HL Deb 22 November 1995 vol 567 cc316-27

3.50 p.m.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, with permission I should like to repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary.

"With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a Statement on former Yugoslavia.

"The conflict in former Yugoslavia is Europe's most tragic problem. Two hundred thousand people have lost their lives over the past four years. Over 1.5 million have lost their homes. The conflict has caused suffering and destruction of a scale not seen in Europe since the Second World War.

"From the start, Britain has upheld the principles that internationally recognised borders must not be altered by force, and the legitimate rights of all ethnic groups must be properly protected by their governments.

"We have therefore had three objectives: to save lives; to draw the parties away from the military option towards a negotiated settlement; and to prevent the spread of the conflict.

"The Government warmly welcome the agreement initialled in Dayton yesterday. We applaud the work of all the negotiators. I congratulate the leaders of the parties to the Bosnia conflict, who have shown the wisdom and courage to make the hard choices and difficult compromises needed for peace. And we must recall with gratitude the work of all those who laid the foundations for this achievement: notably Lord Carrington and Lord Owen, Cy Vance, Thorvald Stoltenberg, Carl Bildt, and the American officials, who died so tragically a few weeks ago while engaged in earlier stages of these negotiations.

"The full text of the peace agreement will be placed in the Library of the House as soon as it is available. It is a detailed and complex document. I will not attempt to describe it in detail to the House now. But I would highlight some key elements. The agreement maintains a single unitary Bosnian state, within internationally recognised borders. There will be a central three-man presidency, with representatives from each of the three ethnic groups, a Council of Ministers, and a Central Parliament. Underneath these central structures, there will be two entities, the Federation and the Republika Srpska, each with substantial autonomy.

"Elections for the central presidency and parliament and for the institutions of both entities will be held within nine months of signature of the agreements. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe will supervise these elections. There are to be special arrangements for refugees and displaced persons, who will be encouraged to return and will have the option of voting where they lived before the war. Those indicted for war crimes will play no part in future public life in Bosnia. The UK continues, moreover, strongly to support the work of the War Crimes Tribunal. We believe that those responsible for atrocities should be tried. We look to all the states of the region to fulfil their international obligations. Sanctions against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia are to be suspended immediately. They will be formally lifted 10 days after free and fair elections have been held in Bosnia. There will also be a phased lifting of the arms embargo, alongside the establishment of an arms control regime. Territorial issues were the most difficult to settle and took the talks to the brink. But the settlement meets the Contact Group proposal of a 49 per cent.-51 per cent. split between the Republika Srpska and the Federation. And it meets the crucial principle of maintaining Sarajevo as a united city: a principle that the British Government have supported throughout.

"It would be foolish to underestimate the size of the task that the international community now faces. The first requirement is that the parties live up to their commitments. Unless they abide by what they have agreed, and work to make the settlement a success, the documents initialled at Dayton are just pieces of paper. The history of this conflict is one of broken agreements. Now, as never before, promises must be kept.

"The international community will deploy an international force to Bosnia following signature of the agreement to supervise the withdrawal of respective armies to the agreed zones of separation. It is the wish of the parties that NATO take the lead in establishing such a force. We hope to see a number of non-NATO nations, in particular Russia, working with us in this force. Apart from the OSCE supervision of elections, the international community must also establish an international police task force to advise and train the local police forces, and oversee the establishment of the agreed central structures. The international humanitarian agencies must meet the continuing needs of the Bosnian population and monitor the human rights of returning refugees. And with the World Bank in the lead at technical level, the international community must help with the task of economic reconstruction in the region; restoring infrastructure and utilities, stimulating the development of market economies, and encouraging economic interaction in the region.

"We will therefore hold a Peace Implementation Conference in London, to mobilise the international community for the tasks ahead. This conference will ensure that the military operation meshes with the civilian, and that tasks at the crucial civilian/military interface are properly handled. It will establish a co-ordination structure with a senior political figure, the High Representative, at its centre. It will ensure that those supervising the elections, assisting with economic reconstruction and undertaking humanitarian tasks, will work together as part of a coherent implementation plan. And it will help to pin down the parties' agreement to the details of implementation.

