HC Deb 05 March 1996 vol 273 cc133-5
1. Mr. Couchman

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what progress has been made by the implementation force; and if he will make a statement. [16837]

2. Mr. Hayes

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the work of IFOR to date; and if he will make a statement. [16838]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Michael Portillo)

The implementation force has made considerable progress in helping to implement the Dayton peace agreement. Although there is still a long way to go, it is certainly to be congratulated on its achievements so far.

Mr. Couchman

My right hon. Friend will know that the corps headquarters of the Royal Engineers is at the Royal School of Military Engineering in my constituency. Will he join me in paying tribute to the Royal Engineers' enormous work in Bosnia as part of the United Nations peacekeeping force and IFOR? He will also know that the Royal Engineers have served for a very long time in Northern Ireland and that since he last answered Defence questions the IRA ceasefire has broken down. Will he assure the House that if the situation in Northern Ireland deteriorates he will, if necessary, be able to increased forces there and meet the commitment to IFOR?

Mr. Portillo

The Royal Engineers have done an outstanding job under the UN and NATO and, as my hon. Friend says, in Northern Ireland. They have been building roads, clearing mines and restoring essential services for the forces and the civilian population. When the IRA ceasefire was announced, we were able to reposition three battalions outside Northern Ireland. Although they were relocated, they were not reallocated and were therefore available to be returned to Northern Ireland. Two of them have returned to Northern Ireland and I can assure my hon. Friend that there is no question but that the British Army is able to undertake its commitment in Bosnia and Northern Ireland simultaneously.

Madam Speaker

Mr. Jerry Hayes.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

He is not here.

Madam Speaker

I am aware of that. I called his name because he has not sent an apology. I therefore call Mrs. Alice Mahon.

Mrs. Mahon

Does the Minister agree that the considerable number of anti-personnel land mines in Bosnia are causing a great deal of trouble for our troops? Is it not time that the Government opposed the making and exporting of all such mines?

Mr. Portillo

It is certainly evident that the mines have caused a great deal of problems, injuries and death among civilians and service personnel. The main responsibility for clearing those mines lies with the former warring factions and they are being overseen in that work by the implementation force. I certainly think that we should work with civilised nations around the world to introduce suitable restrictions on the exports of lethal weapons, but I do not believe that it is possible to ban the use of land mines, or indeed to ban their export. None the less, progress can be made and Britain has been working to make progress knowing that it is better to get an agreement that will stick than to take positions that will not.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that IFOR is receiving full co-operation from the Bosnian Government? What success is it having in persuading the Serbs in certain areas of Sarajevo that they have no need to leave in fear?

Mr. Portillo

On the whole, implementation of the peace agreement has proceeded quite well, but my hon. Friend will know that there have been instances where each of the former warring factions has been behind in complying with its terms. A summit in Rome in mid-February helped to make some progress in sorting that out. The Bosnian Government have been at pains to make it clear that the Serbs in the suburbs of Sarajevo have no need to fear for their safety. We are certainly urging the Bosnian Government to take every opportunity to repeat those assurances and ensure that the security arrangements in the suburbs are such as to leave no reason for any Serb to leave.

Mr. Donald Anderson

The Secretary of State will be well aware that, largely because of internal pressures in the United States, the United States component and IFOR has a strict 12-month timetable. Is he concerned, therefore, that there is a danger of a hiatus emerging at the end of that period? If so, what contingency plans have been made to ensure that the withdrawal gives way peacefully and properly to a civilian component?

Mr. Portillo

This is not a concern exclusively of the United States—all participating nations in NATO are concerned that the deployment is limited in its scope and duration. The tasks that we in NATO have set ourselves—the separation of the warring factions, the exchange of prisoners, the exchange of territory and the holding of free and fair elections—are all achievable within 12 months. It is important that the former warring factions realise that the deployment will be for 12 months and that they must establish within that period conditions in which there can he an enduring peace. So much can change in Bosnia in a short period, and things are different now from the position nine months ago. I see no profit in speculating on what might happen at the end of the period. NATO will be there for 12 months, and I hope that that will focus the minds of everyone involved.

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