HL Deb 03 May 1995 vol 563 cc1388-92

3.55 p.m.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, with the leave of the House it may now be a convenient moment to repeat a Statement being made by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in another place. The Statement is as follows:

"The Cessation of Hostilities Agreement which provided for a ceasefire in Bosnia ended without extension on 1st May. There had already been a steady increase in fighting and skirmishing between Bosnian Government troops and Bosnian Serbs since 20th March at a number of flashpoints along the confrontation line, including Sarajevo, Bihac, the hills to the north of Tuzla and around Turbe and Travnik in central Bosnia. The end of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement has not been marked by any new heavy fighting on the ground. The situation has not yet returned to levels of violence or difficulty experienced last autumn, although the gradual deterioration and restrictions on freedom of movement has made it more difficult for UNPROFOR to carry out its tasks in areas near the confrontation line. There is no fighting in most of central Bosnia.

"The situation in Croatia, however, has taken a sharp turn for the worse. Croat forces moved into western Slavonia on 1st May and in two days' fighting have taken control of the central highway and expelled forces of the Krajina Serbs, who retaliated by launching five or six missiles into Zagreb. The Croatian Government announced on 2nd May that they had completed their operations. But the situation remains tense. There were further explosions in Zagreb this morning.

"Early on 2nd May, the Security Council adopted a statement which expressed deep concern at the resumption of hostilities and demanded that the Croatian Government end their military offensive and offered full support to the special representative of the UN Secretary-General in his negotiations to secure a ceasefire, to ensure safety of the highway and of UN personnel and generally to normalise the situation. Those efforts continue.

"What has happened in both Bosnia and Croatia shows again the urgency of the political process. A negotiated settlement remains the only way to a lasting peace in Bosnia and Croatia. No party will win a decisive military victory. The Contact Group is continuing its efforts to secure a settlement in Bosnia based on the Contact Group plan and mutual recognition among former Yugoslav republics. The immediate priority in Bosnia must be to secure a further Cessation of Hostilities Agreement. The Bosnian Government have indicated that they could agree to this if President Milosevic were to recognise Bosnia. The Contact Group, in meetings this week, is focusing on this aspect. Recognition of Bosnia would be an important step which would signify an end to Serb dreams of a greater Serbia. But it is only one element in an overall package which must include recognition of the other republics and a settlement on territory and agreement on a constitution which preserves territorial integrity and sovereignty of Bosnia Herzegovina".

My Lords, that concludes the statement.

3.59 p.m.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place by his right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. I am pleased that the situation in Bosnia itself does not seem to have deteriorated so much, but what has happened in Croatia is deeply disappointing.

Perhaps I may ask the Minister a number of questions relating to the UN aspect of this matter. Is the Government's view that there is still sufficient agreement among the five members of the Contact Group to enable the Security Council now to be re-seized of this situation and perhaps to produce some new initiative? Do the Government have a clear idea of what sort of new initiative they would like from the Security Council so as to enable UN forces in Bosnia and Croatia to do their job properly?

Finally, is the Minister aware that to make peace there has to be agreement that peace should be made, and that the difficulty, in Bosnia especially, is that I do not believe that either side has yet come to the conclusion that the military options should be closed and that the diplomatic process should be the way through which peace should come? I do not know whether the Government can do anything to help in that respect.

Finally, will the Government be careful to ensure that our troops do not stay there once they cease to be able to perform their humanitarian role? It is a difficult question of balance and I appreciate the delicacies that exist. Nevertheless, if there comes a time when the United Nations effort is clearly not producing the required results, will the Government be most careful about the safety of our troops?

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, I too thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place. He did so in a measured way against the background of events in former Yugoslavia. Inevitably, our minds are focused on what has happened in the past few days in Croatia and we realise the danger of an escalation on that second front within the former Yugoslavia. The Contact Group meets in London today. Has any consideration been given to the situation in Croatia?

One looks for a means of exercising some kind of sensible influence on what is a dangerous situation. The winter is ending, the cease-fire appears to be crumbling and one looks for a means of leverage. I believe that the European Union is considering an association trade agreement with Croatia. I do not believe that one should go too speedily ahead with that until there is a sign from Croatia that it is ready to behave in a proper way as regards the promotion of peace. As regards the Serbian Government, discussions have taken place on lightening the sanctions in relation to Serbia. Obviously the role of the Serbian Government is crucial and that is another opportunity for the international community to exercise influence.

Finally, I agree with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, about the role of the UN forces. When one thinks of the difficulties which face the UN in the former Yugoslavia, one sometimes forgets the role that it has played in preventing major wars from spreading. Not so long ago, some gloomy Cassandras suggested that the war would spread easily to Kosovo and Macedonia. I believe that the presence of the UN has helped to prevent that happening. One would be reluctant, therefore, to see a situation in which the UN could no longer keep the peace. I echo what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and perhaps the Minister will give the House the assurances that have been made elsewhere: that in dealing with that matter there will be no unilateral British action in terms of our forces as part of the UN peacekeeping arrangements.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, in considering the matter it is important to be clear that while the events in Bosnia and Croatia are contiguous they are in many ways distinct. The recent upsurge of military action in Croatia has been on the back burner.