"We must also decide nationally how we shall contribute to peace implementation in Bosnia. We expect to play a central role alongside our American and French allies in a NATO implementation force. In particular, I should emphasise that the early commitment of the substantial US ground troop presence which the US Administration proposes is a prerequisite for our participation. We expect to arrive and leave alongside our American and French allies. But we now need to study the details of the peace agreement. We must ensure that our forces would be acting in conditions of reasonable safety, that they would have the consent of the parties, and that the burden is being shared equitably among allies, before we take final decisions. The agreement in Dayton is an historic event. An end to the brutal and tragic conflict in former Yugoslavia is now within our grasp. But we are not there yet. With the London Peace Implementation Conference, and a British contribution to a peace implementation force in Bosnia, Britain will play a central role in ensuring that the agreement in Dayton is translated into a peaceful future for all the people of the region".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.59 p.m.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made by her right honourable friend in another place.

Perhaps I may begin by echoing what she said about the agreement. I should like to express very firmly our welcome to and our pleasure at the agreement that has been reached. However one looks at it, it is a remarkable diplomatic achievement by the United States who deserve great credit for it, as does President Clinton. I expect too that exile in Dayton, Ohio, may have helped a little on the margins. It is a tribute also to the effectiveness of economic sanctions imposed on Serbia. Sanctions have not always worked in the past, as we all know, but;n this instance they clearly seem to have had an effect in persuading President Milosevic that the time had come to settle. However, the real test is to come when the negotiators get home. It is a truism that for an agreement to succeed it must stick, but nevertheless it is true, particularly when, as in this case, it is not a settlement that has been dictated on the battlefield by any victor; it is one that has been brokered by outside mediators.

I wish to put a number of specific points to the Minister, some of which I hope she will be able to answer. First, does she have any indication as yet of the attitude of the Bosnian Serbs to the agreement? At lunchtime on the news there were signs of dissatisfaction. I am not sure how deep they run nor precisely what is happening. If she can give the House any information on that, I am sure we would be grateful.

Secondly, the Minister mentioned the provision of troops. Can she confirm the figures in the press that a commitment of 20,000 American, 13,000 British and 10,000 French soldiers is envisaged, together with some contingents from our other NATO allies? I agree that what is crucial to success here is the commitment of United States troops. We know that Mr. Clinton has his problems with Congress. I wonder whether the Minister has any assessment of the likelihood of Congress blocking this proposal. She obviously has an assessment because she will have received one from our officials in Washington. Presumably the Government reckon that the proposal will go through Congress and it will therefore go ahead. I am grateful to the Minister for spelling out that if the Americans do not commit their troops then neither will we be bound under the agreement to commit our troops.

Thirdly, what mix of troops is envisaged? Will they be relatively lightly armed peacekeeping forces or are they to have heavier weapons and to be capable of being employed in a more active role? Can the Minister say anything about the chain of command as regards NATO forces? How is the agreement to be associated with the United Nations? I suppose that there has to be some kind of Security Council cover. I wonder whether the noble Baroness can say one or two words on that.

There are not many details in the Statement and, having listened to the Minister reading it, I am not sure precisely how the civilian and the military sides will mesh together. I believe that I am capable of understanding the military side, but as to the civilian side with a police task force, I am not sure what that force will do. The Minister said that it was to train the local police forces and to oversee the setting up of the necessary central constitutional structures. It is a strange role for a police force, but if that is what the parties want then we should not cavil at it. Will Britain contribute to it? If so, what kind of contribution might we be asked to make? How do we view the possibility of that contribution?

