HC Deb 18 June 1997 vol 296 cc252-69 10.59 am
Mr. Keith Hill (Streatham)

I congratulate the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd)—who will reply to the debate—on his appointment. He and I have fought shoulder to shoulder on human rights issues in the past, not least in regard to Nigeria. I know that his response will be informed both by personal concern to resolve the human rights tragedy that is Bosnia and by the Government's wider concern to secure peace and stability in that part of Europe. Indeed, the one cannot be achieved without the other.

I do not intend to make a long speech. As I anticipated, the debate has attracted some interest among other hon. Members, and I look forward to hearing the contributions of those who, unlike me, have direct and personal experience of Bosnia.

I am pleased to have secured a debate on Bosnia now. It is nearly a year since the House last had a substantive debate on the subject, and we are evidently at a crucial moment in international decision making on the future of the country. In 12 months' time, the mandate of SFOR, the stabilisation force, runs out, and discussions are under way between Governments on its future. I shall argue strongly in favour of the maintenance of a large and powerful international military force in Bosnia. I know of no observer of the Bosnian scene who believes that withdrawal would be anything other than an unmitigated disaster for the region. I shall also argue, however, not only that the international force should stay but that its mandate should be widened as quickly as possible to allow it to undertake more direct responsibility to support the civil agenda of the Dayton agreement.

There are other reasons why this is the right time for a review of the international community's role and SFOR's mandate in Bosnia. In Britain and France—two of the three main military contributors to SFOR—we now have new centre-left Governments, who might reasonably be expected to take a more positive stance on human rights in Bosnia. At the end of this week, the new United Nations high representative, Carlos Westendorp, assumes his responsibilities. On 24 June, the international donor conference will meet, with the aim of raising £1 billion in economic aid for Bosnia. It is essential for that conference to commit itself absolutely to the principle of conditionality in the aid package. In other words, aid should be disbursed only as a condition of the implementation of the civil agenda of Dayton by the Bosnian entities.

We are also in the run-up to the municipal elections in Bosnia, which are set for 13 and 14 September. The 1996 legislative elections, also conducted under the supervision of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, were deeply flawed, particularly in relation to the right of displaced persons to vote in their place of origin. The OSCE is now asking for, and receiving, additional funds to oversee the elections. It claims that it is only approving candidates who make a declaration of acceptance of the Dayton peace agreement, but that claim needs to be validated. There must be renewed efforts to give voting rights to displaced persons, and the OSCE's work must be subject to intense international scrutiny. It is vital for the municipal elections to meet acceptable international standards, in a way in which the Croatian elections—also monitored by the OSCE this week—evidently did not.

The final and most important reason why this is the right time to review the direction of international policy and the role of SFOR is the evidence of a renewed American commitment in Bosnia. Just over two weeks ago, when she visited Bosnia, the United States Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, suggested that the United States was in Bosnia for the long haul, and left open the possibility that some American troops could remain there after next summer. I hope that the British Government will welcome and encourage those indications of continuing US involvement, which would be best served by a continuing US presence on the ground in the form of combat troops. If, however, the United States will not lead on the ground after mid-1998, it is essential for the major European powers to plan now for their own force in Bosnia for as long as it takes to fulfil the Dayton objectives.

It is right and proper to recognise the important achievements of both the original international force, IFOR, and its successor, SFOR, in fulfilling the military objectives of Dayton. The ceasefire was effected, and has been sustained. In some areas, there has been a transfer of authority. A zone of separation has been created, and the inter-entity boundary has been effectively patrolled and policed. I pay tribute to the thousands of British troops who have played their full part in those achievements.

A number of other military aspects of the Dayton agreement remain unfulfilled, however. De-mining has yet to begin in earnest. It is acknowledged, in the present circumstances, that further progress in implementing the sub-regional arms control agreement will be difficult, with Republika Srpska continuing to resist its obligation to destroy large numbers of tanks and heavy weaponry. The critical weakness in Bosnia, however, has been the near-total failure on the civil agenda of the Dayton peace agreement: the establishment of national institutions, freedom of the media, freedom of movement and, above all, the return of the refugees and the arrest of the war criminals.

The scale of the continuing refugee disaster in Bosnia was described in a recent report by the international crisis group entitled "Going Nowhere Fast". In the 16 months since the Dayton peace agreement came into force, only about 250,000 refugees and displaced persons have returned to their homes, almost exclusively to areas where they form part of the majority group. In the same period, a further 80,000 people have been displaced, largely during the transfer of territory between the two entities. In Bosnia and Herzegovina as a whole, some 750,000 people remain displaced, of whom roughly 450,000 are in the federation and 300,000 in Republika Srpska.

It is important to understand that, in seeking solutions to the refugee crisis in Bosnia, we are seeking solutions for Muslim and Serb refugees alike. Nor should we forget the 160,000 Croat refugees who have sought refuge in Croatia, and who are part of a Bosnian refugee diaspora which numbers 250,000 refugees in the Federal Republic of Serbia and 315,000 in Germany. To add to the crisis, in late 1996 the western European states, starting with Germany, began proceedings to deport Bosnian refugees.

