Former Yugoslavia

– in the House of Commons am 3:30 pm ar 22 Tachwedd 1995.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Malcolm Rilkind):

With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement on former Yugoslavia.

The conflict in former Yugoslavia is Europe's most tragic problem. Two hundred thousand people have lost their lives over the past four years, and more than 1.5 million have lost their homes. The conflict has caused suffering and destruction on a scale not seen in Europe since the second world war.

From the start, Britain has upheld the principles that internationally recognised borders must not be altered by force and that the legitimate rights of all ethnic groups must be properly protected by their Governments. We have therefore had three objectives—to save lives, to draw the parties away from the military option towards a negotiated settlement, and to prevent the spread of the conflict.

The Government warmly welcome the agreement initialled in Dayton yesterday. We applaud the work of all the negotiators. I congratulate the leaders of the parties to the Bosnia conflict, who have shown the wisdom and courage to make the hard choices and difficult compromises needed for peace. We must recall with gratitude the work of all those who laid the foundations for this achievement—notably Lord Carrington, Lord Owen, Cy Vance, Thorvald Stoltenberg, Carl Bildt and the American officials who died so tragically a few weeks ago while engaged in earlier stages of the negotiations.

The full text of the peace agreement will be placed in the Library as soon as it is available. It is a detailed and complex document. I will not attempt to describe it in detail to the House now, but I shall highlight some key elements.

The agreement maintains a single unitary Bosnian state within internationally recognised borders. There will be a central three-man presidency with representatives from each of the three ethnic groups, a Council of Ministers and a central Parliament. Underneath those central structures will be two entities—the federation and the Republika Srpska, each with substantial autonomy.

Elections for the central presidency and Parliament and for the institutions of both entities will be held within nine months of signature of the agreements. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe will supervise those elections. There are to be special arrangements for refugees and displaced persons, who will be encouraged to return and will have the option of voting where they lived before the war.

Individuals indicted for war crimes will play no part in future public life in Bosnia. The United Kingdom continues, moreover, strongly to support the work of the war crimes tribunal. We believe that persons responsible for atrocities should be tried. We look to all the states of the region to fulfil their international obligations.

Sanctions against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia are to be suspended immediately. They will be formally lifted 10 days after free and fair elections have been held in Bosnia. There will also be a phased lifting of the arms embargo, alongside the establishment of an arms control regime.

Territorial issues were the most difficult to settle and took the talks to the brink, but the settlement meets the contact group proposal of a 49–51 per cent. split between the Republika Srpska and the federation. That meets the crucial principle of maintaining Sarajevo as a united city—a principle that the British Government have supported throughout.

It would be foolish to underestimate the size of the task that the international community now faces. The first requirement is that the parties live up to their commitments. Unless they abide by what they have agreed, and work to make the settlement a success, the documents initialled at Dayton are just pieces of paper. The history of this conflict is one of broken agreements. Now, as never before, promises must be kept.

The international community will deploy an international force to Bosnia following signature of the agreement to supervise the withdrawal of respective armies to the agreed zones of separation. It is the wish of the parties that NATO take the lead in establishing such a force. We hope to see a number of non-NATO nations, in particular Russia, working with us in this force.

Apart from the OSCE supervision of elections, the international community must also establish an international police task force to advise and train the local police forces, and oversee the establishment of the agreed central structures. The international humanitarian agencies must meet the continuing needs of the Bosnian population and monitor the human rights of returning refugees. With the World bank in the lead at technical level, the international community must help with the task of economic reconstruction in the region: restoring infrastructure and utilities, stimulating the development of market economies, and encouraging economic interaction in the region.

We will therefore hold a peace implementation conference in London, to mobilise the international community for the tasks ahead. This conference will ensure that the military operation meshes with the civilian, and that tasks at the crucial civilian/military interface are properly handled. It will establish a co-ordination structure with a senior political figure, the high representative, at its centre. It will ensure that those supervising the elections, assisting with economic reconstruction and undertaking humanitarian tasks, will work together as part of a coherent implementation plan. It will help to pin down the parties' agreement to the details of implementation.

We must also decide nationally how we shall contribute to peace implementation in Bosnia. We expect to play a central role alongside our American and French allies in a NATO implementation force. In particular, I should emphasise that the early commitment of the substantial United States ground troop presence which the US Administration propose is a prerequisite for our participation. We expect to arrive and leave alongside our American and French allies. But we now need to study the details of the peace agreement. We must ensure that our forces would be acting in conditions of reasonable safety, that they would have the consent of the parties, and that the burden is being shared equitably among allies, before we take final decisions.

The agreement in Dayton is an historic event. An end to the brutal and tragic conflict in former Yugoslavia is now within our grasp. But we are not there yet. With the London peace implementation conference, and a British contribution to a peace implementation force in Bosnia, Britain will play a central role in ensuring that the agreement in Dayton is translated into a peaceful future for all the people of the region.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook , Livingston

May I begin by adding our welcome for the fact that an agreement for peace in Bosnia has been reached? We give a particularly warm welcome to the provision that Sarajevo is to be once again a united city. The courage of its citizens through three winters of Beige has been a tribute to human endurance, and it is right that they should be rewarded by its restoration as a single, multi-ethnic city.

We also welcome the Government's intention to host the forthcoming conference on the implementation of the peace agreement. I must warn the Foreign Secretary that implementing the peace accord will require as much effort and patience as achieving agreement to it in the first place. I assure him that he will have our full support for any responsible proposal to reinforce the British forces in Bosnia to assist with policing the agreement.

British troops have every right to be proud of their contribution in bringing humanitarian relief to 2 million citizens who would otherwise not have lived to witness today's peace. The nation will now want British troops to finish the job by helping to establish the peace. May I invite the Foreign Secretary to take this opportunity to appeal to the leaders of Congress to give the bipartisan support for the deployment of United States troops that is necessary to implement an agreement successfully brokered by the United States President?

The Foreign Secretary will know that the key test of the peace agreement will be whether it restores in fact, as well as in name, a single, multi-ethnic Bosnian state. Does he recognise the existence of doubts about whether the agreement provides for a lasting foundation for a united Bosnia, and provides for a Serb republic within that united Bosnia, with its own Government, citizenship and army? Can he assure us that the House is not being invited to accept a peace agreement that restores a multi-ethnic Bosnian state as a legal formality, but in practice partitions the country between ethnic groups? What guarantees are there in the agreement that the Serb territory—or, for that matter, the Croat territories—cannot secede into a greater Serbia or a greater Croatia?

As the House knows, the greatest revulsion caused by the tragedy of the former Yugoslavia arose from the practice of ethnic cleansing. We therefore welcome the Foreign Secretary's assurance that refugees will have the right to return to their homes. May I press him, however, to tell us what that commitment means in practice? What protection will be available to Muslim refugees who wish to return to Srebrenica and Zepa, which were the scene of recent massacres?

What commitment did President Tudjman give to honour the right of return of the 200,000 Serbs who fled from Krajina? They can have no confidence in their safety if those responsible for ethnic cleansing remain free. We therefore welcome and endorse the Foreign Secretary's strong commitment that those guilty of war crimes must be brought to justice before the international tribunal. There can be no reconciliation within Bosnia unless there is no immunity for the war criminals.

This week's peace agreement was possible only because of the increased resolve that the international community recently demonstrated in retaliating against aggression and attacks on the safe areas. Had the international community shown the same resolve two years ago, tens of thousands of Bosnians might not have lost their lives, and hundreds of thousands of refugees might not have lost their homes. Until today, Bosnia has represented the failure of international intervention; now the international community has an opportunity to demonstrate that this peace agreement represents the success of such intervention. We must not fail in our resolve to take that opportunity, and to secure peace in Bosnia.

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support for the work in which we are engaged, and I strongly endorse his observation that we must appeal to Congress to respond in a similarly bipartisan way. I have no doubt that British forces in Bosnia have been greatly heartened, and their morale greatly strengthened, by the knowledge that there is such a broad spectrum of support for the work that they have done in the past few years—support from hon. Members on both sides of the House. If it is clear—as I believe it will be—that that broad support will be available to them for the work of the implementation force, I believe that that will make what will inevitably be a difficult task at least easier to face. We very much hope that Congress will address the issues in a similar way.