Finally, I repeat our welcome for the agreement. For all the fine words and the constitutional structures, Bosnia is to be de facto divided. I hope that the divided parts may now, after the years of war, at least be able to acquiesce peaceably in each other's existence.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Richard, in thanking the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place. Undoubtedly, the Dayton agreement is the best hope that we have of ending the horrors of the war in the former Yugoslavia. That hope far outweighs what must remain our deep sense of dismay about the brutal ethnic cleansing that will be left behind if the tide of war truly retreats.

There are some hard lessons for European governments arising out of the Dayton agreement. With European help and support, the United States has succeeded where Europe, with American help and support, failed in the past. That emphasises in the first place the importance of maintaining the Atlantic alliance in modern conditions. It equally emphasises the need to improve the European Union's capacity for joint foreign policy making and joint operations in the defence field.

We will want to study the details of what is an obviously complex agreement. I join the noble Lord, Lord Richard, in hoping that there will be answers to the questions that he has put. We will all be anxious to know something about what will be the rules of engagement for our troops in this new operation, led by the major nations within NATO. We could do with some further information than the Minister was able to give us in answer to an earlier Question today about the reaction of Russia to the agreement, what is likely to be the Russian role and to what degree the Russians are ready to co-operate in the military arrangements that have been proposed. We would also like to hear what will be the juridical backing for the NATO-led military operation within the United Nations.

Finally, it would be interesting to hear from the Minister some of the Government's ideas about the part they may play in what will undoubtedly need to be a massive operation of international reconstruction, to help to bind up the wounds of war in the former Yugoslavia. If that can be done successfully, it might do more than anything else to create a better sense of unity in Bosnia Herzegovina than will exist immediately with the complicated, divided arrangements that are proposed in the agreement.

The truest words that the Minister used in the Statement that she repeated were:

"Now, as never before, promises must be kept".

I hope that they will be kept all round.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I thank both the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, for their comments. All the answers are by no means yet available, but I shall do my best to give as much information as I have to hand.

The Bosnian Serbs' attitude will seem to waiver for a while, but one has always to keep in one's mind that they agreed that Mr. Milosevic would negotiate on their behalf. That was agreed before Dayton and, therefore, were they to try to run out on the agreement now, Mr. Milosevic would have something to say.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, asked me about troop figures. All I can tell him at the moment is that, yes, it is absolutely crucial that we have that commitment of US troops to go in. The noble Lord will have noted that I said that we would go in with them and the French troops and we would come out with them Therefore, whatever Congress may be debating at the moment, it will have a strong case put to it for co-operating. If it were not to co-operate, then the Dayton agreement would be in considerable doubt and that would then be set at the door of Congress.

I cannot confirm absolutely what the numbers would be, but it is about 60,000 in total. Around 13,000 or 14,000 would come from this country. I cannot yet confirm the mix of troops except that non-NATO countries will be among them; which ones I am not yet able to say, but some will certainly come from the countries involved in the Partnership for Peace. We see that as a positive contribution, including, of course, the contribution that the Russians particularly wish to make.

The United Nations cover has yet to be worked out in detail. There is no doubt that, as the noble Lord said at the beginning, the United States has been out in front, but I have to pay tribute to Pauline Neville-Jones in the Foreign Office and her team. To be cooped up for the past three weeks in the Dayton military base may have concentrated the mind, but it was pretty tough going and they have come out with the framework agreement which we wanted and for which the United Kingdom has worked so hard. Both the framework agreement and the annexes thereto were discussed among all five of the contact group delegations; namely, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Russia, before they were presented to the parties who agreed them yesterday. There was very formidable expertise in that contact group. Carl Bildt's team contributed extremely valuably during the negotiations.

The UN forces were neither mandated nor equipped to fight the war in Bosnia. That is why they could never impose peace in the past. But we now have an agreement. We should never forget that, in the past, 2.7 million people were kept alive through three successive winters. Winter is upon us and we must get on with the reconstruction as well as with keeping people going until reconstruction can start. We therefore have a major job ahead of us.

