HC Deb 03 November 1997 vol 300 cc5-6
4. Mr. Winnick

If he will make a statement on the future of IFOR in Bosnia. [11737]

Mr. George Robertson

The NATO-led stabilisation force, SFOR, will remain in Bosnia until the completion of its mission in June 1998.

Mr. Winnick

First, I pay tribute to the way in which the IFOR contingent, including British Army personnel, has carried out its duties. In certain circumstances, will the mandate be extended, bearing in mind the situation that existed up to the time IFOR went into the former Yugoslavia? Since my right hon. Friend's last statement to the House, has he had any further information about the two notorious criminals and mass murderers who remain free?

Mr. Robertson

It is too early to talk of post-SFOR options, but our view remains that any follow-on force can only be NATO-led, with the risks and burdens shared equally by all allies.

I was in Bosnia last week, and having seen the superb job being done by our armed forces with the other 33 countries involved in the alliance, I doubt whether anybody in this country would want Bosnia ever again to degenerate into the genocide and ethnic cleansing that existed before intervention.

On my hon. Friend's second point, the United Kingdom, with the rest of the international community, remains determined to ensure that all indictees indicted on war crimes are sent to The Hague for trial. What happened at Prijedor in July this year is proof of our national resolve. The responsibility for handing over indicted persons to the tribunal lies with the Bosnian authorities. We therefore very much welcome the recent decision of 10 Croat indictees to hand themselves over for trial at The Hague.

Mr. Martin Bell

Will the Secretary of State assure us that he is studying what the possible consequences might be of a withdrawal if it is decided not to renew SFOR in June next year?

Mr. Robertson

I give the hon. Gentleman my assurance that that matter is being looked at on an almost daily basis. We take it extremely seriously. What matters now is what progress is being made in Bosnia. During my visit it became obvious that substantial progress was being made in creating some new democratic institutions in that country. The existence of a renewed debate, especially in Republika Srpska, between the two elements is encouraging. There is also a growing realisation by people throughout the country that there is no military solution to the problems in Bosnia and that foreign forces cannot remain there indefinitely.

I repeat that I do not believe that the people of this country or of the wider international community want Bosnia to degenerate yet again into the sort of ethnic brutality that characterised the period after the fall of the former Yugoslavia.

Mr. Key

Most people agree that our excellent Bosnia operation is very good value for money, the cost being more than £200 million. In future, however, where will the burden of that cost fall? It is currently met by the contingency reserve, but will it in future fall fully on the Ministry of Defence?

Mr. Robertson

It is too early in the financial year to establish the precise cost of the Bosnia operation to the defence budget. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] That is exactly the same answer as was given by my predecessor in the previous Conservative Government. As and when we know the precise cost to the UK of the Bosnia operation we will determine how much of that cost can be absorbed by the Ministry of Defence; anything over that sum will have to be the subject of discussions between my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and me. I have no intention of starting that discussion at the Dispatch Box.

Madam Speaker

I call the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay).

Mr. Mackinlay

He has dealt with the point, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

How splendid; in that case, I call the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie).