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Bosnia and Herzegovina

Volume 704: debated on Wednesday 22 October 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What is their assessment of the current situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

My Lords, the Government remain concerned at the slow rate of progress in Bosnia and Herzegovina on key reforms and at ongoing ethnic nationalist rhetoric from political leaders. The Government continue strongly to support High Representative/EU Special Representative Lajcák in upholding the Dayton peace agreement and in ensuring Bosnia and Herzegovina's progress towards the EU is sustained.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer, but is it not the case that Bosnia is now going backwards rather than forwards and that there is a severe danger that we will sleepwalk ourselves back into a Bosnian crisis? Is not one reason for that the fact that Milorad Dodik, the prime minister of the Serb-dominated entity, has in the past two years reversed the progress made in Bosnia in the past 13? He has weakened the institutions of the state and strengthened those of his own entity with a view to preparing for secession if the opportunity arises. Will the Minister confirm that there are strict conditions before the Office of the High Representative is closed and that Her Majesty's Government will stick by them, not weaken them, and will not join those who see this as the appropriate moment to call for the withdrawal of the European force in Bosnia?

Yes, my Lords, I can confirm every part of the noble Lord’s question. It is the case that Premier Dodik of the Srpska Republic has proved an altogether malign influence in his demand for greater powers for it. I fear that at the centre he has, in a sense, found his equal in the federal structure demanding that it gets enhanced powers as well. The only way through this is to insist that the original provisions of the Dayton accords are met. Britain will take every step it can in the EU to make sure that the conditions are met, that the EU is strongly committed and that the Office of the High Representative remains until that time.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, did a remarkable and successful job as high representative, that when he left at the end of 2005, it was on an upturn and that there has been much slippage since in terms of political corruption, ethnic nationalism and a standstill on the constitution? What in his judgment are the prospects of movement on drafting and agreeing a constitution by the date that the Council of Europe and others want of 2010?

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, was remarkable. When we see an article in today’s Guardian co-authored by the noble Lord and Richard Holbrooke, the American diplomat who negotiated the Dayton accords, warning that there is slippage and that we are forgetting Bosnia, we should take note and thank the noble Lord for raising this issue.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that we on this side completely agree with the concern and the analysis given by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown? Will he reassure us that there is no question of closing the Office of the High Representative at this stage or, indeed, for some time ahead until some improvement occurs, which is clearly not happening now? Can he assure us that, as far as we have influence on it, there will be no rundown in EUFOR? There is a lot of work to do to bring these two warring parts of the federation together again; at the moment, they seem to be pulling apart.

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that we will continue to press hard for the continuation of EUFOR at its current level. We have postponed the closure of the OHR until the fulfilment of five reform objectives and two conditions, of which the most important is that peace and security are in place. The review will occur in November at the GAERC meeting. There is absolutely no doubt that there is no meeting of those conditions and that the office needs to stay open.

My Lords, we are also in discussions, as part of the EU as well as bilaterally, with Bosnia’s neighbours, Croatia and Serbia, which, 15 years ago, were doing their best to divide Bosnia between them. Will the Minister reassure us that in the current negotiations on accession with Croatia and in our conversations on closer relations with Serbia, the continuing integrity of Bosnia is being fully pressed?

My Lords, I can certainly assure the noble Lord of that. He will also be aware that Bosnia signed its own stabilisation and association agreement with the EU this June, which demonstrates our commitment and that of Europe to bringing Bosnia, as an independent nation, into the EU at the appropriate time.