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Bosnia: Displaced Persons

Volume 572: debated on Wednesday 15 May 1996

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3 p.m.

What is their policy concerning freedom of movement and the right to return for displaced persons in Bosnia, and what consultations they have had with IFOR on these subjects.

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

My Lords, under the Bosnia Peace Agreement, the parties undertook to establish full freedom of movement throughout Bosnia and to work with UNHCR towards an early return of refugees. We expect the parties to live up to these commitments. We are in regular contact with IFOR and fully support its efforts to promote freedom of movement and to create a secure environment for UNHCR and other civilian bodies to carry out their work.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. Is not the question how the agreements are to be implemented? Will the Minister and her colleagues use her influence, which stems from our previous record on aid and our full participation in the military force, to ensure that what was agreed at Dayton is implemented?

My Lords, I assure the whole House that we are already using our influence in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, suggests, but co-ordinating the return of refugees is the responsibility of the UNHCR under the peace agreement. IFOR is authorised to support the work of UNHCR. Last week I discussed with several senior brigadiers in IFOR, and indeed with Mrs. Ogata of UNHCR, exactly how this is being carried out. I am convinced that every effort is being made not only to help ensure freedom of movement but also to provide for general security and to back up the International Police Task Force (IPTF) in monitoring law and order. It is perfectly clear that IFOR cannot by itself guarantee the safety of all refugees. That must ultimately be the responsibility of the parties and their police forces. It is they who must promote law and order and a climate of security and reconciliation for all. There is a great deal of work to be done.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is great concern about the flow of arms to the separate states which are signatories to the agreement? In the light of the fact that the IFOR troops will be withdrawn in due course, does that not create a situation of great instability in the area? What steps are the Government taking to ensure that this trade in arms to these new states will be limited?

My Lords, I too have heard the stories about arms flows. What must happen is that the parties themselves must, under the agreement, certainly register what they are doing. We all perceive that there could be potential instability at the end of the year. That is something that the commanders of IFOR on the ground are aware of. We must also build up the civilian desire and determination for peace. That is why we are working along with the British forces in IFOR and a number of others to try to make the place as stable and as normal as possible so that people deny the use of arms and are properly employed on jobs which will help the rebuilding and reconciliation. It is a difficult task and there are no easy answers, but it is being worked at with extreme care at the present time.

My Lords, I fully endorse what the Minister has said about the need to build up the civilian support for peace in Bosnia. The Minister will, of course, be aware that there is a December deadline for the withdrawal of IFOR. Does she agree that, given the current situation in Bosnia, it is vital that we should start planning for an effective IFOR mark 2? Will the Minister say what the Government's current position is on a successor to the implementation force?

My Lords, IFOR has at least seven months more in which to work. NATO is resolved, as I think the noble Baroness knows, to complete its current mission on time. A great deal of work is being done to increase the speed at which this is now being carried out. It was for those reasons that I spent some time in Bosnia last week. We expect the parties to take on the responsibility for their own region. Certainly the current situation on the ground and the information we receive on a daily basis both from our own IFOR commanders, and indeed from the Office of the High Representative and UNHCR, are all being put together. However, it is much too early to speculate in the way the noble Baroness would like me to do.

My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House whether preparations are going forward satisfactorily to prepare for the elections; whether a proper electoral register has been prepared; and whether displaced persons will have postal votes?

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right to underline the importance of the elections to come. I spent some time with OSCE in Sarajevo discussing whether the conditions will he met under Dayton and whether the elections can be held in a free and fair way. The work is going on. It is particularly difficult in those territories where the constituency falls into differing parts of Bosnia. However, we are resolved to help OSCE in whatever way we can. We have already provided funds for the running of the elections and we shall work further on that.