The noble Lords, Lord Richard and Lord Thomson of Monifieth, asked a number of questions and I shall do my best to give appropriate replies. We believe that the Contact Group is the right forum from which ideas for trying to deal with the problem should emanate. We believe that there exists a unanimity of intention and that we should tackle the problems from that origin.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, asked whether we have any new ideas as regards initiatives that the United Nations could take, in particular in the context of Croatia. We have seen a Croat attack on the United Nations. We believe that it is important that the European Union supports the United Nations which, after all, is a victim of an attack by the Croats. The events are entirely contrary to the cease-fire agreement and to the Croatian commitments to the United Nations. It is particularly deplorable that they happened three days after Security Council Resolution 990 endorsed the deployment of the UN Confidence Restoration Operation (UNCRO). Against that background we must try to stabilise the situation and prevent a further escalation. The UN Secretary-General's special representative, Mr. Akashi, is in touch with both sides. We fully support his efforts and urge both sides to co-operate with him and to show restraint.

The next point made by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, was a truism—

Lord Richard

My Lords, truisms are true.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, indeed. Peace depends on the willingness of the parties to a dispute to accept a peaceful solution. We believe that the only long-term solution to the difficulty is a political solution and we underscore that proposition. For that reason, we continue with our allies to try to bring about a peaceful solution—it can be the only solution.

The noble Lord also asked what would happen if the humanitarian role of the troops in Bosnia expired. It must be the case that troop contributors cannot be expected to go on taking casualties while the parties show no interest in peace. Ultimately, the responsibility must lie with the parties themselves. At the top of our list of concerns is the risk to our troops in Bosnia and we will hear that in mind when we consider how best our troops might best be deployed while at the same time remaining committed to peacekeeping efforts there.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, echoed many of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. I hope that to a significant extent I have already answered many of them. The noble Lord was right to draw attention to the position of Serbia. We are most anxious to ensure that the Serbian Government fully understand that a greater Serbia is not a dream that can be realised. We believe that if that can be accepted we will have the basis of a political settlement.

4.7 p.m.

Lord Merlyn-Rees

My Lords, I hope that the Minister will accept the fact that I take no satisfaction in restating the impotence of the UN, the European Union and ourselves in trying to deal with the latest manifestation of the Balkan question which is now taking place in Croatia. That is the part of the former Yugoslavia that I know best. I know of no way that they will listen to anyone and certainly there is no military solution.

Perhaps world opinion will have some influence on the activities of the former republics of Yugoslavia. I know that that is a forlorn hope because 50 years ago I saw what they did to each other, and they carry on doing that. Nothing seems to alter them. It is a truism that many of those representing the recently recognised constituent parts of Yugoslavia have been invited here this weekend and will sit in high places as though somehow they played a part in the winning of the war. They take no notice of anyone and they should not be allowed here this weekend.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, in response to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, we have invited the heads of state of all those former Yugoslav republics which we recognise. All four have accepted. The invitation to President Tudjman stands for now, but is naturally being kept under review.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, perhaps I may return to the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth; that negotiations are taking place with regard to trading agreements between Croatia and the European Union. In the light of the flouting of the arrangements of the United Nations, which are supported by the European Union, would it not be right to suspend those negotiations? Would it not also be right to withdraw the invitation to the President of Croatia, who is coming here tomorrow to join in the VE celebrations? In the light of his flouting of UN resolutions, how can one possibly support that invitation and recognise his position?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I fully understand the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord. As I have said, the invitation to President Tudjman is under review. As regards the co-operation agreement, the Croatians have launched an attack on the United Nations and that will have a severe impact on any matters which may need to be resolved in relation to that agreement. It is important to appreciate that events have moved very quickly. The full implications of what has happened may not yet have had time to be dealt with administratively.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, will the Government take the lead in making it absolutely clear that any new attack on the beautiful and historic city of Dubrovnik or its airport will be resisted with the full force of NATO?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, the noble Lord asks a hypothetical question to which I am not in a position to reply.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, when the review of the invitation to President Tudjman takes place, will the noble Lord take note that doubts about that have been expressed extremely widely on all sides of this House?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I have no doubt about the point which the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, has underscored. I am sure that that matter will be brought forcefully to the attention of those responsible for such matters.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, will the noble Lord tell the House whether an invitation has been extended also to the head of state of Serbia and whether that matter, too, will be kept under consideration?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, invitations have been extended to the four heads of state which we recognise. We shall bear in mind all those points in view of the strongly held feelings in this House.