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Bosnia: Implementation Of Peace Agreement

Volume 571: debated on Monday 29 April 1996

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2.36 p.m.

Whether the intended timetable for international operations to consolidate peace and establish civic order in Bosnia is being maintained.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
(Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, while much remains to be done, good progress has been made in implementing both the military and civilian aspects of the peace agreement on Bosnia and Herzegovina. Forces are separated and are withdrawing to barracks. Reconstruction work is under way and preparations are being made for elections to be held by the middle of September.

My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend's reply giving such helpful information. While the Implementation Force (IFOR) seems to be carrying out its appointed tasks on time, have the various factions been complying with the Dayton agreement's timetable? As IFOR is not responsible for the civilian part of the agreement, what are the prospects of the Bosnian leaders co-operating and reaching working relationships with each other?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his supplementary question. He is right that there have been a few difficulties, but compliance with the military deadlines has been largely satisfactory. All forces were withdrawn behind zones of separation and from areas transferred between entities within the given time frame. Full details of the parties' forces and weaponry were submitted to IFOR according to schedule. A few deadlines were missed, three of which were technical; one was concerned with foreign forces. But the lapses have been due more to technical difficulties than to wilful obstruction.

On my noble friend's second point about reconstruction, I opened the Reconstruction Conference for British business interests this morning in London. I was glad to see leaders from each of the three communities present. They know that the only way to make peace work is to have reconstruction; reconstruction means reconciliation as well.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness go further into the military side? Are the Dayton disarmament—as opposed to merely reporting—deadlines being kept to? How is that to be reconciled with the United States-led plan to levy billions from such countries as Turkey, Iran, the Gulf states and Malaysia for armaments to arm the Moslem government forces?

My Lords, first, the final military deadline to withdraw heavy weapons and troops to barracks or to demobilise them which passed on 18th April showed some incompleteness. But IFOR now says that, as I said a moment ago, it is largely due to technical difficulties rather than wilful intent. Certainly IFOR will continue to pursue an active approach in order to secure full compliance with all the military requirements of the peace agreement.

On the second point, throughout the time we have been involved since 1992, we have underlined and reaffirmed subsequently our long-standing view that the supply of arms to the region, from whatever source, risks fuelling further confrontation. Obviously it could threaten the security of our troops and all other troops on the ground. We have had assurances from the United States Administration that they were not supplying arms to the Bosnians. But now that the embargo is over and the Dayton Peace Agreement is signed, we are trying to work closely with the United States to ensure that the Dayton Peace Agreement is implemented in every way that it can be. Anything that the United States may do of a nature—though not of the detail—that the noble Lord suggested is quite separate from IFOR. Anything the United States does must be consistent with the arms control provisions of the Dayton agreement.

My Lords, first, can my noble friend confirm that the Croatian Government have now handed over all the war criminals indicted? Secondly, does she believe that it will be possible to carry out the elections, bearing in mind the hundreds of observers who must go there and who require transport, interpreters and hotel accommodation?

My Lords, the handing over of all indicted criminals is not yet complete but it is being worked on actively. As my noble friend knows, IFOR is working on it, with us.

As regards the elections, I realise that the numbers of people who will be required for the elections will be greater than have had to be accommodated before in hotels. But the best will be done to make them comfortable in carrying out their tasks. When I consider what some election monitors have enjoyed in other parts of the world, I am sure they will be warmly welcomed. After all, it will be September in Bosnia and the weather may not be quite so inclement as at other times.

My Lords, perhaps I may wish the noble Baroness many happy returns.

Am I correct in believing that when the British Government decided to give support to the Dayton agreement and the international force, they were quite firm that British troops would be withdrawn after a year? Would that decision be in any way altered if the United States Government decided to retain troops in Bosnia beyond one year, as was reported in, I think, the Sunday Telegraph yesterday or another Sunday newspaper?

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord for his good wishes. It is good to be 21 yet again.

As regards his substantive question, it is much too early to take decisions about IFOR downsizing or as to what may happen at the end of 1996. As I believe the noble Lord is aware, NATO is resolved to complete its mission on time. We hope that the democratically elected political structures will, as my noble friend Lord Finsberg intimated, take the country forward peacefully. But it is too early to speculate about what the Americans may do, or, if the Americans take a certain course of action, what we might do. These are early days. However, we are working with a big package of reconstruction which will help more than anything else to bring normality back to that area. It is on that that we must concentrate.

My Lords, although my noble friend got in first, perhaps I may add my birthday wishes.

The Minister will no doubt be aware that there are some 1 million displaced persons in Bosnia and at least another million outside Bosnia. Of the 300 million to 400 million dollars that the UNHCR has asked for from the international community to cover the cost of the resettlement of these people, will the Minister tell the House how much has been promised? What will be the British Government's contribution to that figure? Given that the number of Bosnian refugees in this country is quite small, may I assume that the Government will pay, as the UNHCR has requested, for the repatriation costs of those Bosnians who are present in the UK?

My Lords, I shall have to let the noble Baroness know the exact proportion of the 300 million to 400 million dollars the UNHCR has received so far. I am not up to date on that. Britain has contributed some £332 million to Bosnia over the past four years, helping to keep people alive and to start the reconstruction, in particular the reconnection of utilities.

I am at this moment in discussion. Next week I shall be in Bosnia. After that, I may be able to answer some of the questions in a little more detail.