HC Deb 02 May 1995 vol 259 cc161-2
9. Mr. Gapes

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what further plans he has to reduce or withdraw the British military presence in former Yugoslavia. [20084]

Mr. Rifkind

We intend to maintain a major contribution to UNPROFOR in Bosnia so long as our forces can continue to carry out the UN mandate at an acceptable level of risk. The size of our contribution is kept under close review.

Mr. Gapes

Will the Secretary of State go beyond simply urging restraint on the parties in the conflict, and condemn the Croatian Government for the attack on the Serb-populated Krajina area? Will he also condemn the Serbs for taking UN Nepalese forces hostage? Will he make it clear that as soon as the military commanders on the ground recommend it, we will make immediate preparations for a withdrawal to stop loss of life among our troops?

Mr. Rifkind

The Security Council has made clear its condemnation of the Croatian action, which appears to go beyond the immediate objective of controlling a road and may threaten the position of the whole enclave. Any question of a total withdrawal of UNPROFOR from Bosnia would not just be a matter on which the UN commanders express a view—important though that would be—and would clearly have far wider implications which would have to be addressed by the Security Council.

Sir Jim Spicer

I do not suppose that my right hon. and learned Friend had time yesterday to listen to the Jimmy Young show. Had he done so, he would have heard the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), assert that when he last went to Bosnia, he was determined that British forces would withdraw unilaterally but—thank goodness—he was overruled by the military commanders on the ground. In the light of my right hon. and learned Friend's answer to an earlier question, will he deny that that is possible?

Mr. Rifkind

The leader of the Liberal Democrats may wish to explain to the House his regular contortions of policy. I can only express our satisfaction that, on this occasion, he accepted the advice of the UN commanders whom he met.

Dr. Reid

The Secretary of State will know that the Opposition supported the Government's decision to send British troops into Bosnia for the limited and specific purpose of humanitarian aid and with clear rules of engagement which provided no undue risk to our troops. Can I assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that—in keeping the position under review, both with our commanders on the spot and with our allies—were the Government to decide that the tasks for which the troops had been sent out could no longer be accomplished or that the risk to their lives had become an undue risk, the Opposition would not treat that in any partisan or narrow fashion?

Mr. Rifkind

I accept the spirit in which the hon. Gentleman asks his question. When British troops are carrying out a difficult task in any part of the world, anything that is required for their safety and their safe return to this country should have the support of the whole House.

Mr. Garnier

My right hon. and learned Friend will know that elements of the Royal Anglian regiment have recently served in former Yugoslavia. Following the presentation of new colours to the Royal Anglian regiment last Saturday by Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret, can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the Government will continue to maintain the front-line capability of that proud and ancient regiment?

Mr. Rifkind

I can say to my hon. and learned Friend that we acknowledge the splendid contribution which that fine regiment makes to the UN and to Her Majesty's forces.

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