As a consequence, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees expects up to 200,000 refugees, half of them from Germany, to return to Bosnia and Herzegovina this year. Unless action is taken now to enforce the return home of refugees, the total number of refugees and displaced persons in Bosnia will grow to nearly 1 million by the end of 1997. The situation is getting worse, not better

That further build-up of refugees will mean more human misery and greater political tension, especially in the federation area. Of course, there are physical obstacles to the return of the refugees, such as the destruction of property and infrastructure. Those must be dealt with by the international aid programme, and it goes without saying that all housing and infrastructure reconstruction programmes must be linked to the return of minorities.

The major impediment to the return of refugees is the continuance in power of the nationalist authorities and, in some places, of indicted or suspected war criminals. It is unrealistic to leave the responsibility for guaranteeing the security of returning minorities to local authorities, many of whom ethnically cleansed them from their respective regions in the first place. That is why, first, the international community needs to ensure that there are far more human rights monitors on the ground to oversee and facilitate the return process.

If what the international crisis group describes as the "vicelike grip" of the nationalist parties is to be broken to help minorities go back to their homes, the issue of war crimes has to be tackled head on, and those indicted by the international tribunal for former Yugoslavia must be arrested, surrendered to the tribunal at The Hague and prosecuted. Of 75 indicted war criminals in all parts of Bosnia, only nine have been arrested and two prosecuted so far. More than 50 remain at large in Republika Srpska. Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic are both charged with genocide and crimes against humanity. While such men remain at large and their apparent immunity from arrest confers continuing legitimacy on the ethnic cleansers, there will be no return of refugees.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

The question arises, who will do the arresting in that situation? It will not be easy.

Mr. Hill

On this, as on most issues, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is a difficult issue and one which I shall address later.

I greatly welcome the Minister of State's recent strong affirmation of support for the international tribunal at his meeting with its president, Judge Cassese, on 10 June. My hon. Friend was right to say: Effective implementation of the Dayton agreement will continue to be severely undermined so long as those indicted for horrific war crimes remain free. However, it is unrealistic to expect the Bosnian authorities to surrender them, because, all too often, these are the very people who are inculpated in the same crimes. In practice, only the international authorities and, specifically, the military authorities can affect these arrests. Nobody who has read the weekly human rights updates from the office of the high representative can help but he impressed by its extensive intelligence about human rights abuses in all parts of Bosnia.

As for the military, the soldiers know when Karadzic is in his villa, they know the roads that he uses and they recognise him when he goes through their checkpoints. They are in a position to arrest him, and that is why I say that either SFOR must interpret its existing mandate more robustly or its mandate must be extended immediately to include the arrest of war criminals. Moreover, I suspect that that is the direction in which thinking in the international community is already moving.

The retiring high representative, Karl Bildt, has made clear his belief that at some point military force will be needed to deliver the war criminals to The Hague. His successor, Carlos Westendorp, has said that every effort must be made to bring them to the court and that he is examining new ways and means of producing results. I note that, at the end of this week, the Assembly of the Council of Europe will carry a resolution calling on SFOR to take immediate action to apprehend and transfer indicted persons to the international court.

Of course, such moves will carry risks, and I have no desire to underestimate them, but risks also result from inaction. If there is no individual accountability for war crimes and no return of displaced persons, who can doubt that a Palestinian mentality will develop among young Muslims, with the likelihood of a return to war in 10 or 15 years? Accepting the status quo of effective partition, which is likely in its turn to encourage moves to further rationalisation of frontiers, would be the least stable option.

SFOR must stay. Its withdrawal in present circumstances would be unthinkable. However, it must do more than just hold the ring. It could hold it for ever if nothing happened inside it, and we all know that the international community would not be willing to keep troops there indefinitely, with all the likely consequences of recurring conflict in the region. To ensure that a term is set for the presence of troops in Bosnia, SFOR must take action now to bring the indicted war criminals to trial and to create a secure environment for the return of refugees.

In their excellent mission statement, the Government have said that they will put human rights at the heart of their foreign policy. We are in a powerful position to do that in Bosnia by playing our full part in the implementation of the civil agenda of the Dayton peace agreement.

11.15 am
Mr. Martin Bell (Tatton)

I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate, which some months ago would have seemed a somewhat unlikely scenario. Events in Bosnia do not appear much in our newspapers or on our television screens, but that does not mean that the war is over. More likely, it is like a cancer in remission which may renew itself.

Looking back on that terrible period of three and a half years and the diplomacy that limped alongside it, I was sometimes left with the impression that we were watching a symbolic action, half-measures that were intended only to keep the war off the front page no matter how many people it was killing out of sight. It was Band-Aid diplomacy and it did not work.

I think that we have learnt some lessons: there is no point in enduring such ordeals unless we do. The United Nations now has a lessons-learned department. Perhaps in our minds we, too, should have such a department. There are two lessons that I shall mention at this time when we must look ahead to the continuation of SFOR or, if the worst happens, SFOR walking away. One of the lessons is that in the Balkans force prevails. It was the force of the Serbs which prevailed against the Muslims at the start of the war, and the force of the Croats which prevailed against the Serbs at the end of the war. The force of IFOR imposed a kind of peace.

What is important is not so much the structure of the force as its attitudes. When IFOR came in on 21 December 1991, it did so with exactly the same troops and equipment as had previously been assigned to the United Nations protection force—the UN force that failed. The extra tanks, artillery and troops had not yet arrived. The significant issues were the changes in command, in attitude and in helmets from the blue of the United Nations to the camouflage of IFOR.