The exact UN arrangements are yet to be worked out. I will give the noble Lord and this House the detail as soon as I am clear what it will be. We are working now towards the peace implementation conference that is to take place in early to mid-December in London. That will help us decide, in the noble Lord's words, how to mesh together the essential civilian and military components of the peace settlement.

The Atlantic Alliance will play a crucial part. As I said earlier in answer to a Question in this House, IFOR, the international implementation force, will be NATO led. As the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, knows, we do not discuss rules of engagement. Anyway, we are quite a long way away from that sort of thing. We hope also that the troops will not have to be engaged in the way they were under UNPROFOR. We are fairly certain that there will be a high degree of Russian co-operation. The Russian commander will be one of the deputies to SACEUR. I was asked earlier in the day about the detail of command and control and whether it was wise to bring the Russians in. We must leave it to the good sense of the NATO commander to work out a system whereby we can make the peace in Bosnia work. But at no time will we ever allow this country or any other NATO member to be vulnerable as a result of the rules that are worked out for implementation in Bosnia.

The United Kingdom will play a fairly major role in the reconstruction. But we hope very much that it will be an enabling role, one that helps a market economy to start up again in Bosnia and helps companies there to work on reconstruction under the direction of a World Bank-led plan. We have, of course, been one of the contributors to reconnecting the basic utilities and to keeping life going in former Yugoslavia over three and a half years. We shall continue this job to bring matters to a successful end.

4.15 p.m.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that her mention of the Russians taking part in the top machinery of this project brings a great deal of relief to those of us who wonder how realistic the whole project is? There is talk of a single Bosnian state when citizens there have been tearing each other apart for the past three years. There is talk of democratic elections when they have only just put away their guns, if indeed they have done so. Those of us who know the Balkans are struck by a certain air of unreality. With the Russians plum in the middle of this process, one is a little more hopeful now that it might work.

My noble friend mentioned refugees returning to their homes. The Krajina refugees will find that their homes have been torched. There are not many homes to go to. Therefore in the whole reconstruction effort it will require a lot of imagination and improvisation even to put roofs over the wrecks of the houses that are left. Is my noble friend really happy about the participation of NATO? Is there not a danger that NATO will be sucked into a world-wide rapid reaction force role to which it is in no way fitted and to which it is politically unsuited?

Is it not faintly unrealistic to talk about democratic elections among people who were not even at peace a month ago? We look forward to democratic elections here. I see opposite me noble Lords of great eminence who, I know, will not pull a gun on me the next time I stand up to speak. But we cannot be certain that that will not happen in Bosnia. Indeed, the story of the first Yugoslav parliament is one that brings to mind the two red lines in the other Chamber here which are two and a half sword lengths apart. They would need in this case to be two pistol shot lengths apart. This whole project has about it the scent of unreality. How people are to return to houses that have been destroyed I do not know. How people are to agree to respect each other's behaviour in a democratic election when only a month ago they were killing each other beggars imagination.

I have another question for my noble friend. We realise that there are two technical problems of great difficulty. One is the Brcko corridor; the other is the Moslem corridor to Gorazde. Has thought been given to the possibility of a sort of concrete fly-over, which might provide a physical answer to the political difficulties? Obviously, the corridor is very important to those who are interested. One wants to make quite sure that people there will not be destroyed, undermined or interrupted by hostile forces from either side. The idea of a concrete fly-over may possibly make sense in this connection.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, my noble friend has put his finger on one of the biggest problems with which we must deal; namely, the refugee returns, which wall be very difficult. It is not just a matter of those from Krajina, but of people of all backgrounds from all over former Yugoslavia who have had their hornes torched. The reconstruction will be on a very large scale. However, we hope to help those people to be involved in the reconstruction of their own homes under the guidance of the World Bank. The programme has to be worked out in great detail. I shall shortly be going to discuss the particular problems of the Serbian refugees, who have not been part of the general concern in the past. For this process to be successful one has to settle all the refugees in the best possible way.

