HL Deb 12 July 1995 vol 565 cc1717-28

4.28 p.m.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, with permission I should like to repeat a Statement being made in another place on events in Srebrenica.

"Srebrenica was established as a safe area by UN Security Council Resolution 819 on 16th April 1993. This was followed by an agreement on its demilitarisation between UNPROFOR, Bosnian Government and Bosnian Serb military commanders signed on 17th April.

"In June 1993, the UN suggested that up to 36,000 troops could be necessary to implement the safe areas concept. The UK, France and the Netherlands responded well, but many others did not. The total committed amounted to only 7,500—a significant shortfall. This has had significant implications for the safe areas policy. A Dutch contingent of UNPROFOR troops was deployed to Srebrenica to replace the original Canadian contingent.

"The reality is that neither side properly observed these provisions on demilitarisation. It is this that lies at the root of events over the past few days. For three months there have been sporadic attacks by each side against the other. Some 450 Dutch troops were in Srebrenica when fighting escalated over last weekend during which one Dutch soldier was killed by Bosnian Government forces on 8th July, and 30 Dutch soldiers were taken by the BSA as they withdrew from outlying OPs to a blocking position l½ kilometres to the south of the town. On the evening of 10th July Bosnian Serb troops launched an infantry attack against this position; the Dutch returned fire and the attack was abandoned.

"At around midday on 11th July, however, Bosnian Serb forces launched a further attack, using mortars and tanks. Srebrenica town came under fire with shells hitting the hospital and the Dutch compound. The Dutch commander requested NATO close air support. Two missions were launched, resulting in the destruction of two Bosnian Serb army tanks. Meanwhile, Dutch troops helped to evacuate the hospital and withdrew from the compound as it was under heavy shelling and undefendable.

"The Dutch blocking position was bypassed and, at around 1800 hours, Dutch UNPROFOR troops withdrew northwards to their compound at Potocari. They took with them some 2,500 displaced persons, and some 80 to 100 are wounded. Latest reports indicate that some 30,000 displaced persons are now in the Potocari area—several thousand of them in and around the Dutch compound—and that Bosnian Serb forces now effectively control the whole of the Srebrenica enclave.

"I have spoken this morning to the Dutch Foreign Minister, Mr. Van Mierlo. He confirmed that the Dutch troops remain in their Potocari compound. He has no reports of casualties. The compound is not presently under attack. But food and water supplies are running low. Dutch commanders are in touch with General Mladic, who is now in Srebrenica, about getting relief to the displaced persons.

"We are in close touch with our allies and friends about the next steps and I have instructed our chargé in Belgrade to speak today to President Milosevic. Our immediate priorities are to get food, water and medical help to the displaced persons in the Potocari area and to offer any help to the Dutch that they may need; secondly, to safeguard the other enclaves and in particular the British forces in Gorazde; and thirdly, to pursue action in the United Nations Security Council in response to this Bosnian Serb aggression. Our overall objective should remain, despite the difficulties, to restore Srebrenica as a safe area, but on the basis of a genuine implementation of the demilitarisation agreement of April 1993.

"On the humanitarian situation, I spoke to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees last night. I understand that UNHCR are seeking to negotiate access to provide help to the displaced persons and assistance to those who expressly wish to leave. We have offered technical assistance to UNHCR from ODA experts in the area.

"On the position in the other enclaves, there is continued sporadic shelling around Zepa, which is guarded by Ukrainian UNPROFOR forces. There are no reports of increased activity by Bosnian Serb forces around Gorazde. Members of this House will nevertheless share my concern about the safety of British troops there. I can assure the House that we are in constant touch with UNPROFOR commanders on the ground about developments; and we shall take appropriate measures to safeguard the security of our troops. Part of the Rapid Reaction Force is deployed in theatre, where it will be able to support UNPROFOR's political and humanitarian objectives.

