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Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): The question arises, who will do the arresting in that situation? It will not be easy.

Mr. Hill: On this, as on most issues, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is a difficult issue and one which I shall address later.

I greatly welcome the Minister of State's recent strong affirmation of support for the international tribunal at his meeting with its president, Judge Cassese, on 10 June. My hon. Friend was right to say:

However, it is unrealistic to expect the Bosnian authorities to surrender them, because, all too often, these are the very people who are inculpated in the same crimes. In practice, only the international authorities and, specifically, the military authorities can affect these arrests. Nobody who has read the weekly human rights updates from the office of the high representative can help but be impressed by its extensive intelligence about human rights abuses in all parts of Bosnia.

As for the military, the soldiers know when Karadzic is in his villa, they know the roads that he uses and they recognise him when he goes through their checkpoints.

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They are in a position to arrest him, and that is why I say that either SFOR must interpret its existing mandate more robustly or its mandate must be extended immediately to include the arrest of war criminals. Moreover, I suspect that that is the direction in which thinking in the international community is already moving.

The retiring high representative, Karl Bildt, has made clear his belief that at some point military force will be needed to deliver the war criminals to The Hague. His successor, Carlos Westendorp, has said that every effort must be made to bring them to the court and that he is examining new ways and means of producing results. I note that, at the end of this week, the Assembly of the Council of Europe will carry a resolution calling on SFOR to take immediate action to apprehend and transfer indicted persons to the international court.

Of course, such moves will carry risks, and I have no desire to underestimate them, but risks also result from inaction. If there is no individual accountability for war crimes and no return of displaced persons, who can doubt that a Palestinian mentality will develop among young Muslims, with the likelihood of a return to war in 10 or 15 years? Accepting the status quo of effective partition, which is likely in its turn to encourage moves to further rationalisation of frontiers, would be the least stable option.

SFOR must stay. Its withdrawal in present circumstances would be unthinkable. However, it must do more than just hold the ring. It could hold it for ever if nothing happened inside it, and we all know that the international community would not be willing to keep troops there indefinitely, with all the likely consequences of recurring conflict in the region. To ensure that a term is set for the presence of troops in Bosnia, SFOR must take action now to bring the indicted war criminals to trial and to create a secure environment for the return of refugees.

In their excellent mission statement, the Government have said that they will put human rights at the heart of their foreign policy. We are in a powerful position to do that in Bosnia by playing our full part in the implementation of the civil agenda of the Dayton peace agreement.

11.15 am

Mr. Martin Bell (Tatton): I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate, which some months ago would have seemed a somewhat unlikely scenario. Events in Bosnia do not appear much in our newspapers or on our television screens, but that does not mean that the war is over. More likely, it is like a cancer in remission which may renew itself.

Looking back on that terrible period of three and a half years and the diplomacy that limped alongside it, I was sometimes left with the impression that we were watching a symbolic action, half-measures that were intended only to keep the war off the front page no matter how many people it was killing out of sight. It was Band-Aid diplomacy and it did not work.

I think that we have learnt some lessons: there is no point in enduring such ordeals unless we do. The United Nations now has a lessons-learned department. Perhaps in our minds we, too, should have such a department. There are two lessons that I shall mention at this time when we must look ahead to the continuation of SFOR or, if the

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worst happens, SFOR walking away. One of the lessons is that in the Balkans force prevails. It was the force of the Serbs which prevailed against the Muslims at the start of the war, and the force of the Croats which prevailed against the Serbs at the end of the war. The force of IFOR imposed a kind of peace.

What is important is not so much the structure of the force as its attitudes. When IFOR came in on 21 December 1991, it did so with exactly the same troops and equipment as had previously been assigned to the United Nations protection force--the UN force that failed. The extra tanks, artillery and troops had not yet arrived. The significant issues were the changes in command, in attitude and in helmets from the blue of the United Nations to the camouflage of IFOR.

