HL Deb 03 November 1997 vol 582 cc1224-6

3.6 p.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have for the United Kingdom's future contribution to the multinational stabilisation force in the former Yugoslavia.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, the United Kingdom contributes some 5,300 troops to the NATO-led stabilisation force—SFOR—in Bosnia. Progress in implementing the Dayton peace agreement will determine whether a successor force is needed once SFOR's mandate ends in June 1998. If it is, the United Kingdom is willing to keep troops on the ground, if others are ready to do the same. Troop numbers would depend on the tasks assigned to a successor force.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. I congratulate the Government on the firm action that they have taken in detaining suspected war criminals and those who have been indicted for war crimes. Can my noble friend assure me that the Government will continue to take such further action to detain those who are currently free?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the United Kingdom Government will support the pursuance of those indicted of these crimes wherever and whenever possible.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the phrase "if others are ready to do the same" applies most crucially to the United States? Does she consider it wise that the British Government should lay such heavy dependence on the decision of the United States to continue to contribute troops as to the future of the force as a whole?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the position of the United Kingdom Government is that any successor force must be militarily credible to all Bosnian parties. Experience shows that only NATO has this credibility. It is also important that the burden is shared evenly. Any force should therefore be drawn widely from NATO member states and perhaps from others too. But its exact configuration and mandate will be a matter for NATO to decide and will depend on the tasks assigned to any successor force.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, what undertakings can the Government give us that the cost of British participation in Bosnia will continue to be borne by the Treasury contingency reserve and will not fall on the defence budget as yet another sum of money to be taken from the small amount available for that purpose?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, as I have already indicated, it is too early to say whether there will be a need for a further force after the end of June next year. That is still some eight months away. Under the current practice, any further need will fall on the contingency reserve.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether the present attitude of Her Majesty's Government on this matter has taken into account the apparent close relationship that has now developed formally between the Soviet Union, Germany and France to the exclusion of the United Kingdom?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the position of the United Kingdom Government is one that depends upon the co-operation of all parties involved in Bosnia at the present time. The position of the United Kingdom takes account of all relationships both within NATO and elsewhere.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, while echoing the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, about the arrest by the British contingent of SFOR of certain war criminals, is the Minister satisfied that the terms of reference of SFOR and the resources available to it are sufficient to complete the task of arresting the remaining indictees within the expected life of SFOR? In particular, can the Minister say what additional measures are being taken by SFOR to apprehend the 39 suspects whose whereabouts are listed publicly on a website?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the precise terms of any new mandate must be discussed fully within NATO. The SFOR mandate allows troops to detain any indictees whom they come across in the course of their duties if the situation permits. The operation by British SFOR troops to detain two indictees in Prijedor in July underlines the present determination to ensure that all war criminals are brought to justice. The Government have consistently said that SFOR troops will detain indicted persons with whom they come into contact in the course of their duties, provided that the tactical situation permits.