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11.24 am

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): One of the truths of the House of Commons is that someone almost always knows a great deal more about a subject than oneself. Never was that more emphatically true than in my relationship with my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) because he is an expert who has educated us all. To be candid, my only reason for speaking is that, over the Whit recess, at their invitation, I visited the Scots Dragoon Guards, my former national service regiment.

I should like to mention my only other contribution on Bosnia. Hansard records me saying this during the speech of the late Julian Amery:


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    I speak as someone who, perhaps misguidedly and, perhaps in retrospect, wrongly, was against committing British troops into the mire of Yugoslavia. Five years later, having been there, in no way could I do other than support the assertions of my hon. Friends the Members for Streatham (Mr. Hill) and for Tatton. It would be totally irresponsible to withdraw British troops in the circumstances.

I echo my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton in saying that inaction as well as action has consequences. My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham was clear about that and it is doubtless true. Without wishing to create mischief, I should also like to follow something else that my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton said. He said that it was coincidence--he put it very gently--that Maastricht negotiations coincided with agreement on a quid pro quo on Croatia. Having been there and talked to people, one realises that that recognition caused much of the trouble--not all the trouble, but much of the trouble.

It should be said in the House that Douglas Hurd owes if not us, at least history, some explanation of what happened because I am afraid that history will record that it was a very shabby deal that was extremely expensive in terms of human life and human tragedy.

I also share the profound admiration for the effectiveness of the British Army in this situation, which relates to the other question that I should like to raise. It is not of such a momentous nature as those raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Streatham and for Tatton, but it involves the conditions of British service men. I know that this is not a Foreign Office responsibility--it is a Ministry of Defence responsibility. This country honestly should do its best for those in the service of the UN or NATO in situations such as Bosnia. On Monday, I asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence:


in the Baraci area--


    "get free telephone calls for as long as they like to Canada, whereas the Scots'"--

and this goes for all regiments--


    "telephone calls are financially restricted?"

In this day and age and in such circumstances, surely we could do something about telephone calls because troops in dangerous situations deserve the best.

I will not bore the House by quoting all my right hon. Friend's reply, but his last sentence was:


The other issue that I wish to raise relates to local allowances. A married sergeant with no children, living in Germany, receives £11.05 per day. When he is deployed out of theatre, the allowance is £7.39 per day--a reduction of £3.66. It is all very well saying that he does not have the expense of living in Germany, but that is not the whole story because his family remains in Fallingbostel. My understanding is that the expenses for a family are exactly the same, if not more, when the husband is away. It is a minor matter, but I plead with

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the Government to consider it. We must behave properly towards our troops, whose work my hon. Friends the Members for Tatton and for Streatham and I greatly admire.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tatton will understand when I say that pictures and descriptions on television or in newspapers cannot convey the horror that is Bosnia. The Scots Dragoon Guards took me to the little village of Geselo, where every house had been systematically and efficiently burnt out. I was told that bodies were systematically and efficiently thrown into the river. It was the eradication of a human community. Until one stands there and sees all that--I do not want to be fanciful, but the proverbial ghost is all around--one cannot imagine the horror of what has happened.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian): My hon. Friend may be aware that I am an old Bosnia hand. Does he acknowledge that, in addition to the security that has been achieved by IFOR and SFOR, a great deal of vital reconstruction work is taking place? It is a vital element of the Dayton process. Edinburgh Direct Aid, which has volunteers from both my hon. Friend's constituency and mine, is currently involved in reconstructing buildings and making places habitable so that refugees can return to them. It is vital to try to rebuild some sort of civilised society out of the disaster that my hon. Friend has described.

Mr. Dalyell: I certainly acknowledge what my hon. Friend has said.

I will not take up any more of the House's time as I have explained my change of mind from five years ago.

11.33 am

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): As a member of the North Atlantic Assembly for the past five years, I have been in a unique position to hear first hand, from both the military and high-ranking officials, about the problems facing Bosnia and the problems of implementing the Dayton agreement. I cannot speak with the same experience and eloquence as the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell). I closely followed his work as a journalist in Bosnia and read many of his reports. I agree that someone must take responsibility for the European Union's ill-fated decision to recognise Croatia. History will tell the truth about that shameful episode.