The other lesson that we have learnt or must learn is that just as actions have consequences, so has inaction. Decisions that were rolled over, deferred or delayed from one meeting to another of the Security Council or the Council of Ministers cost lives. I was close to the situation on the ground and it seemed to me that the problem did not relate to conspiracy or evil interference from outside; it was a problem of indifference. How else do we account for the bombardment of Vukovar and Dubrovnik in November 1991 without penalty? How else do we account for the European Community decision in December 1991 unilaterally to recognise Croatia, although the likely effect of that in igniting a war in Bosnia had been accurately predicted by Lord Carrington and by Mr. Perez de Cuellar, who was then in his closing days as the distinguished Secretary-General of the United Nations? I just note that the British concession to the Germans on the issue of the recognition of Croatia came within days of the German concession to the British on the opt-out clauses of the Maastricht treaty. Historians will one day have something to say about that.

Again, in these past few days in Amsterdam, we have properly been concerning ourselves with events at the heart of Europe, but let us not forget events at the rim of Europe. There were livelihoods at stake in Amsterdam; there are lives at stake in Bosnia. We now have to discuss the composition of SFOR and possibly its renewal and even its walking away. It is reasonable to suppose that the heavy weapons, the tanks and the heavy artillery pieces can now be withdrawn. They are high-impact weapons and they do not make much difference to the overall mix of forces, but I am convinced that, if SFOR goes, the war will start again and the partition of Bosnia will become permanent.

We should take note of what has been achieved, yes, by the United Nations, the discredited UN. By my estimate, it saved 100,000 lives; 100,000 people would be dead but for the bravery of UN troops, who pushed their mandate to the limit and beyond, and risked their lives to save those people. I pay tribute also to the dedicated soldiers of IFOR and SFOR. Having been close to them for all those years, I have come out with a profound admiration for the British Army, which I would now call, from what it has done there alone, the best little Army in the world.

So much depends now on the leaderships in Belgrade and in Zagreb and on whether they finally live up to their obligations under the Dayton agreement. The test is simple: will they hand over the suspected war criminals whom they harbour? The international war crimes tribunal is running out of momentum and is short of evidence, money and, most of all, arrested suspects. My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill) has given the numbers, which are disgraceful. The two men so far convicted were small fry. Only one man in a leadership position is held in custody—Tihomir Blaskic, the former leader of the HVO, the Bosnian-Croat forces in central Bosnia, in the side war among Bosnians, Croats and Muslims from 1993–94.

As I may be a witness in that case, I will have no more to say about it, but I wish to impress on hon. Members my conviction that if one of the leading figures is not arrested within the next six months, the international criminal tribunal will in effect be out of business, with repercussions for years to come. It may be that there was a time for peace with justice, and that was in the spring and summer of 1992, and that now we can have peace or justice but not both.

Mr. Dalyell

May I ask my hon. Friend for his answer to the question that I put to my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill): who is to do the arresting? Does my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton have any qualms about it? He has great knowledge of this subject, and I put that point as a question rather than as an assertion.

Mr. Bell

I thank my hon. Friend. I distinguish between those suspected war criminals at large in the present Yugoslavia and those in Croatia, where there are fully competent authorities and there is no international force to do the arresting. There are grave risks in arresting the two principal figures we are talking about, which is why I said that we may have to accept that there can be peace or there can be justice, but there cannot be both. It would be a risky and dangerous undertaking and there is no good course of action. All we can hope for is to find the least worst. If the right occasion presents itself, and it would be easier in the case of Karadzic than in that of Mladic, something might be achieved at acceptable risk, but that has to be advised by the competent military authorities on the ground and we have to live with their advice.

What can we do in the House? We can support the peacekeepers and the peacemakers and the clearance of mines. We can continue with perseverance and patience and not give up, and we should never again return to a distracted diplomacy or to the politics of inattention.

11.24 am
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

One of the truths of the House of Commons is that someone almost always knows a great deal more about a subject than oneself. Never was that more emphatically true than in my relationship with my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) because he is an expert who has educated us all. To be candid, my only reason for speaking is that, over the Whit recess, at their invitation, I visited the Scots Dragoon Guards, my former national service regiment.

I should like to mention my only other contribution on Bosnia. Hansard records me saying this during the speech of the late Julian Amery: I am listening with fascination, as I have done on many occasions for the past 30 years. From the right hon. Gentleman's experience, would he say that to commit troops, albeit with United Nations berets, into that mire, would beg the question: in what circumstances could those troops ever be withdrawn?"—[Official Report, 5 March 1992; Vol. 205, c. 471.] I speak as someone who, perhaps misguidedly and, perhaps in retrospect, wrongly, was against committing British troops into the mire of Yugoslavia. Five years later, having been there, in no way could I do other than support the assertions of my hon. Friends the Members for Streatham (Mr. Hill) and for Tatton. It would be totally irresponsible to withdraw British troops in the circumstances.

I echo my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton in saying that inaction as well as action has consequences. My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham was clear about that and it is doubtless true. Without wishing to create mischief, I should also like to follow something else that my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton said. He said that it was coincidence—he put it very gently—that Maastricht negotiations coincided with agreement on a quid pro quo on Croatia. Having been there and talked to people, one realises that that recognition caused much of the trouble—not all the trouble, but much of the trouble.