"At the UN, we, the United States, France, Germany and Italy are co-sponsoring a draft resolution which was circulated yesterday evening. This condemns the Bosnian Serb offensive; demands that Bosnian Serb forces withdraw immediately from the Srebrenica safe area; that the Bosnian Serbs immediately release all detained UNPROFOR personnel; and that all parties allow unimpeded access for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian agencies to the safe area to alleviate the plight of the civilian population; and requests the Secretary-General to use the resources available to him to restore the safe area status of Srebrenica. I look to see a resolution along these lines in New York today.

"Beyond these immediate priorities, we have to consider the implications of these events for the political process and for the future of UNPROFOR. I am seeing Carl Bildt, the new EU negotiator, immediately after this Statement. He has already travelled extensively in the region and has had three lengthy negotiating sessions with President Milosevic. I will be discussing with him how he can use his channels to the parties to help stabilise the situation in Srebrenica, as well as his broader objective of a negotiated settlement to the Bosnian conflict and mutual recognition between the republics of former Yugoslavia. Later today, Mr. Bildt will meet the contact group of the UK, France, Germany, the United States and Russia to discuss these developments.

"On the future of UNPROFOR, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister told the House yesterday that the continued fighting in Bosnia was putting the future presence of United Nations forces at risk and that the warring parties had to indicate soon that they were prepared to return to the negotiating table to reach a political solution. This remains the position. There is no question about the value of UNPROFOR's work. This is the largest peacekeeping operation in the history of the UN: 40,000 troops are involved, drawn from almost 40 countries. They have saved tens of thousands of lives: casualties in the Bosnian war have fallen from 130,000 dead in 1992 to 2,500 in 1994. They have contained the conflict, which threatened a wider Balkan war. They are providing support for more than 2.7 million people in Bosnia who have been affected by the war.

"But to operate, they require co-operation from the parties. UNPROFOR is not configured to fight a war. We must rely on the judgment of UN commanders on the ground as to whether they remain able to carry out their mandate. So withdrawal must remain an option. The structure for a political solution is there if the parties choose to use it; but they have to recognise that negotiating time is running out".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.37 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. The news that the safe haven of Srebrenica fell to the Serbs earlier today is yet another terrible turn of events in Bosnia. The people of Srebrenica can be not only frightened but angry and betrayed by this latest development. Even if their lives are not immediately threatened there are reports of only enough food and water for one day for the 30,000 or more refugees who have been created. If that is true, we need to ensure that urgent action is now taken to alleviate the situation. I was glad to hear the Minister refer to such action.

From the very first day the safe havens' policy was announced, it was never meaningful. Safe for whom? And safe for how long? Those questions were asked in the House when the policy was first announced over two years ago. Despite all the warnings of the deficiencies in the policy, no heed seems to have been taken. As the Government appear to accept, at least implicitly in today's Statement, enough troops and back-up have never been made available to make the enclaves remotely safe. Surely the international community must not continue to make commitments of this kind without providing the necessary resources to fulfil them. The failure to do so, allowing Srebrenica to fall and civilian areas in Sarajevo and elsewhere to be shelled with impunity, is a serious blow to the credibility of the international community.

At the same time, we on this side of the House join the Government in condemning both sides for failing to observe demilitarisation in Srebrenica and elsewhere. In particular, we condemn the Bosnian Serbs in the strongest terms. Yet again they have refused to accept the authority of the United Nations, wilfully ignoring its resolutions. The aggressive action they have taken in Srebrenica is utterly unacceptable.

Why was no ultimatum issued at the weekend when the Bosnian Serb troops started to move in on the enclave? Should not an ultimatum now be issued demanding their immediate withdrawal? I note that the Minister referred to a draft resolution in New York. Perhaps she will tell the House when that will be discussed in the Security Council. It has also been suggested that the French Government have put forward proposals for the use of UN troops to back an ultimatum. Will the Minister tell the House what consultations have taken place on that proposal? Could we have some more details of the French plans?

