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Lord Richard: My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will give way. There is a report on the tapes that a Bosnian Serb spokesman has said that his side was ready to talk with the international community about United Nations peacekeepers held hostage:

The "information Minister" of the Bosnian Serb Government is supposed to have said that today. Can the noble Lord help us at all on that?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I have not seen that tape and cannot comment in advance. If it is clear that they are prepared to talk—as I made quite clear, Akashi is talking to Karadzic and General Smith is talking to Mladic—obviously we shall talk and continue to talk, as we believe that that is the appropriate way of achieving the release of those hostages.

There is no doubt that UNPROFOR is doing a thoroughly worthwhile job. It has helped to contain the conflict from spilling over into a wider Balkan war. I refer those who reject that concept to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, who dealt with that point very clearly; namely, that there is a genuine risk of spillover should we withdraw. If it had not been there, I believe that many of the people who are alive today would have died. With the help and support of UNPROFOR, the United Nations and the countless different aid agencies, the people of Bosnia, have, to some small extent, been able to begin to rebuild their homes and their lives in a very slow return to a semblance of normal life.

We believe that that work must continue. Its value in terms of reducing human suffering is immeasurable. We are all agreed that for it to continue without placing our troops at unnecessary risk UNPROFOR must be better protected. Obviously, we are particularly concerned, as I made quite clear, for the safety of British troops and particularly the British troops in Goradze, as are the other nations for their troops in isolated positions in the enclaves.

On Sunday we announced a reinforcement package consisting of essential specialists from both the Royal Artillery and the Royal Engineers, which, together with their equipment, will be deployed in tranches over the next few weeks. As noble Lords will know, the first support elements from 19 Field Regiment with their 105 millimetre light guns flew out yesterday to Split. They will continue to deploy by air over the next few weeks.

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Further, a chartered ro-ro ferry will leave Germany on 6th June with the armoured engineer squadron and elements of an Engineer Regiment. That ship will then collect further logistic elements from the Household Cavalry Regiment in the United Kingdom and should arrive in Split some time in the middle of next month, June. Signals personnel and two additional Lynx helicopters will leave by air over the next few days. The theatre reserve force will be operational as soon as it has joined the United Nations forces that it is there to support.

We are determined to meet these latest and unpleasant developments with the appropriate resources. Our aim is to ensure that the safety of British forces in the theatre can be enhanced to allow them to continue their mission.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister for information. Are those guns and engineering equipment to be painted white or khaki? If they are white guns, someone will shoot rather easily at them.

Lord Henley: My Lords, as I shall come on to explain, our forces will be serving very much in a blue beret role and will be wearing blue berets. As to the precise painting of the guns, it is a matter that will have to be considered. It is quite clear that there will be large UN insignia on them to make it clear that they are United Nations' forces. Whether we shall go so far as to paint them is another matter. I hope that the noble Earl will be prepared to accept that I would rather not be drawn over much on that particular point at the moment.

Perhaps I can say a word about the role of the reinforcements, under whose command they will be and what they are setting out to do—points put to me by both spokesmen of the Opposition Front Bench. As my right honourable friend made absolutely clear, they will work within the United Nations mandate. As the noble Baroness will be aware, the Secretary-General of the United Nations is about to set out the options in a report, including how to continue the mandate for safe areas. There is clearly a strong case for making UNPROFOR less vulnerable by regrouping the outlying United Nations monitors on the advice of the commanders in the field. A fundamental change in the mandate, such as a withdrawal from the safe areas, would require a decision from the United Nations Security Council. We are awaiting the report and will respond in due course.

I should make clear also that the purpose of the reinforcements is to support the British and other United Nations forces who are already deployed as part of UNPROFOR in a highly volatile situation; to protect them and enhance the capability that General Smith has under his command. I can give the assurance that they will be under the overall command of the United

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Nations commander in Bosnia, General Smith. As regards immediate deployments, as I made clear to my noble friend, they will be deployed in a blue beret role.

Moving on to the deployment of 24 Air Mobile Brigade—the bigger part of what we have to offer—it will be at 72 hours' notice to move by Sunday of this week. We decided to offer that brigade to the United Nations under similar conditions to our current deployments. We are discussing the details with them. It has been welcomed by UNPROFOR and we envisage that it will be placed under the command of General Smith in Sarajevo with the support of the existing mandate.

Those reinforcements will provide valuable additional assets to strengthen the ability of the UK contingent in Bosnia to defend itself. The safety of British troops is of vital concern. If they are attacked, they must have the ability to defend themselves robustly.

We believe that those arrangements are a robust, timely and proportionate response to the unacceptable events which have taken place in Bosnia in recent days. In parallel with the Government's continuing determination to support the UN's humanitarian mission in Bosnia through the provision of military personnel and equipment, we are determined to act with our allies to pursue relentlessly a diplomatic solution to the crisis through a negotiated political settlement. We believe it offers the only opportunity for a lasting peace in Bosnia by which all the parties can abide.

The package of measures to which I have referred is one which we consider will help to underpin that diplomatic process. It will allow us to continue the humanitarian aid effort which is badly needed and has brought relief from suffering to so many innocent civilians and their families. It will also ensure that troops deployed in support of the mission are able to protect themselves in the face of increased hostility from the parties to the conflict or in the event of further deterioration in the situation on the ground.

Other noble Lords, quite rightly, paid tribute to our Armed Forces. I should like to conclude by also paying tribute to those who are, who have or who will be serving in this theatre. On many occasions, they have given us reason to be proud. Their professionalism and ability rightly makes them the envy of other nations. Individually, many have been honoured for their unstinting service and bravery. We are asking them to perform an essential humanitarian task, often in very difficult conditions. I believe that we are in their debt and that it is right to provide them with the means to do this necessary work without unnecessary risk. I am sure that all sides of the House will wish to join me in expressing our gratitude to them. I commend the Motion to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

        House adjourned at twenty-five minutes before seven o'clock until Monday, 5th June.

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