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Airmobile Brigade

Volume 264: debated on Tuesday 24 October 1995

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To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement about the role and activities of 24 Airmobile Brigade in the former Yugoslavia. [36565]

Following the taking of British hostages at the end of May, 24 Airmobile Brigade was deployed to the former Yugoslavia to make clear our determination to enhance the effectiveness of UNPROFOR and provide additional protection to British troops. As part of the changes in UN force deployments requested by the UN Secretary-General, most of the troops are relocating to England and will remain on short notice to return to theatre if required.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. As well as paying tribute to the Highland Gunners who took part in action outside Sarajevo this summer, will he also pay tribute to the other elements of 24 Airmobile who were stationed rather unhappily in Ploce on the Adriatic coast? They were in great discomfort, but nevertheless provided an important deterrent role.

Yes, I am extremely pleased to do that. While for the majority of 24 Airmobile their mission in Bosnia turned out to be somewhat unglamorous, that does not mean that their role was unimportant. They played an important role in deterring and they lived under difficult conditions with very good cheer and I congratulate them on that.

When discussing former Yugoslavia and the remaining British forces there, will the Minister make it clear to the United States that we do not intend our forces to take one side in the conflict and that when the implementation of the peace plans begins, firm and, if necessary, tough military action should be take against Croatia if it continues to violate human rights and the rights of civilians throughout the former Yugoslavia?

It is extremely important that the forces in Yugoslavia—including the implementation forces—should be even-handed. I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about human rights violations. We wish to have further details about what has been happening in Krajina following the Croatian advances.

My right hon. Friend rightly paid tribute to 24 Airmobile Brigade and to all our troops engaged in Yugoslavia. Can he give any indication of the total cost to the British taxpayer of our operations there over the past three or four years? To what extent have they been underwritten by the United Nations, and how much is currently outstanding?

I speak from memory, but I think that the cost has been £224 million so far. We have recovered about £70 million, but in principle most of that sum is refundable by the United Nations.