Will the Minister also tell the House why the Rapid Reaction Force was not deployed to try to prevent the fall of Srebrenica? Where are those troops? What are they currently doing? Surely their deployment should now be speeded up. What happened in Srebrenica cannot be seen in isolation. The Minister mentioned Gorazde and the British troops in the UN force there. Will the Minister give the House some further reassurances that the RRF will be used to protect them if necessary? The Minister made no reference to Zepa, the other enclave in eastern Bosnia. Perhaps we could hear what is the situation there.

On the wider goals we all share of achieving a political settlement, it is now well over a year since the contact group met the warring parties. What progress is now being made to get them around the table again? I note that contact is now being made with Carl Bildt, the European Union negotiator. But can the Minister throw any more light on his latest discussions with President Milosevic? Is President Milosevic prepared to put pressure on the Bosnian Serbs to withdraw from Srebrenica immediately and to sit down with the contact group and the other parties?

Finally, we share the Government's view that UNPROFOR has saved many lives in Bosnia. We understand also that withdrawal must remain an option. However, no one should underestimate the possible consequences of withdrawal, not just in Bosnia but well beyond it. I hope therefore that everything will be done, first, to reinforce existing UN mandates; and, secondly, to work for a political solution before such action is taken.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, I join in thanking the Minister for repeating the Statement. Perhaps I may apologise for the fact that I have to be on duty as Chairman of one of your Lordships' Committees just after 5 o'clock; so I hope that I will be acquitted of any discourtesy if I have to leave before these exchanges are completed.

In this latest, dangerous example of Bosnian Serb aggression, our prime and immediate concern must be for the suffering civilians, for the UN soldiers, including our own, and for the relief workers, including those from the ODA in this country, who are risking their lives amid the warring factions. The priority must be to bring immediate relief, as the Minister said, but I would go further than that. Should there not now be some special UN emergency relief effort to force a passage in one way or another for urgent relief, first, to Potocari and then through to Sarajevo. I urge that not just for immediate humanitarian reasons, but because there is a need to restore some kind of credibility to the UN role in the former Yugoslavia. I am glad that UNPROFOR's value was put into proper perspective in the Statement. If at all possible, it must be maintained, reinforced and made more effective.

I echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, that while withdrawal must remain an option, none of us should be under any illusions about the military risks of withdrawal or the damage that it would do to the UN's future authority and to future prospects for any sensible European Union foreign policy.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness and to the noble Lord for their comments. The first question the noble Baroness asked me was why no ultimatum was issued at the weekend or why is one not being issued now. On the ground, ultimata were issued over the weekend, but at this very moment a resolution which requests the Secretary General to use all resources available to him to restore the status defined by the agreement of 16th April 1993, as I said in the Statement, and which calls on the parties to co-operate to that end, is being debated.

The resolution was in its semi final form last night. It demands that the Bosnian Serb forces immediately and unconditionally release all detained UNPROFOR personnel—of whom I gather there are 43 Dutchmen at the moment—that the parties respect fully the safety of UNPROFOR personnel; that they ensure their complete freedom of movement, including resupply; and that all the parties allow unimpeded access to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees—all the matters that were indeed in the Statement. The resolution goes on to demand that the Bosnian Serb forces cease their offensive and withdraw immediately from the safe area of Srebrenica.

There has been great pressure on the ground. There has been action on the ground. We understand that it was because of the action on the ground, which took out two Bosnian Serb tanks, that the Dutch UNPROFOR troops were taken. We heard President Chirac's statement yesterday. Consultations are going on with the French Government at this moment. I cannot give the noble Baroness any details of the plans, such as they are, because they are not finalised. I shall be in touch with her when I hear any further news.

The noble Baroness asked about Gorazde. The safety and security of British troops are of course of paramount importance to us all. We are naturally alive to the implications for other enclaves, particularly Gorazde, of any Bosnian Serb attack. We have been in close contact all morning with UNPROFOR commanders on the ground. As I said in repeating the Statement, there are no reports at the moment of any increased activity around Gorazde. Long may that continue.

We are also confident that the appropriate planning is in place to safeguard the security of our troops. I know that the noble Baroness will understand that I would not want to go into further detail for operational reasons.