It should be said in the House that Douglas Hurd owes if not us, at least history, some explanation of what happened because I am afraid that history will record that it was a very shabby deal that was extremely expensive in terms of human life and human tragedy.

I also share the profound admiration for the effectiveness of the British Army in this situation, which relates to the other question that I should like to raise. It is not of such a momentous nature as those raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Streatham and for Tatton, but it involves the conditions of British service men. I know that this is not a Foreign Office responsibility—it is a Ministry of Defence responsibility. This country honestly should do its best for those in the service of the UN or NATO in situations such as Bosnia. On Monday, I asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence: Could the difficult old question of local allowances for our service men in the British Army of the Rhine, who have had to leave their families behind in Fallingbostel or elsewhere, be reconsidered? When they go to Bosnia, they lose the allowances that they had in Germany. Can my right hon. Friend imagine the wry smiles of the men of B squadron of the Scots Dragoon Guards when they learn that the Canadians, with whom they are doing manoeuvres"— in the Baraci area— get free telephone calls for as long as they like to Canada, whereas the Scots— and this goes for all regiments— telephone calls are financially restricted? In this day and age and in such circumstances, surely we could do something about telephone calls because troops in dangerous situations deserve the best.

I will not bore the House by quoting all my right hon. Friend's reply, but his last sentence was: We shall keep these issues under permanent review."—[Official Report, 16 June 1997; Vol. 296, c. 5.] The other issue that I wish to raise relates to local allowances. A married sergeant with no children, living in Germany, receives £11.05 per day. When he is deployed out of theatre, the allowance is £7.39 per day—a reduction of £3.66. It is all very well saying that he does not have the expense of living in Germany, but that is not the whole story because his family remains in Fallingbostel. My understanding is that the expenses for a family are exactly the same, if not more, when the husband is away. It is a minor matter, but I plead with the Government to consider it. We must behave properly towards our troops, whose work my hon. Friends the Members for Tatton and for Streatham and I greatly admire.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tatton will understand when I say that pictures and descriptions on television or in newspapers cannot convey the horror that is Bosnia. The Scots Dragoon Guards took me to the little village of Geselo, where every house had been systematically and efficiently burnt out. I was told that bodies were systematically and efficiently thrown into the river. It was the eradication of a human community. Until one stands there and sees all that—I do not want to be fanciful, but the proverbial ghost is all around—one cannot imagine the horror of what has happened.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

My hon. Friend may be aware that I am an old Bosnia hand. Does he acknowledge that, in addition to the security that has been achieved by IFOR and SFOR, a great deal of vital reconstruction work is taking place? It is a vital element of the Dayton process. Edinburgh Direct Aid, which has volunteers from both my hon. Friend's constituency and mine, is currently involved in reconstructing buildings and making places habitable so that refugees can return to them. It is vital to try to rebuild some sort of civilised society out of the disaster that my hon. Friend has described.

Mr. Dalyell

I certainly acknowledge what my hon. Friend has said.

I will not take up any more of the House's time as I have explained my change of mind from five years ago.

11.33 am
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

As a member of the North Atlantic Assembly for the past five years, I have been in a unique position to hear first hand, from both the military and high-ranking officials, about the problems facing Bosnia and the problems of implementing the Dayton agreement. I cannot speak with the same experience and eloquence as the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell). I closely followed his work as a journalist in Bosnia and read many of his reports. I agree that someone must take responsibility for the European Union's ill-fated decision to recognise Croatia. History will tell the truth about that shameful episode.

From the beginning, I have believed that Dayton was created out of a desperation to do anything to end the killing. Different roles were assigned to different organisations—for example, NATO was brought in to end the armed conflict. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), I was deeply worried about sending in British troops. I do not think that we need to apologise for that because it is an awesome responsibility for a Member of Parliament. I was also deeply worried about NATO's involvement because of certain attitudes towards the Russians. However, at the end of the day diplomacy won and the policy of inclusivity with the Russians has been one of the successes. There has also been some short-term success in bringing the killing to an end and in controlling, to a certain extent, some of the arsenals in accordance with Dayton.

I agree with the views of Catherine Walker, deputy chief of the UNHCR mission in Sarajevo, who earlier this year warned: The Dayton agreement is only a skeleton, it does not take human nature into account. However, hearts and minds of people do not change so rapidly as Dayton would suppose. The reconstruction of the minds and spirits is very slow and is not really taken care of. It is a task for not only the civilian organisations but the international community. We must recognise that the healing process will take a very long time.

Any stability that has been established in Bosnia is still fragile and a number of urgent issues must be addressed. For Britain and other NATO members, the question is what would happen if the international forces were withdrawn in 1998. Although the crisis management that NATO implemented has succeeded to an extent, how do we get out of Bosnia? Whenever we send in our troops, I always ask, "How do we withdraw and what do we leave behind?"

We must consider the issues of Bosnia fatigue—the media appear to have lost interest in what is happening in Bosnia—and of public opinion in other countries. How long will the political will to stay in Bosnia remain? One reason why I welcome this debate is that it puts Bosnia back on the agenda. We must be honest about what is happening there and how limited the holding of the line is.