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there had to be doubts—that was the word that he used—about the lasting nature of a settlement of the kind that has been announced. It would be foolish to be over-optimistic about the future. We must take it step by step. We have achieved what is—in the context of the past three years—an extraordinary breakthrough, in the form of a settlement signed by the three political leaders. I believe that a degree of exhaustion helped to contribute to that. I also think it important for the Bosnia to which the three political leaders have agreed to be a unitary Bosnian state with a central presidency, incorporating representatives from each community. That will provide a better prospect of success.

The hon. Gentleman is also right to emphasise the need to ensure that the right of refugees to return is not an empty right. Of course, the next few weeks and months will show whether that can be delivered, and it must be one of the prime tasks of the international force to assist the process.

The hon. Gentleman concluded by suggesting that the past three years had been years of failure, which may now turn into success. I hope that on reflection he will reconsider the use of that term. Yes, there have been massive disappointments, but I believe that the extent to which the international community saved many hundreds of thousands of lives prevented the conflict from spreading elsewhere in the Balkans and helped to provide the framework that has led to the peace settlement. That is not only worthy in itself, but unprecedented. I can think of no comparable past conflict in which the international community has been able to achieve so much. The fact that we did not achieve nearly as much as we would all have liked is not evidence of failure; it just shows how painful and difficult the task is.

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that his balanced and cautious assessment of the prospects for the deal is about right, and that there are many problems and difficulties still to be overcome? He talked about troops arriving and leaving. I am sure that he would accept that a great deal of cement will be needed to keep the agreement in place—and indeed, to make it work at all. That will involve a heavy and sustained commitment by NATO for a long while ahead. Does my right hon. and learned Friend feel that not only we but our American allies are committed to the long haul in terms of troop commitment which alone will ensure that the situation becomes stable again?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

We are not contemplating a long haul in the sense that my right hon. Friend appeared to imply by his question.

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

It is important to reflect on the fact that—unlike the situation in Cyprus, which the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) has mentioned—the implementation force is going to Bosnia after a political settlement, not instead of a political settlement, as happened in Cyprus. That has been one of the major difficulties with that island over the years. A closer parallel might be Cambodia, where an international force went in after a political settlement, helped to cement the agreement and was withdrawn after a given period.

It is part of the thinking of the international community that the NATO-led force should be very large, so as to establish its authority at an early stage. We hope that, if it succeeds in its efforts, it will be possible to scale down its size over a relatively limited period. At the moment, the planning envisages the presence of the international force for up to a year. I appreciate that, on the basis of experience, it is difficult to guarantee such a period, but I emphasise that the role of the international force is not as a permanent international military presence, but to assist the Bosnian parties in the implementation of what has been agreed and then to withdraw.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

While we congratulate the British forces on the contribution that they have made in Bosnia, does the Foreign Secretary agree that we should be slow to congratulate ourselves, as it has taken four bloody years for the international community to achieve that fragile peace? Is it not also salutary for Europe to remember that the whole-hearted military, political and diplomatic leadership of the United States was required before the peace could be achieved? Finally, if the United States cannot put troops on the ground, can NATO ever be the same again?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

A NATO operation cannot take place without the United States; I am sure that there can be no ambiguity about that. The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the four years that it has taken to reach this stage, but he should reflect on the fact that, if those who are fighting a war are determined to pursue that war, there is little that external countries can do unless they wish to become combatants in the conflict—not a solution that the hon. and learned Gentleman has ever advocated. Therefore, the prime responsibility for the time that it has taken for the war to come to a conclusion must lie with the combatants.

Of course, the hon. and learned Gentleman is correct to say that the necessary involvement of the United States in achieving the progress that has been made should be a clear indication of the insufficiency of a purely European response to a problem of that kind. Clearly the problem of Bosnia has caused concern and reactions all around the world, not only in Europe but in Islamic countries as well as in the United States. It has required an international response.

