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Former Yugoslavia

3.30 pm

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

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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

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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.

Mr. 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 seige 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.

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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.

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