Although the work of the civilian organisations is desperately important, it has been painfully slow and enormous tasks remain. The whole of the former Yugoslavia is moving from a command economy to market-based capitalism, and we need to think about that. There are almost 2 million refugees in the former Yugoslavia, with about 1 million in Bosnia alone. The resources to rebuild that shattered country are scarce. I commend the military for its reconstruction work on schools, on its small-scale infrastructure projects and on getting some of the factories back into operation.

We need to stop ethnic enmities breaking out again. We know that, every now and again, ethnic violence erupts. For example, the Croats attacked the Muslims in Mostar and the Serbs destroyed Muslim homes in Republika Srpska. At one point, I was very concerned about the wholesale attempt to make the Serbs into lepers—the hated people of the former Yugoslavia. That is a tragedy. Of course, the leaders are evil and want locking up, but the people have been subjected to foul propaganda and we should not isolate them. If we do, they will huddle together and follow the same leaders. We should not judge the people; we should have gone over their leaders' heads many years ago and talked to those who want peace. The international community should not have given the leaders the credence that it did.

The police force in Bosnia is a cause of major problems. Some 75 per cent. of all human rights violations in Bosnia are perpetrated by the police, so an international police force is necessary. Annexe 1B of the Dayton agreement mentions arms reduction, which is not going as well as we expected. The last thing we want is more arms entering Bosnia; arms reduction should be at the top of the agenda.

Bosnia, like other parts of the world, has a massive problem with de-mining. That problem should concentrate all our minds. I congratulate the Government on their clear statement on land mines. Nothing heartened me more than that wonderful statement.

We must stop allowing withdrawal in 1998 to dominate the agenda. Karl Bildt and others who are more knowledgeable than I have talked about building bridges, and they do not mean just in the physical sense. Conflict prevention is the dominant need, and we all accept that a return to war is not an option. The international community must adopt that as its main theme.

We must also address the war crimes issue. At the recent North Atlantic Assembly meeting, arguments were put from both sides. One side argued for South African-style reconciliation and the other talked about bringing the war criminals to justice. The hon. Member for Tatton said clearly that Bosnia could have peace or justice, but not both. That may be true, but that dilemma should concentrate our minds. The military know where the criminals are, but perhaps we need to rethink the mandates.

Freedom does not come free, and I pay tribute to our forces in Bosnia. Sixty people have been killed and 350 people wounded since IFOR and SFOR went in. Freedom comes at a cost, but we should not give up because the prize is too great.

11.42 am
Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

I had not intended to speak in the debate, but it is important to follow the remarks of my hon. Friends the Members for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) and for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) and emphasise that the current situation in Bosnia and the former Yugoslavia is fraught with great danger.

One of the problems of the past six or seven years has been that international media coverage, with the exception of the BBC's, has been dominated by soundbite politics. Soundbites have influenced public opinion by demanding instant solutions to complex problems. We have seen that in Africa and other parts of the world. When CNN cameras are not covering what is happening, many atrocities and human rights abuses are not reported.

The hon. Member for Tatton mentioned a possible choice between peace and justice. That is often the choice in international conflicts. We cannot always get everything we want and the world's problems today are more difficult and complex than they were three or four years ago, let alone 10 or 20 years ago. Solutions that some of us might have put forward four or five years ago are no longer applicable today. Similarly, it is sterile to argue about whether certain actions were right in 1992, 1995 or 1996. However, I share the criticisms of the premature recognition of Croatia, which was of seminal psychological importance in its effect on the Serbs and their feelings about what they perceived as the re-establishment of an Ustashe state and the consequent memories of 1941–44.

Anyone who has talked, as I have, to the Serbian community in this country, including those who fled in 1948, who were mostly monarchists, will know that they feel a deep resentment about the demonisation of their community, religion and culture by the actions undertaken by people with whom they do not agree politically. The Serbian community in this country feels emotionally attached to the Serbian church and its culture, and they feel labelled and blamed, unjustly, for what has been done by others in their former homeland. Many of the Serbs in this country came from Krajina. They feel a double injustice because they think that the international community has been less firm in dealing with the Croatian Government and what they did to the Serbian population of Krajina than it has been in addressing other aspects of the problem.

In the past few months, as a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in the previous Parliament, I had discussions with all the main players when they visited London, including the three Opposition leaders from Serbia, who are now unfortunately squabbling among themselves. I have had discussions with people from Republika Srpska and the joint presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina and with leading Croat politicians. If one speaks to them all individually, one would believe that a reasonable solution were possible. However, we know from what has happened in former Yugoslavia that the hatreds and historical animosities run very deep. Every conversation has a different historical starting point. The date that people regard as important in their history is what determines their attitudes to today's conflict.

The problem that the international community faces—not only in Bosnia but in Cyprus and other countries with intractable problems—is that the American, CNN-driven, quick-fix solution of sending for the cavalry, going in, sorting it out, pulling out and leaving them to get on with it does not work for complex historic problems. I do not wish to attack Mr. Holbrooke for all his effort and the hours he put in, because he clearly played an important role, but his Dayton fix has not achieved a long-term solution. That will require the work that Karl Bildt has been calling for and the long-term commitment of military forces, internationally trained police forces and civilian reconstruction of the infrastructure.