That is why, over the past couple of years, the United Kingdom, France and other western European countries have sought to persuade the United States to give its full diplomatic weight to the prospects for a negotiated settlement. We are pleased and satisfied that the United States responded to that advice, and we have gradually seen the improvements on which I am reporting today.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack , South Staffordshire

Notwithstanding my right hon. and learned Friend's remarks, does he accept that many people perceive that the much more united and determined approach and the true resolve that we have seen in recent months—to which my right hon. and learned Friend has made a contribution, for which I thank him—has resulted in the settlement? Does he agree that it is now essential that that resolve is maintained and that the momentum is not lost? In that context, will he tell the House when he expects the London conference to be held?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

There are a number of reasons why we have seen progress in recent weeks, the most important of which has been the effect of the pressure on President Milosevic and his decision to break with Karadzic and Mladic and push for a political settlement. The last London conference—which led to the establishment of the rapid reaction force led by Britain and France—was important, as was the American initiative, to which I have paid tribute. We are expecting the peace implementation conference to be held in very early December, and we are discussing dates with allies and other relevant countries at present.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Chesterfield

Is the Secretary of State aware that there are other interpretations of what has happened? The break-up of Yugoslavia was brought about by the recognition of Croatia by Germany, and has been followed by the arming of Croatia by the United States, the use of massive air strikes—in which more bombs were dropped by NATO than by all of the other parties throughout the war—and the ultimatum at Dayton. Is it really the case that a NATO occupation of former Yugoslavia—for that is what is involved, with about 60,000 troops deployed to keep the peace—and the requirement to introduce a market economy constitute anything other than a very unstable future which sidelines the UN? That is one of the anxieties that many people will feel when they hear what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said.

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

The right hon. Gentleman is not correct in his historical analysis or in his current assessment. I believe that the break-up of Yugoslavia was inevitable once Slovenia and then Croatia had decided to secede from that country. The question of recognition by other states may have had some impact on the precise consequences of that, but the break-up was inevitable for internal reasons, not external.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the proposal as a "NATO occupation" of Bosnia. He is quite wrong in that suggestion. Part of the agreement that all three parties have signed is a desire that NATO and other countries, including Russia, should provide an international force to help monitor and implement the settlement. We are not going into Bosnia against the wishes of the Bosnians—quite the opposite. It is part of their request. The Bosnians recognise that, without that international force, the settlement will collapse and we will be back to the carnage that we have seen in recent times.

Photo of Mr Dudley Smith Mr Dudley Smith , Warwick and Leamington

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of the invaluable role played by the Western European Union in securing the blockade on the Adriatic, and—where the embargo was concerned—in policing the Danube in Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria? These countries have been helpful. Is he further aware that the WEU is ready and willing to do whatever tasks are assigned to it in the new and much more hopeful situation?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

My hon. Friend is right. The WEU has provided useful assistance, and there may be further opportunities for the WEU to provide practical support to the efforts of the international community. That is something that we warmly welcome.

Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing , Liverpool, West Derby

Does the Foreign Secretary really believe that, in a short space of time, refugees can go back to towns such as Srebrenica? Can he tell the House what is to happen to the 6,000 regular Croatian troops presently stationed in Bosnia? Will they be withdrawn? Does he honestly believe that an imposed peace can ever be a permanent peace?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

Naturally we expect that all troops from outside Bosnia will return home in the near future, and that would apply to regular troops from countries such as Croatia. The hon. Gentleman is correct to emphasise the difficulties for refugees trying to return to areas that remain occupied by another community. That will be a difficult task in Bosnia, just as it has been difficult in many other parts of the world where there have been political settlements, but not of a form that makes the return of refugees as easy as we would wish. That will be one of the tasks to work on. I doubt whether we will achieve the success that we would like, but we must try to achieve whatever is possible in that sphere.

Photo of Mr Michael Jopling Mr Michael Jopling , Westmorland and Lonsdale

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, following political agreement and with NATO troops on the ground, we are entering a particularly dangerous period for us all, not least because of Russian participation in the area? If the agreement, like so many others, is torn up and more fighting starts, to what extent will NATO troops be prepared to move from a peacekeeping role into a role of peace enforcement?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

The Russian involvement so far has been helpful and valuable because it has enabled the Security Council to speak with a single voice and enabled the contact group to operate in the ways that led to the negotiated agreement announced yesterday. My right hon. Friend speculates about the possibility of the settlement disintegrating. The question that has to be asked is whether that might happen as a result of the actions of one party or as a result of the general disinclination of all the parties.

