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Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, I join the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, in thanking the Minister for repeating the Statement. I, too, pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Owen, and Mr. Stoltenberg for the patient efforts that they have made on the Croatian Serbian front. Useful progress has been made and we hope that that will contribute to a wider settlement.
The Statement is one of some gravity. The situation has deteriorated and the implications of a further deterioration are serious indeed. Against that background, we wish to pay tribute to the patience and persistence of the Foreign Secretary and his efforts to try to arrest that deterioration. Clearly, the first step is to try to bring about a cease-fire in the Bihac area. We would be grateful for any further information that the Minister can give us on that matter.
I echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, that what happened in Bihac was an ominous event as regards the possibility of the same deterioration taking place in other safe havens. We would all like to know what steps the Government believe can be taken by the Contact Group, the NATO forces and the United Nations to try to prevent that possibility. It is unacceptable that 400 United Nations soldiers should, in effect, be turned into hostages.
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, for the tributes that they paid not only to the noble Lord, Lord Owen, and Mr. Stoltenberg but also to my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. I assure your Lordships that the British Governmentand, I believe, the French Government, toowill not cease in their efforts to stop the extension of the terrible situation that we have seen in Bihac. We will use every means at our disposal to stop its spread.
Of course, the spread can best be stopped by the agreement that President Milosevic is seeking with some members of the Bosnian Serb Parliament. I mentioned in the Statement that more than 20 members had issued a statement and we believe that there may be more. There is a total of 83 members of that Bosnian Serb Parliament in Pale. The majority would have to be convinced to achieve acceptance of that plan. That is quite clearly what everyone hopes will happen because only when there has been an acceptance of the Contact Group plan can we begin to see the beginning of real progress.
The noble Baroness said that safe havens are not working. She knows that if you do not give support to the implementation of safe havens it is very difficult for the safe areas to work in the way that was first envisaged. Although Britain has more than played her part as one of the main force contributors among the 39,000 or so troops who are there, there are countries which have not played a role in UNPROFOR. From what I have seen on the ground, I am firmly convinced that you can make safe havens really safe only when you have people on the ground so to do.
The noble Baroness asked how we could prevent the Bihac tragedy being repeated elsewhere and how we could stop Bosnian Serbs taking servicemen and, indeed, others hostage while making no concessions. A very active role is being played not only by Mr. Akashi who secured the release of 160 troops last week, 60 of whom were British, but also work is going on to secure the release of the other 350 UNPROFOR troops from France, Russia, the Ukraine and Canada and the UNMOs who are being held to ransom. That can be done only through patient negotiation and not through concessions because they would indeed jeopardise the future.
I assure your Lordships that there are no changes with regard to lifting the arms embargo. Although it was not discussed at the meeting none of the members of the Contact Group, with the exception of certain members of Congress in the United States, is envisaging a lifting
I close by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, for the tribute that he paid to the aid workers. There are many from non-governmental organisations as well as our own ODA personnel who are there on the ground. If they cannot get into one area, they will deliver to another area. They are keeping men, women and children alive and giving them some hope for the future. Without UNPROFOR and without the aid workers, that simply could not have happened.
The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, perhaps I may ask my noble friend about the assembly at Pale. She gave us the interesting information that some 20 out of 83 members went to Belgrade and issued a statement. Do we know when the assembly will meet and when it will reach a decision? Do we know whether the Russians are actively helping to encourage those members of the assembly to agree to peace?
In addition, will the Minister say something about the unhappy plight, which we read about, of the Bangladeshi troops. Apparently they have one rifle to five men and are shivering in an unfamiliar climate.
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his questions. The answer to his first question is that I cannot give him any more detail about when the discussion will take place in Pale. We believe that the Russians are helping but I am not privy to exactly how that is being done, so cannot pass on that information to my noble friend.
My noble friend asked about the 1,400 brave Bangladeshi troops. They are in the Bihac pocket. I am glad to say that a convoy of rations and fuel arrived for them on 4th December. They are doing a very valuable job under the most difficult conditions. There are a number of problems for them in the area but we are quite determined that they, as well as the ordinary people in Bihac who are suffering too, should have supplies. I assure my noble friend that we shall play a full role in helping to ensure that they are so supplied.
Lord Taylor of Gryfe: My Lords, one of the most helpful aspects of the Statement and the recent developments in Yugoslavia has been the role of Mr. Milosevic. He has supported and endorsed the Contact Group's plan, despite the hostility of many of his fellow Serbs. As a result of that, there has been some relaxation of the severe sanctionsthe opening of the airport and the resumption of cultural activities, including football matches, is now permitted. However, most pressing of all is the need for medical supplies. I was recently in Belgrade and I visited hospitals in which doctors had to make a decision on which child to save because they had supplies for only one. Will the Minister give me an assuranceand it would be a useful gesture in the light of the role of Mr. Milosevicthat the question of sanctions as applied to medical supplies might be reviewed?
Lord Harmar-Nicholls: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that we all hope that the present proposals referred to in the Statement will bring about a satisfactory result? But is there not some risk in stating categorically that British troops should not be removed, because uncertainty with regard to the possibility of that happening may have played some part in creating an atmosphere among people who at present are intransigent on meeting any reasonable request?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for allowing me to make clear once again, as I did in repeating the Statement, that British troops, or indeed UNPROFOR as a whole, can continue their mission only if they can do so without unacceptable risk and if they continue to fulfil their mandate. That is why we have made contingency plans for a withdrawal, if that had to happen. We hope sincerely that it will not because the troops are carrying out a most valuable role. But we have never said that we shall not withdraw them if they faced an unacceptable risk or if they could not continue to fulfil their mandate.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, is it not true that the whole treatment of this crisis has been an absolute disgrace to Western Europe and to the countries of the United Nations? Is it not a fact that the Serbs have played up Western Europe and NATO in the most disgraceful manner and that we have retreated from saying that no territory conquered by force would be held but are now proposing to let the Serbs get away with the vast majority of their conquests?
Is it not a fact that we have threatened force with overwhelming air power at our disposal but failed to use it? Is not what is happening today similar to what happened to the League of Nations? The UN resolve and the political will of the governments of Europe is at such a low ebb that we shall probably go on to further disasters because potential aggressors in their own territory will know that the governments of Western Europe will never use force to stop them?
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