I strongly criticised events of three or four years ago and said so in the House on several occasions. I thought that we were in danger of approaching the problem from only one side and of being bounced into simple solutions. Nevertheless, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill)—I am grateful for the opportunity to make the point today—that premature withdrawal of the international commitment would be absurd and dangerous. We must send that message loud and clear to the United States. If a country makes a commitment to assist in an international conflict or civil war, the commitment must be long term. It cannot be committed one year and pull out the next. What happens if a country pulls out? Weaponry and complicated equipment are left behind, which, in certain hands, can be major force multipliers in a conflict.

We know that, for the best of motives, the American Administration have tried to create a balance of military forces in Bosnia. There were two ways of accomplishing that. The first was to reduce the forces of all sides, and the second—the method chosen—was to pile in more equipment for one side of the conflict. The net consequence has been the introduction of more armaments into a potential battlefield.

There is a further complication. The international community should be much more vigilant about the efforts of some countries—particularly Iran—to play power politics in the region. It is understandable that Bosnia's Muslims feel that international support is necessary, but it would be extremely dangerous if the international community were to turn a blind eye to the developments that have occurred over the past two to three years.

We must move cautiously if we are to keep our commitment to the stabilisation force and commit ourselves to long-term support for Bosnia, which may be necessary for as long 10 or 15 years. We have not resolved the situation in Cyprus, which has had a green line for many years. If we do not watch out and act cautiously, all sides in the Bosnian conflict may continue to rearm for a future conflict, in the expectation that international withdrawal will allow them—theoretically, because they will fail—to settle matters one way or the other.

All we have been given is a messy and possibly unworkable compromise, but we will have to live with it. Although it may take many years, we will have to try to change attitudes, rebuild institutions and create trust and dialogue. It is much easier to destroy such things than it is to build them. We must send that message to the United States and elsewhere. Today, I hope that all hon. Members will unite in doing so.

11.51 am
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tony Lloyd)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill) for proposing today's debate and to all hon. Members who have spoken for the very sober tone in which it has been conducted. We are dealing with an issue which runs to the very heart of the Government's commitment on how to conduct our own foreign policy. The issue runs to the heart also of the United Kingdom's moral responsibility in places such as Bosnia-Herzegovina and in the wider world.

My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham has given us a timely opportunity to discuss an issue which, over the past six years, has weighed heavily on the foreign policy agendas of Europe, the United States of America and the wider world. Today, voices have been raised in the House questioning whether those agendas have always had it right. Nevertheless, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) said, although an analysis of the past is important, we must think primarily of the future.

Today—18 months after the signing in Paris of the peace agreement negotiated in Dayton, Ohio—Bosnia-Herzegovina stands at a turning point. We must not delude ourselves about what has been achieved. The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) made the point that an absence of war does not mean that peace has been established. The progress of the past 18 months is important, but we must realise that it is not yet irreversible. On the contrary, the opportunity provided by the international presence in Bosnia is drifting past without progress in some of the most crucial spheres of peace implementation.

We must not underestimate the scale of the transformation in Bosnia. Four years of war caused untold human misery and left a wasteland of death and destruction. My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) was absolutely right to say that searching for and designating one ethnic group or another as "the victim", and increasing support for that group, is a tragic mistake. The truth is that there were victims on every side of the conflict and it was a tragedy for every side.

Thanks to the peace agreement, the fighting has stopped and the rival armies have been separated and demobilised. Moreover—although perhaps not quickly enough—the mine fields are being cleared. The elections that have been held, although not perfect, are a crucial first step in the democratic process. Common institutions have been established, and reconstruction is under way.

My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham mentioned the refugee problem. A quarter of a million refugees and displaced persons have returned to their homes. In comparison with the rate of repair after the second world war, for example, the transformation in Bosnia has been dramatic and rapid. My hon. Friend was right, however, to say that by no stretch of the imagination do we yet have the solution right.

The Dayton agreement recognises that Bosnia has essentially split in half, with the Serbs on one side of the confrontation line and the Bosnians and Croats on the other. We should emphasise, however, that the agreement envisages a process of gradual reintegration. The goal is a single Bosnian state, power sharing between the ethnic groups, freedom of movement, reversal of ethnic cleansing and a state in which the return of peace and prosperity will eventually eclipse the divisions of the war years.

The vision of a united and multi-ethnic Bosnia is one to which the Government are and must be firmly attached. We are attached to it not only because it would be morally wrong to reward the abominable ethnic cleansing conducted during the war but because—as my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax said—there is no place in today's Europe for the narrow-minded nationalism that would take Bosnia down the road to ethnic partition.

After 18 months, the divisions left by the war are still very much with us and can be illustrated by a few examples. My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham mentioned the issue of refugees returning. The peace agreement established the right of every refugee to return to his or her home, but that is quite simply not happening. The international community is rebuilding houses for returning refugees, but, before the homes can be occupied, they are burnt down by local thugs and gangsters while the local authorities and police stand idly by.

Every Bosnian citizen should have the right to travel freely around Bosnia, but police checkpoints are being used deliberately to obstruct and harass people exercising that right. It is still not possible to make direct telephone calls from Sarajevo in the Federation to Pale in the Republika Srpska, although they are only a few miles apart. The problem is not technical or caused by a lack of resources—the international community has offered any necessary help—but a political blockage within the Bosnian leadership.

Political control of the media in all areas of Bosnia is at a level that we once associated with the communist regimes of eastern Europe, and it has no place in modern Europe. I could give other examples, but the underlying message is already clear: the cause of peace and the interests of the Bosnian people are being sacrificed at the altar of a divisive political theology.