The other lesson that we have learnt or must learn is that just as actions have consequences, so has inaction. Decisions that were rolled over, deferred or delayed from one meeting to another of the Security Council or the Council of Ministers cost lives. I was close to the situation on the ground and it seemed to me that the problem did not relate to conspiracy or evil interference from outside; it was a problem of indifference. How else do we account for the bombardment of Vukovar and Dubrovnik in November 1991 without penalty? How else do we account for the European Community decision in December 1991 unilaterally to recognise Croatia, although the likely effect of that in igniting a war in Bosnia had been accurately predicted by Lord Carrington and by Mr. Perez de Cuellar, who was then in his closing days as the distinguished Secretary-General of the United Nations? I just note that the British concession to the Germans on the issue of the recognition of Croatia came within days of the German concession to the British on the opt-out clauses of the Maastricht treaty. Historians will one day have something to say about that.

Again, in these past few days in Amsterdam, we have properly been concerning ourselves with events at the heart of Europe, but let us not forget events at the rim of Europe. There were livelihoods at stake in Amsterdam; there are lives at stake in Bosnia. We now have to discuss the composition of SFOR and possibly its renewal and even its walking away. It is reasonable to suppose that the heavy weapons, the tanks and the heavy artillery pieces can now be withdrawn. They are high-impact weapons and they do not make much difference to the overall mix of forces, but I am convinced that, if SFOR goes, the war will start again and the partition of Bosnia will become permanent.

We should take note of what has been achieved, yes, by the United Nations, the discredited UN. By my estimate, it saved 100,000 lives; 100,000 people would be dead but for the bravery of UN troops, who pushed their mandate to the limit and beyond, and risked their lives to save those people. I pay tribute also to the dedicated soldiers of IFOR and SFOR. Having been close to them for all those years, I have come out with a profound admiration for the British Army, which I would now call, from what it has done there alone, the best little Army in the world.

So much depends now on the leaderships in Belgrade and in Zagreb and on whether they finally live up to their obligations under the Dayton agreement. The test is simple: will they hand over the suspected war criminals whom they harbour? The international war crimes tribunal is running out of momentum and is short of evidence, money and, most of all, arrested suspects. My hon. Friend

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the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill) has given the numbers, which are disgraceful. The two men so far convicted were small fry. Only one man in a leadership position is held in custody--Tihomir Blaskic, the former leader of the HVO, the Bosnian-Croat forces in central Bosnia, in the side war among Bosnians, Croats and Muslims from 1993-94.

As I may be a witness in that case, I will have no more to say about it, but I wish to impress on hon. Members my conviction that if one of the leading figures is not arrested within the next six months, the international criminal tribunal will in effect be out of business, with repercussions for years to come. It may be that there was a time for peace with justice, and that was in the spring and summer of 1992, and that now we can have peace or justice but not both.

Mr. Dalyell: May I ask my hon. Friend for his answer to the question that I put to my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill): who is to do the arresting? Does my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton have any qualms about it? He has great knowledge of this subject, and I put that point as a question rather than as an assertion.

Mr. Bell: I thank my hon. Friend. I distinguish between those suspected war criminals at large in the present Yugoslavia and those in Croatia, where there are fully competent authorities and there is no international force to do the arresting. There are grave risks in arresting the two principal figures we are talking about, which is why I said that we may have to accept that there can be peace or there can be justice, but there cannot be both. It would be a risky and dangerous undertaking and there is no good course of action. All we can hope for is to find the least worst. If the right occasion presents itself, and it would be easier in the case of Karadzic than in that of Mladic, something might be achieved at acceptable risk, but that has to be advised by the competent military authorities on the ground and we have to live with their advice.

What can we do in the House? We can support the peacekeepers and the peacemakers and the clearance of mines. We can continue with perseverance and patience and not give up, and we should never again return to a distracted diplomacy or to the politics of inattention.

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