in the event of any redeployment, of whatever kind, including withdrawal, that force will be used to ensure the safety of the troops already there? It is about time we told those who are calling for aggressive action that we have neither the numbers nor the assets to carry out any realistic aggressive action in that country.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I thank my hon. Friend for his opening remarks.
962 With regard to the safe areas policy, the United Nations made it clear, when the safe areas resolution was passed, that to be confident in enforcing the safe areas resolutions would, in their judgment, require an additional 36,000 troops. Britain, France, the Netherlands and one or two other countries responded to that additional call for extra support. I have to say that the vast majority did not, so from that moment onwards, there was no way in which one could ensure, by military means, the defence of the safe areas.
§ Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)
Will the Foreign Secretary resist calls from the bombers and the "do something" brigade, and calmly consider the situation and the realities? Will he also go back to the Security Council and get it to adopt a more sensible policy in future—not calling for safe areas which are not and never can be safe, but agreeing, before adopting such resolutions in future, the resources necessary to realise them, rather than afterwards hoping that something will turn up?
§ Mr. Rifkind
Yes, there are times when United Nations resolutions or statements can have a persuasive effect on a course of action, and therefore one recognises that the language used can sometimes be beneficial. I certainly share the hon. Gentleman's anxiety that, if specific commitments are being given by the Security Council, the United Nations or any national Government, they should be given only when there is a clear will and ability to ensure the implementation of such decisions if they should be called upon to do so. That is perhaps where the problem has been most apparent in recent times.
§ Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)
Many years ago, during a very undistinguished academic career, I wrote a bit of a paper about international relations between the wars, with special reference to the League of Nations. All I can say is that I have a feeling of deja vu at the moment. Is not the reality that we pass these resolutions at the United Nations, the Americans are not keen, the Germans show a distinct lack of enthusiasm, and, to an extent, the whole thing is a waste of time? If we want to be an International Red Cross or a Salvation Army, fine, but that is as far as we can go, and that is the reality.
§ Mr. Rifkind
My hon. Friend is right to emphasise the limits of what can be achieved by the United Nations. But if one compares what has been achieved by the United Nations during the past few years with what was achieved between the wars by its predecessor, the League of Nations, one sees that the world has moved on, and that the UN has far more to its credit than the League was ever able to achieve. It may be that there are opportunities yet not fully exploited.
§ Mr. John Austin-Walker (Woolwich)
I welcome the Foreign Secretary's response to the question by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), but earlier he referred continually to the "warring parties". Will he now acknowledge that the legitimate multi-ethnic Government of Bosnia-Herzegovina has consistently shown its willingness to reach a negotiated settlement, whereas the Serbs have not?
Why does the right hon. and learned Gentleman find it surprising that Bosnians in UN safe havens who are totally unprotected should seek to defend themselves? How many 963 of the rapid reaction force, to the deployment of which he has referred, remain in Britain and the home countries that have agreed to send them?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I think that the hon. Gentleman in the latter part of his question is referring to 24 Airmobile Brigade. We are ready to begin the deployment of that brigade, but we require the agreement of the Croatian authorities, because it is necessary to use the town of Ploce on the coast in order to receive them. Much progress has been made in that area, but some formalities remain to be completed; we hope that they will be completed literally during the next two or three days.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
Vulnerability is not of itself a virtue, either for our troops in Gorazde or for the rapid reaction force. If my right hon. and learned Friend and his counterparts from Holland and France want to influence the situation on the ground, they may well have to use the only effective instrument that the alliance possesses, which is its air power. If it is not to be used as a mere pinprick, as a demonstration, it will have to be used in a sustained, concentrated and precise manner; otherwise, the Serbs will simply be goaded to further action. As I said, vulnerability is not a course of action that can be approved by the House.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I have listened carefully to my hon. Friend, and I know his great expertise on the use of air power. I would add that an additional requirement if air power is ever to be used is that it must be used in a way that does not endanger the safety of the many thousands of UN forces on the ground. That is an important factor, which is bound to be relevant as long as the UN is in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Even if the UN withdrew from Bosnia, there would be substantial limits to what we could expect air power alone to achieve. In the past, it has been useful in softening up an enemy, if those in charge were then prepared to complete the process on the ground—which is what happened in Kuwait. By itself, however, it is unlikely to achieve the objectives that my hon. Friend and I share.