From the beginning, I have believed that Dayton was created out of a desperation to do anything to end the killing. Different roles were assigned to different organisations--for example, NATO was brought in to end the armed conflict. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), I was deeply worried about sending in British troops. I do not think that we need to apologise for that because it is an awesome responsibility for a Member of Parliament. I was also deeply worried about NATO's involvement because of certain attitudes towards the Russians. However, at the end of the day diplomacy won and the policy of inclusivity with the Russians has been one of the successes. There has also been some short-term success in bringing the killing to an end and in controlling, to a certain extent, some of the arsenals in accordance with Dayton.

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I agree with the views of Catherine Walker, deputy chief of the UNHCR mission in Sarajevo, who earlier this year warned:


It is a task for not only the civilian organisations but the international community. We must recognise that the healing process will take a very long time.

Any stability that has been established in Bosnia is still fragile and a number of urgent issues must be addressed. For Britain and other NATO members, the question is what would happen if the international forces were withdrawn in 1998. Although the crisis management that NATO implemented has succeeded to an extent, how do we get out of Bosnia? Whenever we send in our troops, I always ask, "How do we withdraw and what do we leave behind?"

We must consider the issues of Bosnia fatigue--the media appear to have lost interest in what is happening in Bosnia--and of public opinion in other countries. How long will the political will to stay in Bosnia remain? One reason why I welcome this debate is that it puts Bosnia back on the agenda. We must be honest about what is happening there and how limited the holding of the line is.

Although the work of the civilian organisations is desperately important, it has been painfully slow and enormous tasks remain. The whole of the former Yugoslavia is moving from a command economy to market-based capitalism, and we need to think about that. There are almost 2 million refugees in the former Yugoslavia, with about 1 million in Bosnia alone. The resources to rebuild that shattered country are scarce. I commend the military for its reconstruction work on schools, on its small-scale infrastructure projects and on getting some of the factories back into operation.

We need to stop ethnic enmities breaking out again. We know that, every now and again, ethnic violence erupts. For example, the Croats attacked the Muslims in Mostar and the Serbs destroyed Muslim homes in Republika Srpska. At one point, I was very concerned about the wholesale attempt to make the Serbs into lepers--the hated people of the former Yugoslavia. That is a tragedy. Of course, the leaders are evil and want locking up, but the people have been subjected to foul propaganda and we should not isolate them. If we do, they will huddle together and follow the same leaders. We should not judge the people; we should have gone over their leaders' heads many years ago and talked to those who want peace. The international community should not have given the leaders the credence that it did.

The police force in Bosnia is a cause of major problems. Some 75 per cent. of all human rights violations in Bosnia are perpetrated by the police, so an international police force is necessary. Annexe 1B of the Dayton agreement mentions arms reduction, which is not going as well as we expected. The last thing we want is more arms entering Bosnia; arms reduction should be at the top of the agenda.

Bosnia, like other parts of the world, has a massive problem with de-mining. That problem should concentrate all our minds. I congratulate the Government on their clear statement on land mines. Nothing heartened me more than that wonderful statement.

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We must stop allowing withdrawal in 1998 to dominate the agenda. Karl Bildt and others who are more knowledgeable than I have talked about building bridges, and they do not mean just in the physical sense. Conflict prevention is the dominant need, and we all accept that a return to war is not an option. The international community must adopt that as its main theme.

We must also address the war crimes issue. At the recent North Atlantic Assembly meeting, arguments were put from both sides. One side argued for South African-style reconciliation and the other talked about bringing the war criminals to justice. The hon. Member for Tatton said clearly that Bosnia could have peace or justice, but not both. That may be true, but that dilemma should concentrate our minds. The military know where the criminals are, but perhaps we need to rethink the mandates.

Freedom does not come free, and I pay tribute to our forces in Bosnia. Sixty people have been killed and 350 people wounded since IFOR and SFOR went in. Freedom comes at a cost, but we should not give up because the prize is too great.


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