Mr. Malcolm Wicks (Croydon, North)

Does the Minister agree that in view of the genocide—that is the right word—in Bosnia, the British Government should use all their influence to ensure that the leading criminals are arrested and brought to justice as soon as possible?

Mr. Lloyd

In a word, yes—of course that is right. My hon. Friend raises an issue of fundamental importance. If he will allow me, however, I will deal with it later in my speech.

The Government are not prepared for the current situation of inertia and deliberate obfuscation and obstruction by the Bosnian authorities to drag on. That was the very clear message taken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs three weeks ago to the meeting in Sintra, Portugal, of the Peace Implementation Council steering board—the body responsible for overseeing implementation of the Dayton peace agreement. The meeting's outcome was an unequivocal message to the Bosnian authorities to the effect that there was no alternative to the vision of Bosnia conceived at Dayton, that further attempts to prevent that vision from becoming a reality would simply not be tolerated and that the continued support—financial and otherwise—of the international community depended on their commitment to a peaceful and democratic future. The Sintra communiqué makes that message clear and I will present to the House one or two of its key passages.

First, it was stated at Sintra that there is no military option for any party or ethnic group in Bosnia in the future. The war is over—having brought death, destruction, and misery for millions—and no one will be allowed to restart it.

Secondly, there is no partition or secession option available. The idea of a new apartheid in Europe, of ethnically separate mini-states, is unworkable, immoral and cannot be accepted.

Thirdly, no single community in Bosnia can hope to dominate Bosnia's institutions. The peace agreement provides for power sharing on a basis of equality. That is the only possible future for Bosnia, and it is time that it was accepted by all the parties involved.

In essence, the steering board Foreign Ministers at Sintra signalled that their patience with Bosnia's leaders had run its course. Those individuals are prepared to put their own short-term political games and ethnic intolerance above the interests of their citizens, who are some of the poorest and most deprived people in Europe. That is unacceptable, and it will not be accepted.

In future, when any of Bosnia's leaders persist in blocking reintegration, or in pursuing options other than that set out in the peace agreement, the international community will find direct ways of achieving results. That could involve, for example, the suspension of any Bosnian media network or programme which promotes ethnic intolerance and refusing to deal with Bosnian ambassadors who represent just one of Bosnia's constituent peoples rather than the country as a whole. It could also involve the international community taking action to unify the telephone systems. It will certainly mean denying economic reconstruction assistance to those who consistently fail to meet their peace agreement obligations.

The Government are already putting the tough new stance into action. We have made it absolutely clear to the Bosnian Serbs that we are not prepared to tolerate their attempts to backtrack on commitments to economic legislation made at Sintra. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has sent extremely tough messages to both President Krajisnik and President Milosevic, emphasising the need for rapid agreement to the legislative package now under consideration by Bosnia's central institutions. In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham, I can say that in the absence of agreement, all funds pledged for the Republika Srpska at the forthcoming World Bank and European Commission donor conference will be frozen.

The decisions taken by the steering board Foreign Ministers at Sintra gave new impetus to the process of peace implementation, and the momentum created must not be lost. It is up to the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina to seize the chance that they have been given to rebuild their country on the basis of tolerance, democracy, respect for human rights and reconciliation, enabling it to move slowly but surely towards the European mainstream.

One aspect of non-implementation of the peace agreement, however, requires particular attention and condemnation—that of war crimes indictees. Thanks to the efforts of a courageous and committed group of journalists in Bosnia during the Bosnian war, we learned about the appalling crimes and atrocities of that conflict—events which seemed inconceivable and which my generation believed could never happen in Europe at the end of the 20th century.

The international tribunal was established to bring certain individuals to justice, but to date—this is a matter raised by a number of hon. Members—most of those indicted by the tribunal remain at large in Bosnia and in neighbouring countries, some of them in positions of considerable influence if not of formal, technical power. It is nowhere more true than in Bosnia that without justice there can be no lasting peace. While I understand the juxtaposition of peace and justice mentioned by the hon. Member for Tatton, we must insist that both be pressed for as rapidly as possible.

There can be no lasting peace without justice—an issue to which the British Government must attach the highest priority and one which I was glad to have the opportunity to discuss last week when I met Judge Antonio Cassese. We are, I believe, in the first rank of those helping the tribunal. We have given personnel, resources and evidence, including eye witness reports from British soldiers who served in Bosnia. A British judge, Judge May, has recently been elected to the panel of tribunal judges.

I must emphasise, however, that responsibility for capturing indictees and handing them over to the tribunal must rest with the Governments of the region. There can be no ambiguity or doubt about that, and their failure so far to do so is deplorable. We have increased the pressure on those Governments. As a result of decisions taken at Sintra, the international community will blacklist any municipality in which war crimes indictees hold public office and we shall work with our EU partners to implement a comprehensive travel ban on anyone having dealings with such persons. We shall also look for other ways of pressing those Governments to live up to their international obligations—for example, none will achieve their ambitions for closer relations with NATO or the European Union until they have done so.

Hon. Friends have mentioned the role of SFOR. While I repeat for the third time that it must be the responsibility of the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina and their neighbours to deliver indictees to the tribunal, SFOR troops will detain and transfer to the tribunal any indicted person with whom they come into contact in the course of their duties—provided, of course, that the tactical situation permits.