The noble Baroness also asked me about the RRF. It is part of UNPROFOR, operating under UN command and its authority. I understand that there is some belief that the RRF will be active immediately. That just does not happen when deploying troops, but I can assure the noble Baroness and your Lordships that having the RRF, many of whose members are already gathered in theatre, will increase the flexibility of the UNPROFOR commanders' responses because they will have a greater variety of equipment which will strengthen them and enable them to give a graduated response to the warring factions or attacks. The noble Baroness asked why they are not being used per se at present. We must have in mind the fact that there are 43 Dutch troops held at present, against whom severe threats have been made.

We are looking to see what more can he done, and that is the matter under discussion at the moment. I remind your Lordships that the RRF is not an offensive force. It is there to protect UN forces and to undertake missions in support of the UN mandate. In order to operate it requires the strategic consent, as does UNPROFOR, of the warring factions. It cannot engage in peace enforcement. The UN mandate is for peacekeeping and for humanitarian aid. The RRF will operate under that mandate.

The noble Baroness asked about the other enclaves. At the moment we have no bad news from Zepa, but anything could happen in the next hours. Indeed, something may have happened since I left the Foreign Office.

The noble Baroness also asked about contact with Mr. Carl Bildt. A meeting with him is about to start—perhaps the Foreign Secretary has already started the meeting—and only afterwards will I be able to give her any more details.

The noble Baroness asked about the influence of President Milosevic on the Bosnian Serbs. Our chargé is on his way to see President Milosevic today. We hope that the president will again use his influence on Mr. Karadzic and on General Mladic. However, I must tell your Lordships that the situation is not good. As I was coming into the Chamber I heard that General Mladic has gone to Potocari with vehicles. He is seeking to separate the males over the age of 16 from the women and children and take them to Bratunac, presumably for some kind of screening. At the same time, he is offering to take the women and children to Kladanj, which is further to the north east of Srebrenica. I cannot say what the outcome of that will be. It has been agreed that there will be a UN monitor on each truck to monitor human rights for the people who are forced on to those trucks should that happen.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, rightly spoke about the suffering people, the UN soldiers and the relief workers and the priority being to bring relief. That is exactly why we are there and why we have been able to do as much as I described in the Statement which I repeated to your Lordships. Britain is the third largest donor of humanitarian aid and the only major donor of humanitarian aid to have so many troops on the ground. Neither the US nor Japan, which have given money for humanitarian aid, has any troops on the ground. Therefore, we are playing a major role in trying to resolve this serious situation.

We have the capacity to do more if we can get through. We are ready and have offered to UNHCR our ODA logistics people to provide help wherever we can. That is particularly important should the refugees, who are currently at Potocari, be taken up to Tuzla where there are already 430,000 displaced persons under the feeding and care of UNHCR.

There is a major job to be done. By putting our efforts behind UNPROFOR and behind the discussions that Mr. Carl Bildt and others are carrying on, we hope that we shall get the discussion going again and will stop what is happening. However, there are no easy answers. Certainly, indiscriminate bombing by either side—the Bosnian Serbs or the Bosnian Moslems—will not solve the problem. There is no military solution to the problem, certainly not by getting UNPROFOR into an untenable position, which is what would happen if it went beyond the UN resolutions.

4.54 p.m.

Baroness Thatcher

My Lords, may I thank my noble friend for repeating the Statement and perhaps make a number of comments and ask a number of questions. As I listened to her—and I have listened to other Statements on the subject—I had the impression that so long as this operation is supervised by UNPROFOR, no one will ever get a hold of it and take the requisite decisions and action to bring it to an end and see that the victims win and the aggressors are vanquished. Would she therefore see whether it is possible to put the matter under NATO, which would be much, much more effective?

Secondly, as I listened to the scene that my noble friend described, I was reminded that the right of self-defence is far older than the United Nations. The United Nations did not invent it and the United Nations has no right, in effect, to make it inoperative. Why, then, in view of the scene that she described and the lack of men and equipment, are the Bosnians not allowed to arm themselves effectively with sufficiently strong equipment and sufficient munitions to defeat the Serb aggressor? The Serb is the aggressor; the Bosnians, are the victims. We should not deny them the fundamental right to self-defence. I doubt the legality of doing it, and I have no doubt that it is morally wrong to deny them that right.

