HL Deb 15 February 1995 vol 561 cc697-9

3.12 p.m.

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are aware of any contacts between Senator Dole of the USA and the Croatian Government concerning the expulsion of UNPROFOR from Croatia.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, we are aware of such contacts.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord might wish to be a little more forthcoming to the House. There is a war zone in which there is a United Nations force, quite a sizeable part of which is provided by this country. Croatia has declared that if the United Nations does not remove its force within a few weeks it will itself require its removal and will drive the force out. In those circumstances, is it not striking that while the President of the United States appears roughly to be backing the position of the United Nations in defence of which our own soldiers are involved, the Leader of the Senate appears to be backing the opposite position? I ask the noble Lord whether at the minimum this in practice is causing any embarrassment as regards carrying out the duties which this country has undertaken there?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, the reply I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, was cautious because we do not believe that the gloss which the noble Lord put on the matter is the correct one. We understand that in a television phone-in programme the Foreign Minister of Croatia, in reply to a caller, mentioned that he had been in constant touch with Mr Dole over the issue of the aims embargo.

We understand from inquiries that we have made that Mr. Granic's spokesperson confirmed that there were official contacts between Mr. Granic and Mr. Dole, and that these are in fact part of normal diplomatic activity and relate in particular to the Croatian Government's decision not to renew the UNPROFOR mandate to which the noble Lord has alluded. As far as we know, the contacts cannot be described as constant. To the best of our belief Mr. Dole is at one with the United States Government and with ourselves, the United Nations Security Council and the European Union, in agreeing that this proposal by the Croatian Government is contrary to the interests of everybody concerned. I would like to take this opportunity to urge the Croatian Government to think about this. I believe that the noble Lord will agree with me that were UNPROFOR to leave Croatia it would undoubtedly be a step for the worse.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, will the Minister say something about the meeting of the contact group in Paris yesterday? Can he tell the House whether there was progress in getting agreement between the European members and the United States about the policy for promoting peace in the former Yugoslavia?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, for his question. My understanding is that agreement was reached between the European Union members and the United States to try to bring forward the proposal to bring the leaders of Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia together.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House whether our Government have had any direct contact with the Croatian Government on this matter given the fact, as he himself suggests, that the withdrawal of UNPROFOR could lead to a drastic and traumatic widening of the conflict?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his question. As I have already explained, we are very anxious about this matter and believe that it is very important that UNPROFOR does not leave Croatia. We have taken every step possible to impress on the Croatians the seriousness with which we view the proposal. I am not in a position to spell out in detail the exact nature of the direct contacts which may have been made with the Croatian Government.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the present situation in the former Yugoslavia is a typical example of the dangers that ensue when the United Nations engages in military action in a situation without any apparent clear political or military aim? Will Her Majesty's Government take that into consideration in their future attitude towards events in the former Yugoslavia?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, the point which the noble Lord makes is obviously relevant. The problem that we all face in the context of what has happened in Yugoslavia is that nobody wanted matters to develop in the way that they have. If we were tackling the matter afresh we would not start from here. Inevitably, because of the very nature of the problem, one has to move one step at a time. Often that means that the progress, or the lack of it, which one appears to make seems frustrating and difficult. With the wisdom of hindsight I fully accept that it is possible to argue that matters should have been processed and brought forward in a different manner. But that does not alter the fact that in the real world one has to deal with the real problems as one finds them. I do not believe that anyone in this House would suggest that the United Nations has not been anything other than a force for good in this conflict and that it has saved a very considerable number of lives in the former Yugoslavia.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, returning to the meeting of the contact group yesterday, can the Minister confirm that it agreed to lift sanctions against Serbia provided that certain conditions were met? Can he also confirm that one of the those conditions was that Serbia should not get involved in any war that might break out within Croatia following the removal of UN troops? If that is the case, can the Minister reassure the House that there will be careful monitoring to ensure that those conditions are met; that sanctions can be reimposed immediately and that the facilities will be there to do so if the conditions are not met by Serbia?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I can confirm that if events move forward satisfactorily then sanctions may be lifted on Serbia. I am not in a position to confirm or deny the particular details which the noble Baroness gave because I do not know the answer. I would not want to mislead your Lordships' House. I am quite willing to write to the noble Baroness with the details as soon as I can discover them.