Mr. Dalyell


Mr. Lloyd

Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to continue as I may be about to answer his question.

The London conference in December last year asked the steering board to consider what more could be done to bring indictees to justice. We are following up that remit vigorously, in consultation with our allies. For obvious reasons, it would not be acceptable for me to comment further and no one here would expect me to do so. However, I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow that any action to get war criminals to The Hague must, of course, ensure the safety of SFOR troops and other members of the international community.

Mr. Dalyell

I do not expect my hon. Friend to reply off the top of his head as this is basically a defence matter, but on the subject of SFOR troops and their safety some of us feel very strongly that the heavy armour must be retained in Bosnia. We must remember the experience of the Sappers, some of whom were taken hostage. To make the point, especially to the Serbs, the heavy tanks—the Challengers—have to be there.

Mr. Lloyd

My hon. Friend will forgive me as I am simply not qualified to give him a direct response, but I can say that the security of our own troops is very high on any list of priorities that we would draw up. All hon. Members who have spoken have paid tribute to the role of the British troops serving in Bosnia, and I agree with that sentiment. As part of our recognition of that, we have an obligation to ensure that the safety of the troops figures highly on our list of priorities.

On the question of human rights more generally, a decision was taken at last December's London conference to make a sizeable increase in the number of the international police task force expressly so as to allow that force a greater role in investigating human rights abuses. That was a welcome step and has now been confirmed by a United Nations Security Council resolution.

Several hon. Members raised the subject of a possible successor to the stabilisation force currently deployed on the ground in Bosnia. It is too early to say what requirement there will be for a follow-on military presence after SFOR withdraws in June 1998—the key priority now is to focus on achieving as much as we can in the next 12 months—but we have made it clear that we believe that any follow-on force should be NATO led and should involve a sizeable US presence on the ground.

Lastly, we must not lose sight of the regional dimension. The problems of Bosnia are not the only ones in the region: difficulties remain, for example, over the reintegration of eastern Slavonia, the need for progress in Kosovo and the regional refugee crisis. By their very nature, the problems of the region are interrelated and we need a comprehensive regional strategy to address them.

I should like to make a topical point. A particular matter of concern throughout the region is the question of free media. The elections in Croatia have highlighted continuing problems with state domination of the media there. Last week in the Former Republic of Yugoslavia we welcomed the launch, with UK and international support, of an independent radio network covering much of the country. Attempts by the FRY authorities to suppress independent political reporting must cease. For all the countries in the region, progress in that respect will be a key factor in deciding how their relations with the European Union develop.

Mr. Hill

The media will obviously play a part in the municipal elections in September, which my hon. Friend the Minister has not yet mentioned. Is he satisfied that the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe has the resources and experience and is the appropriate body properly to oversee those elections? Will he give an assurance that the British Government and the other Governments involved will apply the closest possible scrutiny to the activities of the OSCE in the period leading up to the municipal elections?

Mr. Lloyd

I apologise to my hon. Friend: he raised that matter earlier and although I intended to reply directly, I have not done so.

I sympathise with my hon. Friend's critique of last September's elections. We accept that there were shortcomings, but it was inevitable that there would be difficulties in holding elections less than a year after a ceasefire in a country with relatively limited democratic traditions. The outcome was far from perfect and we have to ensure that the lessons learnt then are put into practice so that future elections in Bosnia conform far more closely to acceptable international standards.

We believe that the OSCE is indeed the proper body to monitor the forthcoming municipal elections, which are scheduled to take place on 13 and 14 September this year. Voter registration is under way and it is important to note that refugees—including those in the United Kingdom—can register to vote, either where they were registered in 1991 or in the municipality in which they intend to live in the future. The UK has so far provided 48 core supervisors, trainers and registration supervisors, two long-term observers and 14 secondees to the OSCE mission in Bosnia. We have also contributed £2 million to the OSCE's budget and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development is currently considering what further support we can give.

Those who are monitoring events on the ground in Bosnia are confident that the lessons of the previous elections have been learnt by the OSCE mission and that the forthcoming municipal elections will be more free and fair as a result. However, it is right to say that all of us owe an obligation to the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina to ensure that the OSCE is charged with the importance of monitoring the elections in an acceptable manner and we will play our role in that. The municipal elections must be carried off in an acceptable way as part of the process of civilianisation. I cannot overemphasise the importance of the electoral process and of ensuring that the elections pass without difficulty and are deemed to be as free and fair as possible.

The problems of Bosnia have to be set in the regional context. The European Union has made a good start with the elaboration of a regional approach to the development of relations with the countries of the region, making progress for the individual countries dependent on both their support for peace implementation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and their own internal policies. We must insist on that and build on it.

In the longer term, regional stability will be best served by drawing the countries of former Yugoslavia into Europe's political, economic and security architecture, rather than by keeping them outside it and trying to distance ourselves from the vagaries of that volatile region. The Balkans are European and we must ensure that they are integrated into the processes of Europe. Only through integration, both within the region and between the region and the rest of Europe, can the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the surrounding countries put the past behind them and begin to plan for a peaceful and prosperous future. If we want to build a just and lasting peace in the Balkans—as we do—that regional process is the only way to achieve it.

12.14 pm

Sitting suspended.