Clearly, if one party did not fulfil its obligations, the whole weight of the international community would seek to ensure that it respected the treaties into which it had voluntarily entered. If there was a lack of will on the part of all the parties, the whole settlement would inevitably collapse and we would be back to the situation in Bosnia that we have seen in the past four years.

Photo of John Taylor John Taylor , Strangford

Although naturally we welcome the statement by the Secretary of State, we none the less share the caution that he has emphasised. We on the Ulster Unionist Bench in particular note the enthusiasm of the Secretary of State for the total exclusion from all-party talks and from any future democratic developments in Bosnia of those who during the past four years have been involved in paramilitary and terrorist activities.

The Secretary of State stressed the importance of the new central parliament and Government. Will that parliament and Government be in control of the armies within Bosnia, or will two separate armies continue to exist under separate Governments in Bosnia? Can the Secretary of State give us some guidance as to the total number of United Kingdom forces present in Bosnia under both the United Nations and NATO?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

Those excluded from political and public life will be limited to those who are indicted as war criminals. They will not include those who come within the slightly wider definition that the right hon. Gentleman suggested. We look forward to the day when there will be a gradual reintegration of the military forces in Bosnia. That cannot happen immediately. It will take time, as it has taken in other parts of the world where similar problems have existed. We have seen in South Africa how the competing armies have been gradually integrated into a single new South African defence force. I do not say that that will happen, but it must be the objective that we work towards in Bosnia.

We are still giving consideration to the precise details of the British contribution in Bosnia. It is likely to have two elements: the forces which are currently there under UNPROFOR, which may become part of a new NATO-led force, and the headquarters of the whole NATO force provided by the allied rapid reaction corps based in Germany. Britain is a framework nation of that and, therefore, a significant proportion of headquarters manpower will be from the United Kingdom.

Photo of Mr Jonathan Aitken Mr Jonathan Aitken , South Thanet

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the American War Powers Act requires clear and unambiguous congressional commitment to the proposal that a large number of American ground troops should be sent to Bosnia? Is he confident that the commitment will be given by Congress? Is he aware that there are a great many ambiguities in the statements of the American Administration, which need to be clarified? For example, Secretary of Defence William Perry has spoken of the American peacekeepers leaving within one year, which may seem to some of us a remarkably short haul. Would he confirm that, before British troops are committed, Congress must be on board for what will be a long and perilous haul?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

I certainly confirm my right hon. Friend's final point. In my opening remarks, I said that British forces would enter and leave at the same time as United States forces. There can be no question of any different approach. It is for the United States Government to determine the constitutional requirements within the United States for the deployment of American forces. The President has already indicated that he intends to enter into early consultations with both Houses of Congress, and it is worth recollecting that the vote in the House of Representatives a few days ago did not reject American participation, but emphasised the need for that House to agree to such a proposition and for that case to be argued. The President has indicated that he accepts total responsibility, to ensure that American forces are deployed. We wish him well in that task and will give him our full support.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that, given fair wind, the treaty might last long enough to carry it beyond the American presidential elections in about a year from now and, perhaps, just beyond the British general election? Will he also comment on the fact that it is rather curious that, in this so-called peace treaty, no matter how long or temporary, as opposed to the one in Ireland, there is no talk of decommissioning; in fact, there is the opposite—there is going to be a lifting of the arms embargo? How does he manage to approve those double standards?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. It is likely that arms control discussions will take place, hosted internationally, to ensure that there is a progressive reduction of military equipment within Bosnia to the amount that is reasonably required by any country in the modern world.

Photo of Mr Nigel Forman Mr Nigel Forman , Carshalton and Wallington

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that many Conservative Members will want him and his colleagues to keep the duration and nature of our commitment in the former Yugoslavia closely under review? Can he confirm that the likely number of British troops committed to that unfortunate territory may initially be about 13,000? Can he tell the House, more clearly than he has been able to do so far, exactly what they will be doing? Will they be there in support of the civilian power? If so, which is it, and what is the parallel with the normal support for the civilian power in places such as Northern Ireland?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

I can give my hon. Friend certain additional information. Certainly, in the first few weeks, the prime purpose of the implementation force will be to monitor the implementation of the settlement. It provides for the forces of the Bosnian federation and Republika Srpska to withdraw from the existing confrontation line and for a safety zone to be inserted between those two confrontation areas to prevent a resumption of hostilities. Part of the responsibilities of the force will be to man that area and thereby ensure that what is a ceasefire becomes a permanent peace. They will also have responsibility for much of the monitoring of what is happening in regard to the other parts of the agreement, much of which will require civilian assistance, but may also have a military component.