Thirdly, my noble friend spoke of the United Nations resolutions and the possibility of there being more. Will she agree that the resolutions on humanitarian aid and on protecting the safe areas are taken under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter and are enforcement resolutions, and, therefore, the UNPROFOR troops have the right to enforce humanitarian aid getting through and have the right to enforce the safety of safe areas? By calling these areas "safe" we have encouraged innocent people to go into them. We should therefore make proper provision for their effective defence. All those resolutions are under Chapter VII. They are not peacekeeping; there is no peace to keep. They are to enforce the resolutions. Those powers are not being used. We have the weapons, we have the quality, the number and the most excellent armed forces, in particular those to whom my noble friend referred. They are not being used to protect the innocent.

Finally, my noble friend spoke of negotiations. There have been negotiations after negotiations after negotiations after negotiations. The last round of negotiations actually gave land to the Serbs from the Bosnians. The Bosnians were prepared to accept that if it would bring peace. We can have no more negotiations. The Serbs must accept the agreement of the contact group. There is no point in more negotiations because each time more are entered into the Serbs are given hope: the Serbs need only have a bit more aggression and there is a bit more land. That will not do. There are many potential aggressors looking at and learning from what is happening in Bosnia, waiting to see whether they would get away with it, in countries of the former Soviet Union and of the Middle East. Please will my noble friend take away the message that soft words will not do? We need stern, calmly calculated, effective action.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for her comments, which tune in with everything that she has previously said on the tragic situation in the former Yugoslavia. Having been on the ground in Bosnia many times I have some sympathy with her. However, I cannot agree that rearming the Bosnians will bring the conflict to a speedy end. I believe that it would draw many more nations into a war which would spread far beyond the Balkans.

I agree with my noble friend that Chapter VII covers the resolutions. Looking through them today yet again, I realise that it would be highly desirable and would help my humanitarian relief aid very much if one could force the aid through. But on some occasions forcing the aid through will cause a wider conflict. I will not second guess any of the commanders on the ground, British or otherwise, who are doing their best to do the very thing that my noble friend wants; that is, to protect the innocent.

The whole House will know that when the idea went through the United Nations I had great doubts about the safety of the safe areas. I never made any secret of the fact that unless the proposal was enforceable it was not sensible. However, it was passed and we have done our best to give as much help as possible to get help through to the enclaves. For a certain amount of time we were extremely successful in doing so, enabling the people there to build up resources. Those resources are now under pressure and will continue to be.

My noble friend spoke of the contact group plan. That must be implemented. When we have had our discussions with Mr. Carl Bildt and others we will be in a better position to see what next steps to take.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, on this occasion it is an honour to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, a former Prime Minister, because she has been resolute throughout on the Bosnian issue. She has never veered from her belief that a different approach might have been more successful.

I should like to ask the Minister two questions and then raise one larger issue. First, are any negotiations going ahead with regard to trying to arrange safe passage for the 25,000 civilians now fleeing from Srebrenica, some of whom are not at present in the enclave held by Dutch UNPROFOR troops?

Secondly, will immediate consideration be given to providing air-lifts of food for the other enclaves? In particular, I understand that both Bihac and Tuzla are now suffering from severe shortages and are near starvation. It would be a disaster if they were also to fall.

Thirdly, I raise the larger issue because the Minister has referred, and rightly so, to the dangers of a wider war in the Balkans. We all understand that fear. But in her remarks she referred to the fact that all the parties in Bosnia must agree before any action can be taken by the United Nations. I wonder whether the Minister and her right honourable friends will consider whether, in a situation where one partner fails consistently to agree to United Nations action—those partners being the Bosnian Serbs who have never proved themselves willing to accept any of the norms or understanding of civilized conduct—the United Nations and the United Kingdom Government might now think it fit to move to a stronger position on defending the remaining enclaves and to a stronger approach towards the constant misbehaviour of the Bosnian Serbs.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I believe that in relation to the UK Government, I can say that we want stronger action in support of the enclaves. Whether the UN as a whole will agree to that, I cannot tell her at this moment. But we are determined to ensure—and this is why we have put more troops to UNPROFOR—that we are doing all that we can to protect the people and to get resources through to them.