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
Have not the Bosnian Serbs realised the truth—that trading of hostage-taking against air strikes works, because the western powers give in? Is not the reality that the Bosnian Serbs are now running amok? They are running rings around us, and making us all look like fools.
§ Mr. Rifkind
The reality is that air power has been used within the past 48 hours. It is available whenever the force commanders recommend its use. I do not believe that, in the first instance, the hon. Gentleman or any other politicians should decide whether to use air power on a particular occasion; in the first instance, such a decision must be based on a recommendation from those with responsibility for the well-being and safety of their forces. They must make their judgment in the light of the circumstances.
§ Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)
My right hon. and learned Friend has implied that the active good will and assistance of President Milosevic is an essential ingredient in the achievement of any political solution in Bosnia. What thought has been given to the conditions that Serbia would need to satisfy should it seek any future association with European institutions such as the Council 964 of Europe, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the European Union, from which it has rightly been excluded so far?
§ Mr. Rifkind
Of course we look forward to the day when such an association might be possible, but it clearly cannot be considered at a time when the international community deems it appropriate to impose sanctions against the Government in Belgrade because of their support for the aggression in Bosnia-Herzegovina. A change in that position is clearly a precondition for the normalisation of relations with President Milosevic's Government in respect of other matters.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
May I echo the Foreign Secretary's earlier words, and say that surely the Rubicon has been crossed? By invading the safe haven of Srebrenica, the Bosnian Serbs have declared war on the United Nations. In the event of their not meeting the various requirements that have been communicated to them, what action will be taken? Has any time span been imposed?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I am not sure what action the hon. Gentleman is advocating. It is easy to use expressions such as "declaring war on the United Nations", but the hon. Gentleman must reflect on whether he wants much larger numbers of forces to be sent to Bosnia-Herzegovina to become involved in combat with the Bosnian Serbs, for however long, and with whatever consequences. If that is not the hon. Gentleman's objective, he must, in all fairness, recognise the limits of what he can expect the United Nations to be able to deliver.
§ Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)
Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that, if the United Nations does nothing about the fall of Srebrenica, its credibility is completely gone? All we will be able to do then is accept that we have got it wrong, take our troops out, and either bring them back in some other guise—with a proper command structure and a proper objective, perhaps under European control—or leave them at home in their barracks, where at least they will not be killed by a bunch of bandits.
§ Mr. Rifkind
As I said earlier, I believe that the objective over the next few days should be to bring about circumstances in which the Bosnian Serbs agree to withdraw from Srebrenica, and the Bosnian Government accept the need for the town and the enclave to be dimilitarised. That is not unreasonable; after all, in 1993 both parties agreed to implement just such a policy.
It is unfortunate that, over the past two years, neither has felt able to comply with that commitment. If they felt able to do so now, it is still possible that a solution could be achieved that would enable the enclave to continue to provide a haven for those who live within it, and enable the Bosnian Serb forces to withdraw. That is, at least, an objective that we should pursue.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Can the Foreign Secretary conceive of any circumstances in which air power could be used without creating a real threat to United Nations forces on the ground? Can the House of Commons have the assurance that Her Majesty's Government are advising all others, particularly the Americans, not to use further air strikes?
§ Mr. Rifkind
Yes, I believe that there are circumstances in which the use of air power could be beneficial, particularly with regard to what is called close air support, 965 where air power is used to provide added protection for UN forces that might be under attack, as we have seen in recent times. There are therefore circumstances in which it is appropriate, but clearly it must be used in a way that does not jeopardise the safety of the forces on the ground; that is why the dual key procedure has been evolved in the past three years to take account of that fact.
§ Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)
May I ask the Foreign Secretary to reconfirm that peacekeeping operations will be successful only if they have the consent of all the warring factions involved in the dispute? Does he further accept that, if that consent, whether total or partial, is seen to be withdrawn, withdrawal of troops is not a humiliation but could well be a necessity?