On the size of the British force, my hon. Friend mentioned 13,000. I would not want to be committed to a specific figure, but I do not expect it to be significantly different from that level.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing , Moray

Like other hon. Members, I welcome this step, while realising that it is only the beginning of what might be a long and fairly tortuous route to ensuring a lasting peace in the former Yugoslavia. With reference to the peace implementation conference, can the Secretary of State define more clearly what is meant by a high representative, because he or she, whoever the person may be, will have a critical role to play and will have to have the confidence of all the groups involved in what has been a disastrous conflict for Europe?

Will he also say whether there is any definition at this early stage of who will have the final responsibility for the establishment of the membership of that conference? Will it be the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, or the United Kingdom Government? Obviously, those details have to be worked out and may appear in the document that is to be placed in the Library, but it would be helpful if we had some ideas on that matter at this stage.

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

On the latter part of the hon. Lady's question, the last suggestion that she made was correct. It will be the United Kingdom Government, who are hosting the conference, who will issue the invitations. Clearly, we will take account of all those who have a relevant contribution to make.

The hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) is also correct to say that the high representative will be a crucial participant in the work of the international community in Bosnia in implementing the settlement. I mentioned earlier that NATO will, of course, be leading the implementation force but NATO is a military organisation. There is a need to ensure that the political oversight and the civil co-ordination are also in the hands of someone who is responsible for these matters in a credible and effective fashion.

The high representative will be responsible for the co-ordination between the civil and military roles and for supervising the electoral process. It is quite likely that the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe will have the immediate responsibility in that area but the high representative will be keeping a watchful eye on the elections that are to be held as part of the settlement and questions like the return of refugees, the economic reconstruction of Bosnia and matters of that kind will fall within his remit.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. This is an important agreement, and I want to try to be helpful to the House and call all those Members who have heard the entire settlement statement of the Foreign Secretary. It would help me and the business to come if we could now have brisk exchanges, so that I can call all the Members concerned.

Photo of Mr John Wilkinson Mr John Wilkinson , Ruislip - Northwood

Can my right hon. Friend explain exactly how the high representative is to be chosen, what nationality he will be, how he will relate, if that is the right word, to the theatre commander of NATO, and whether the Russians will accept his authority or whether they will refer back to their national Government in anything they are called upon to do?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

Thought is being given at the present time to both the identity and the specific tasks of the high representative. I think it is likely that agreement will be reached and a conclusion announced at the peace implementation conference to be held in London. Already much of the work has been done, but I think that that will enable the various threads to be drawn together. That will be one of the items on that particular agenda.

Photo of Mr Calum MacDonald Mr Calum MacDonald , Na h-Eileanan an Iar

Will the Secretary of State say something more about the status of individuals indicted for war crimes? Surely we must require more than that they are simply barred from political life. Must not the international community require that they be returned to The Hague for examination and trial for war crimes, and should it not be a requirement of any level of government in Bosnia that, in return for any political and economic assistance, they must comply with the requirements of the war crimes tribunal in The Hague?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

We attach importance to the requirements of the war crimes tribunal being respected. The reference to participation in public life was clearly part of the political settlement announced yesterday, and it was important for it to be clarified that such persons would not be able to participate in the public life of Bosnia in future. How those persons are returned for trial is a separate but also very important issue, and will have to be addressed in its own context.

Photo of Lady Olga Maitland Lady Olga Maitland , Sutton and Cheam

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, for the peace in Bosnia to be permanent, it would need conformation to that agreement by Mr. Karadzic and General Mladic? I understand that they have been indicted for war crimes and that they will be removed from public life, but will my right hon. and learned Friend clarify exactly what their position will be, bearing in mind that there is a real danger that, if they had personal freedom to move around, they could create an insurrection behind the scenes? That is an important factor, and we should face up to the very real dangers that could emanate from their movements.

