HC Deb 06 March 1996 vol 273 cc334-5
9. Mr. Home Robertson

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what is his assessment of the prospects for stability in Bosnia-Herzegovina following the withdrawal of the implementation force. [17265]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Sir Nicholas Bonsor)

The key to lasting stability remains in the parties' hands. They have to support the peace agreement, implement it fully and maintain it after IFOR leaves. However, we shall be working with our allies and partners throughout the year to help maximise the prospects for stability after IFOR's withdrawal.

Mr. Home Robertson

Will the Minister face up to the fact that the timetable for the withdrawal of IFOR is unrealistic and dangerous? Even with the best will in the world—there is not much of that in Bosnia just now—it is almost certain that there will be a return to ethnic conflict if there is a withdrawal of international forces without proper safeguards, and a visible and credible international presence in 1997. It has taken four bloody years to get to where we are in Bosnia. Is it worth putting that peace in jeopardy just to keep to an artificial timetable that has been set to meet the American electoral cycle?

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

The best hope for peace in Bosnia is that we keep firmly to the timetable to which the hon. Gentleman referred—we have to keep the focus on peace firmly in place for the rest of this year. Recently, I visited Serbia and I spoke to President Milosevic. I believe that the pressure from Serbia and Croatia on the Bosnians to maintain peace will be very strong. I hope that we can withdraw IFOR at the end of this year as planned, and that we will then be able to take it forward with the civilian implementation that we look forward to helping them achieve.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

Does the Minister agree that we shall be better able to assist political stability in Bosnia-Herzegovina after the withdrawal of the implementation force if the European Union has a co-ordinated foreign policy towards the country? Would not the Foreign Secretary's welcome and entirely sensible suggestion last night for a foreign policy co-ordinator for the European Union be a valuable contribution towards that objective?

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's proposal for a co-ordinator responsible to the Council of Ministers for the decisions made collectively by those Ministers. I hope that it will be of great assistance in achieving a lasting peace in Bosnia when IFOR withdraws at the end of the year.

Ms Quin

The Foreign Secretary, in his statement to the House on 22 November, talked about ending the arms embargo on Bosnia in two phases—the second of which will include artillery, heavy weapons, mines, and so on. In view of the horrific injuries that are inflicted on civilians in Bosnia because of land mines, will the Minister give a firm commitment that Britain, even after the ending of the arms embargo, will not export land mines to Bosnia? Will the Minister also give a commitment that he will play an active role within the European Union to ensure that European Union countries do not export land mines?

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

The United Kingdom resists any supply of such weapons in areas where they are likely to cause danger to civilian life, and that will continue. I cannot give an absolute assurance for the long term, but I give an assurance that so long as IFOR troops are there the United Kingdom will neither re-arm nor supply such weapons to any party in Bosnia.

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