In regard to NATO not being suitable so far as a rapid reaction force is concerned, I really do disagree with my noble friend. NATO is eminently well able to be the rapid reaction force and has indeed been so since the bombing in Sarajevo market in August. It was the NATO led rapid reaction force, with many brave Britons involved in it, which helped to turn the tide and lay the foundation for what has subsequently happened at Dayton. While the agreement at Dayton may he very difficult to comprehend, even for those of us who seem to have lived with it day and night over the past three weeks, I can assure my noble friend that it has a far better chance than anything we have seen before.

So far as the two corridors are concerned, there is a problem of access to territories on either side of them, as my noble friend mentioned. However, I am not sure that building unsightly concrete fly-overs would be the best way of resolving the difficulty. I believe that there will have to be some road building in the area. These are the sorts of questions that the high representative will be responsible for helping work out with the World Bank team. That will follow on from the peace implementation conference to which we look forward next month.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, following the question of my noble friend Lord Lauderdale, does the Krajina come within the competence of the new economic rehabilitation machinery or is that confined to Bosnian territory? Are we talking about something for the whole of former Yugoslavia or are we speaking of machinery to deal with the particular problems of Bosnia?

Perhaps I may also ask for illumination on what the Minister meant when she remarked that the United Nations was going to suspend and eventually abolish the sanctions on federal Yugoslavia and also—as I understood it—lift the arms embargo but with a measure of arms control. I was not clear how the arms control stood in relation to raising the embargo. Does it mean an embargo on some kind of armaments or armaments from some quarters? To my mind there is some ambiguity. I shall quite understand if the Minister finds it difficult to answer now but I feel that we shall probably need to return to it.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his questions. Very few people have seen the final map which was agreed by the three parties in Dayton. Therefore I cannot with certainty answer his question on the Krajina. I understand it to be the case that those areas which have been devastated need to be included in the overall reconstruction because whoever is going there must have somewhere to live and be able to function. I shall come back to the noble Lord with some more detail when I have seen the map and indeed when the decisions have been made about how the implementation will be carried out.

With regard to the noble Lord's comment about suspension of the arms situation, I understand that it will be done in two stages. But there will need to be monitoring before lifting of the embargoes is completely finished. That is why in the Statement he will find that we refer to the, phased lifting of the arms embargo, alongside the establishment of an arms control regime

in order that—this was not in the Statement—no build-up of arms of a similar nature as has happened in recent years can happen again. I cannot tell the noble Lord more than that at the moment but I shall keep him informed on the issue.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, I have only one very short question. Can the noble Baroness give the House any information at all about the attitude of the Federal German Republic to the arrangements that have been so happily reached in the United States? I shall quite understand if she finds it inconvenient to reply to that question. However, she will recall that there was unilateral political action taken by Herr Kohl in the recognition of Croatia, which rather influenced the events that happened afterwards.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, all I can tell the noble Lord is that Germany, being one of the five countries involved in the contact group, present and active throughout at Dayton, must be party to all that was eventually put to the three warring parties gathered at Dayton. Therefore, the Germans must have signed up to everything of which I have spoken this afternoon and indeed to the full implementation. I understand the anxieties implied by the noble Lord but I feel that it is better to look forward in this case and not back.

Lord Geddes

My Lords, if the figure of 13,000 British troops is, roughly speaking, accurate, is my noble friend entirely confident that we have sufficient troops—I bear in mind Options for Change—to fulfil that role without overstretching those troops' duties elsewhere? Secondly, would she be kind enough to tell us, in view of the parlous state of the United Nations' economy, who will pay for those troops?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, my noble friend presses me in asking about troop numbers. I am quite certain, having had as many as 12,000 British troops deployed at one stage through the UNPROFOR forces, that we can manage 1,000 or 2,000 more without any great difficulty and, indeed, we are ready to do so.