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

The starting point is that the negotiating powers on behalf of the Bosnian Serbs were given to President Milosevic. That has been one of the reasons that we have achieved the progress that has been realised. It is also important to look to the elections that will be held for the Bosnian Serbs as well as for the other communities in Bosnia and that we hope will enable a new legitimate leadership to emerge that can speak for the Bosnian Serb interest.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

Should not the American Administration be warmly congratulated on achieving, with much difficulty, what European countries, no doubt with good will, were not able to achieve in the past four years? Is the Foreign Secretary aware that those of us who took, by and large, the Bosnian position recognise all the weaknesses—and have the reservations—rightly expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), but believe that it is the best possible agreement that could have been reached in the circumstances, should be supported on the ground and deserves full support from all those who live in Bosnia?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay , Thurrock

Further to the Foreign Secretary's reply to the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman), is there not a need for clarity and precision about the role of the international forces, who are headed by a British general? Will not those forces be involved in enforcement rather than peacekeeping? Are not British soldiers going to have the unenviable task of enforcing population movements? I fully recognise that those involved will be returning refugees and that the forces will have to see that they get back. Under the terms of reference now being considered by British generals in Germany, is it not a fact that the forces will have to enforce the movements of civilian populations, if need be, at the end of a bayonet?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

It is proposed that the NATO-led force will have extremely robust rules of engagement. The objective is to ensure that by virtue of both it size and its capability, it will be able to assist in the implementation of the settlement. That enables the rules of engagement to be significantly more robust than in the past.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle , Wallasey

Will the Foreign Secretary say a bit more about the arms reduction talks? Does he agree that the worst possible scenario would be for there to be a huge increase in the buying-in of weapons in the various areas of the former Yugoslavia, for the peace then to unravel and for us to end up with an even bigger conflagration as a result of lifting sanctions too early?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

The hon. Lady is correct; there are, indeed, dangers in the lifting of the arms embargo. For that reason, it has been agreed that the lifting of the arms embargo should be a phased process taking place over six months. It will also be an early intent to have an arms control conference, so it is the intention that there should be proper consideration of the implications for the future of military equipment and military assets within Bosnia and that conclusions can be reached on that within the six-month period. By the time, therefore, that the arms embargo may be lifted on all the parties, we shall have a much clearer picture about the implications of these matters.

Photo of Mr Ted Rowlands Mr Ted Rowlands , Merthyr Tudful a Rhymni

Following that point, how does one phase an arms embargo? Will it be based on the type of material or the type of equipment that will be allowed in the six months? Given that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is now saying that there will be a NATO force of 60,000, what phasing will take place?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

The agreement envisages two phases. After three months, there should be a partial lifting of the embargo on light weapons and other such equipment, but there will still be an embargo for a further three months on artillery, heavy weapons, mines, military aircraft and other equipment of that kind. That is the phasing that is envisaged.

Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes , North East Derbyshire

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that there are many decent and honest people in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia who bravely stood out for a considerable period for peace, reconciliation and a multi-ethnic society? Is he aware that those people, often organised in their own small political parties and within community groups, have been sidelined until now, whereas the warlords have been considered all the time? Will the new situation give an opportunity for those people in Bosnia, such as the Tuzla Civic Forum, to find expression and to influence future developments?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

The hon. Gentleman's remarks give added force to the need for the elections to take place at the earliest possible practical date. That will enable the wishes of the people of Bosnia to be reflected in their political leadership.

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes , Ilford South

Given the difference in the timetable—nine months for elections and six months for phasing out the arms embargo—will there not be the serious problem, when the United States decides that it wishes, presumably, to arm one side of the federation against the Republika Srpska and when there is no legitimacy for a new three-person presidency, that in effect, the United States will be arming one side in a continuation of the conflict? What thought has been given to dealing with that problem?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

The proposal is that the elections should happen not later than nine months hence. If circumstances permit earlier elections, that would clearly be highly desirable, in part for the reasons to which the hon. Gentleman has referred.