§ Mr. Rifkind
The hon. Gentleman is correct to say that, at the very least, peacekeeping in any country, not just in Bosnia, requires a minimum degree of co-operation from the parties concerned, or the only option available is to use peace enforcement, which is a different concept, requiring different military capability and a different mandate. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: if a peacekeeping force does not receive a minimum degree of co-operation, to withdraw is in no way a humiliation; it is a recognition that those we are trying to help refuse to provide the co-operation that is essential to the UN doing its job.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)
Given the terrible inevitability of this tragedy, what excuse can be left for denying arms to Bosnian Government forces to defend their people and territory from external Serbian aggression? Will the Foreign Secretary confirm what I understood him to say today—that Her Majesty's Government will support a lifting of the arms embargo, but that that rests with the Bosnian Government formally requesting a withdrawal of the UN protection force?
§ Mr. Rifkind
Her Majesty's Government continue to believe that the lifting of the embargo would be foolish and is unwise, and we do not propose to support such a proposal. I was referring to the statement of fact, that the Bosnian Government have said that they would rather that the UN remained in Bosnia than that the embargo should be raised and the UN withdraw. That remains the choice that is available to them. I can see no circumstances in which it would be appropriate for the UN to remain in Bosnia if the UN was authorising the supply of weapons to one side in this war.
§ Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South)
With the benefit of seven weeks' hindsight, does the Foreign Secretary not agree that the hostage crisis and the safe areas crisis are part of a pattern of pressure from the Bosnian Serbs to bring about withdrawal? In those circumstances, are not the suggestions of withdrawal from hon. Members on both sides of the House music to the ears of Bosnian Serbs, and would not a withdrawal lose much of the benefit of which the Foreign Secretary has spoken? Would it not mean just the prolonging of life, not the saving of life, and would it not be the biggest blot on the 50-year history of the UN?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but both he and I must acknowledge that the circumstances might arise that would make withdrawal inevitable. We cannot say that the benefits are of such an order that we can justify 966 the continuation of British and other UN troops in Bosnia, regardless of the threat to them, of the loss of life that they might incur, and of other such factors, so it must be a balanced judgment. At this moment, we still conclude that the benefits of their presence outweigh the disadvantages, but that argument becomes increasingly difficult to sustain if we see developments of the sort that have arisen in recent times.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
What is the Foreign Secretary's view of the growing campaign, led by Senator Robert Dole, which seeks to end American support for the arms embargo on the Bosnian Government? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman entirely dismissive of the growing belief that a powerful Congress could force such an initiative on a President who is not known for his decisiveness?
§ Mr. Rifkind
It may not be irrelevant that the sort of views that Mr. Dole is reported as holding were held by many in the American Administration before they took office, but, faced with the realities of the circumstances in Bosnia, and having been required to carry out analysis as to the likely consequences of lifting the embargo, the United States Administration, including President Clinton, have come to the unequivocal view that the lifting of the embargo and the withdrawal of UNPROFOR would be an extremely foolish initiative, and should not be supported.
§ Madam Speaker
Order. Mr. Tredinnick, do I understand that you heard the Secretary of State's statement but left the Chamber for some 20 minutes during questioning?
§ Madam Speaker
In that case, I do not know how I can call you to ask a question, because you do not know whether your question has already been answered; therefore, to put it might be an abuse of the House's time. Does the same apply to you, Mr. Marlow?
§ Mr. Marlow
I was out of the Chamber for three minutes, Madam Speaker, but I was here for the whole of the rest of the statement.
§ Mr. Marlow
Is it not the case that, as long as they are having a worthwhile effect and the risks are tolerable, Her Majesty's forces are, for several and various reasons, enthusiastic to remain in Bosnia?
§ Mr. Rifkind
Yes, I believe that to be the case. Certainly, on each of the five occasions when I have been in Bosnia and met members of our armed forces serving there, I have noted considerable enthusiasm for the work that is being done, because they can see the benefits to the people of Bosnia whom they are trying to help. Of course, occasionally, when they are in a location where they cannot help and are being prevented from distributing aid or escorting convoys, there is some frustration. But throughout Bosnia they believe, and rightly so, that the work being done is of enormous importance, and is directly contributing to the saving of life and other objectives of that kind.