So far as concerns the state of UN finances, obviously that is a matter for the international financial institutions. It must now be worked out in detail who pays for what and I was very careful in the Statement to make it absolutely clear that Britain, having shouldered a very large burden over three years, looks to other countries to play their full part alongside us in the implementation of this peace.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, perhaps I may return to a question put by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. In his Statement, the Foreign Secretary referred to the creation of an international police task force. I assume that we shall be making a contribution to that force. What is the scale of that contribution likely to be? Obviously, it is an extremely important part of the overall agreement and it would be of considerable interest for us to be told what our contribution is going to be.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his question. He may know that we already contribute to policing work in Mostar through our earlier agreement with the federation. But in this case we believe that we can play a greater role. The numbers have not yet been worked out but there is no doubt that the nine officers who are already with the Western European Union police contingent in the administration at Mostar have more than proved their worth in planning, core training and co-ordination. We hope that under their guidance a similar system can be deployed. I regret that I cannot give him the detail at the moment. We have not even got to the Peace Implementation Conference. There is a great deal of work to do. Our willingness to do it must be matched by others' willingness to participate and to pay.

Lord Vivian

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether any time embargo has been placed on the British, French and American troops from the time of their deployment in former Yugoslavia?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, no absolute finite time embargo has been decided but we are thinking in terms of one year to start with. It may have to be extended. We have to be realistic about the kind of progress that can be made within a year after all the terrible years of conflict.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I welcome the Statement repeated by the noble Baroness. One must praise the efforts and the success of the United States in bringing about a possible end to this conflict after many years. Does she agree that western Europe needs to look very carefully at where it is going and where Western European Union should go? Although our troops and volunteers have done tremendously good work bringing food and relief to Sarajevo and other places, would it not have been far better if we had been able to take a robust and collective attitude at the start and put in a rapid reaction force at that time instead of trying to relieve the distress which has gone on for three years? When it comes to Serbs breaking promises, is it not also true that we are gravely at fault in that we did not fulfil the threats that we made and put ourselves in a position where the Serbs knew that they could take advantage? I do not want to blame people, but is it not the case that we must get our act together in Europe instead of relying on the United States to pull our chestnuts out of the fire?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, is being a little unreasonable. It was by no means just the United States. The agreement at Dayton could not have been achieved without the help of France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom. There has certainly been no lack of will on the parts of France or ourselves at any stage to try to resolve these issues. The noble Lord may be right that there needs to be a clearer strategy for the way in which western Europe is proceeding on a number of fronts, but in relation to this matter and many other aspects there is no doubt about what we, our French partners, and the Germans are seeking to do.

Regarding the force to implement the peace, it is right and is clearly what was needed a long while ago could we have achieved it that NATO should lead the international implementation force. NATO is a co-ordinated, combined force. Some of our difficulties in the past were due to the fact that many of the troops who served bravely and well had never served as part of NATO. However, we cannot turn back the clock in the way that the noble Lord seeks to do and accuse Europe of breaking its promises. The French and British have nothing to be ashamed of in all they have done in the past three-and-a-half years in Bosnia. Without their help and knowledge now we would not have achieved the Dayton agreement.

Lord Desai

My Lords, I wish to ask the Minister about the reconstruction and development efforts that will follow. The noble Baroness said that the World Bank would take a lead in this matter. I do not believe that the World Bank has much experience in this area. Would not the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development be more appropriate?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the major reconstruction programme will be spread right across the international community. That is why the international financial institutions, of which the World Bank is a leader, will lead on the financial aspects of the reconstruction. They have the relevant experience. They have the experience which, with respect, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development does not have in hand to help make some of the changes that need to take place. They are far better placed to ensure that there will be further burden sharing with the United States and Japan. That is a critical matter. Also, we should look at reconstruction not only from the point of view of getting the infrastructure jobs done, but also as regards some carefully targeted help which will assist Bosnia in its transition to a market-based economy. In that regard Britain has unrivalled experience through the know-how funds.