The noble Baroness asked about safe passage for 25,000 people—I believe that it is rather more than that—who are trying to escape from Srebrenica. That is where the plan of allowing them to reach Tuzla is extremely important. I shall return to that point in a moment. But to be quite sincere about this, we are in some difficulty as regards separating the women and children from the men aged over 16. That needs to be handled extremely carefully on the ground. I do not want to say any more at the moment because I do not want to assist politically in any way the Bosnian Serbs. I never have and I never shall.

Perhaps I may now turn to Tuzla and Bihac. In Tuzla at the moment there are already over 430,000 internally displaced persons. Were all those from Srebrenica to join them, that would be an increase in the order of 10 per cent. That could be coped with because we have been getting supplies through to Tuzla by our own efforts. We are already working with the mayor of Tuzla to help should the people decide that they wish to reach 'Tuzla. That is already in hand.

With regard to Bihac, we obviously condemn the continuing obstruction of relief convoys to Bihac by the Krajina Serbs. The situation is grim but three convoys have reached the pocket in the first week of July so there are supplies both there and in Tuzla. But they are very different situations and they are being coped with well on the ground.

We are in no doubt about the importance of doing all that we can to make sure that food, medicines and other necessary goods reach the people. But we must be advised by those on the ground. As I said earlier, sometimes to fight them through can cause a much wider conflict. We may have to try to proceed by agreement but I believe that if agreement is tried and fails, we may have to take the action which the noble Baroness suggests.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, first, I thank my noble friend for one good piece of news; namely, that there are to be UNPROFOR monitors on those trucks. That is a considerable achievement in the tenseness of the situation and I am grateful to my noble friend for mentioning that and for giving us that information.

Does the Minister not agree also that in this situation, nothing is gained by either taking sides in a civil war or resorting to rhetoric? Talk of telling the Serbs to go back is meaningless unless it can or will be backed up by overwhelming force which, as we know, would only have the effect of enlarging the conflict. Therefore, does my noble friend not agree that in this matter rhetoric is to be abhorred, as is the taking of sides?

Is my noble friend really happy about the command structure? I believe that we all have a picture of, as it were, Mr. Akashi, on one side and the military commanders on the other. The United Nations Secretary General is to be empowered by a resolution still to be passed to "take all measures open to him". But that means nothing. Therefore, will she tell us about the command structure and any endeavours to improve it. I believe also that words of encouragement should go out from this House to the local commanders who are in a perfectly awful situation.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for what he said and for underlining the importance of having gained the presence of UNPROFOR monitors on the trucks.

It is easy to condemn rhetoric or those who take sides. It is very much more difficult to see a resolution of these situations which does not draw a wider and greater number of people into the conflict. That is why I am not in the business of condemning anyone, other than those who cause the conflict. I am in the business of finding ways to resolve the situation. That is why I have referred on many occasions to the contact group meeting with Mr. Carl Bildt, which is taking place in London today.

It is right to encourage the commanders on the ground—General Rupert Smith and others—who are doing a first-class job under very difficult circumstances. I understand my noble friend's anxiety about the command structure. I understand also that the Dutch Government, who have 43 men taken hostage at present, are anxious not to exacerbate the situation. However much some noble Lords may object to my speaking of a negotiated settlement, I still believe that we must redouble or treble our efforts to achieve a lasting solution because there is no other way of preventing the war spreading.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, will the Minister say a little more about what can be done for the safety of the 30,000 or so civilians who have fled from Srebrenica? I appreciate that the situation is difficult and that that it is changing from minute to minute. but it seems to me that an ominous chill is caused by the description which the Minister gave of the separation by the Bosnian Serbs of the men from the women and children. Anything which suggests that there is some action which we or the United Nations could take would be most welcome.

The whole situation has an element of a nightmare. I only wish that there was some way forward. The Minister said that resolutions are being put forward to the United Nations for discussion today which demand that the Bosnian Serbs should withdraw from Srebrenica. Given that we have no power of enforcement if they do not comply, does not the whole process make us seem even more impotent than we were before?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, puts his finger on the real problem; that is, the preparedness of other nations to implement fully under Chapter VII the resolutions in the UN, whether or not by unanimity. As I described early on in the Statement, when the safe areas were first put forward and there was a call for more support to resolve the matter, we were one of the first contributing nations at every stage to try to resolve the problem. Therefore, in no way can the British nation be blamed. But there are other nations which have spoken loudly and done little. That has been one of the major problems which the UN must face. There are too many who talk but do not do.

I should say also that this is a nightmare scenario. At the moment, we are working to try to look after those who are seeking refuge at Potocari, some of whom may go on to Tuzla. I cannot give the noble Lord any hard or fast advice about what will happen. We have dealt with situations even grimmer than this and have saved a very large number of lives and we have begun to bring back some normality. However bad the situation in Srebrenica about which we are talking today is, perhaps I may assure your Lordships' House that there are some areas in central Bosnia which were not peaceful but which have been made so by the tactics that we have, as the UN, deployed.

Lord Craig of Radley

My Lords, is not one brutal lesson of this whole sorry affair the fact that no resolution or ultimatum is worth the paper it is written on if there are not the forces available to carry out and meet those resolutions or ultimatums? Has not the time come, in the face of reality, to stop allowing the political heart to rule its head and to decide whether to commit forces in sufficient weight to achieve the right, overall objectives; or to make resolutions which take account of the realities on the ground and match what is asked of the United Nations and UNPROFOR to the forces that they are provided with, and no more?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, by his remarks, the noble and gallant Lord expressed far better than I could the real situation and the irony involved. No resolution, no rhetoric and no ultimata will resolve the matter; indeed, the only way we can resolve it is to keep people alive and obtain a solution by discussion. I believe that the noble and gallant Lord would agree with me that it is absolutely vital that UNPROFOR does not become a combatant in the situation. We shall only be able to continue on the ground as long as that does not endanger our men beyond reason. At present, there is a very nasty situation in Srebrenica which has, perhaps, developed over a longer period of time during the cease-fire than we realised. However, we have to continue to try to find a solution which is not the use of military force by UNPROFOR.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, while I agree with the Minister that a great deal of humanitarian work has been carried out, does she agree with me that the ineffectiveness ensures that such work must go on and on? Surely the noble and gallant Lord who has just spoken gave the right answer; namely, that forces should be provided to ensure that negotiations succeed, if necessary by Britain and France alone. Further, can the Minister say whether it is true that the air strikes ordered against the attacking forces were stopped once two tanks had been destroyed because the Serbs threatened to kill Dutch hostages? If that threat was acceded to and air strikes stopped, does that not endanger hostages all over the world, but especially in Bosnia, at present? Can the Minister comment on the command structure? Am I right in thinking that the command structure consists of two people; namely, the Commander-in-Chief of the forces and the United Nations representative? Is that not a structure for disaster? One person can be in command, three people may be a command structure; but two is impossible.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I understand the attraction of ensuring that the forces are sufficient in number to carry out the task given to them. However, given the fact that Britain and France have contributed far more forces than any other country, I am not sure that we should extend the forces still further beyond the recent extension that we announced.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, is absolutely right in what he said about the air strikes. Threats were issued against the 43 Dutch hostages. It was on that basis, presumably, that Mr. Akashi was not prepared to go ahead with further air strikes. I can only agree with the noble Lord as regards his mathematics: two people disagreeing will never resolve a situation; but one or three might take a clear decision. Let us hope that we can soon get to some clearer decision taking.