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Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for her comments, which tune in with everything that she has previously said on the tragic situation in the former Yugoslavia. Having been on the ground in Bosnia many times I have some sympathy with her. However, I cannot agree that rearming the Bosnians will bring the conflict to a speedy end. I believe that it would draw many more nations into a war which would spread far beyond the Balkans.
I agree with my noble friend that Chapter VII covers the resolutions. Looking through them today yet again, I realise that it would be highly desirable and would help my humanitarian relief aid very much if one could force the aid through. But on some occasions forcing the aid through will cause a wider conflict. I will not second guess any of the commanders on the ground, British or otherwise, who are doing their best to do the very thing that my noble friend wants; that is, to protect the innocent.
The whole House will know that when the idea went through the United Nations I had great doubts about the safety of the safe areas. I never made any secret of the fact that unless the proposal was enforceable it was not sensible. However, it was passed and we have done our best to give as much help as possible to get help through to the enclaves. For a certain amount of time we were extremely successful in doing so, enabling the people there to build up resources. Those resources are now under pressure and will continue to be.
My noble friend spoke of the contact group plan. That must be implemented. When we have had our discussions with Mr. Carl Bildt and others we will be in a better position to see what next steps to take.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, on this occasion it is an honour to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, a former Prime Minister, because she has been resolute throughout on the Bosnian issue. She has never veered from her belief that a different approach might have been more successful.
I should like to ask the Minister two questions and then raise one larger issue. First, are any negotiations going ahead with regard to trying to arrange safe passage for the 25,000 civilians now fleeing from Srebrenica, some of whom are not at present in the enclave held by Dutch UNPROFOR troops?
Secondly, will immediate consideration be given to providing air-lifts of food for the other enclaves? In particular, I understand that both Bihac and Tuzla are now suffering from severe shortages and are near starvation. It would be a disaster if they were also to fall.
Thirdly, I raise the larger issue because the Minister has referred, and rightly so, to the dangers of a wider war in the Balkans. We all understand that fear. But in her remarks she referred to the fact that all the parties in Bosnia must agree before any action can be taken by the United Nations. I wonder whether the Minister and her right honourable friends will consider whether, in a situation where one partner fails consistently to agree to United Nations actionthose partners being the Bosnian Serbs who have never proved themselves willing to accept any of the norms or understanding of civilized conductthe United Nations and the United Kingdom Government might now think it fit to move to a stronger position on defending the remaining enclaves and to a stronger approach towards the constant misbehaviour of the Bosnian Serbs.
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I believe that in relation to the UK Government, I can say that we want stronger action in support of the enclaves. Whether the UN as a whole will agree to that, I cannot tell her at this moment. But we are determined to ensureand this is why we have put more troops to UNPROFORthat we are doing all that we can to protect the people and to get resources through to them.
The noble Baroness asked about safe passage for 25,000 peopleI believe that it is rather more than thatwho are trying to escape from Srebrenica. That is where the plan of allowing them to reach Tuzla is extremely important. I shall return to that point in a moment. But to be quite sincere about this, we are in some difficulty as regards separating the women and children from the men aged over 16. That needs to be handled extremely carefully on the ground. I do not want to say any more at the moment because I do not want to assist politically in any way the Bosnian Serbs. I never have and I never shall.
Perhaps I may now turn to Tuzla and Bihac. In Tuzla at the moment there are already over 430,000 internally displaced persons. Were all those from Srebrenica to join them, that would be an increase in the order of 10 per cent. That could be coped with because we have been getting supplies through to Tuzla by our own efforts. We are already working with the mayor of Tuzla to help should the people decide that they wish to reach Tuzla. That is already in hand.
With regard to Bihac, we obviously condemn the continuing obstruction of relief convoys to Bihac by the Krajina Serbs. The situation is grim but three convoys have reached the pocket in the first week of July so there are supplies both there and in Tuzla. But they are very different situations and they are being coped with well on the ground.
We are in no doubt about the importance of doing all that we can to make sure that food, medicines and other necessary goods reach the people. But we must be advised by those on the ground. As I said earlier, sometimes to fight them through can cause a much wider conflict. We may have to try to proceed by agreement but I believe that if agreement is tried and fails, we may have to take the action which the noble Baroness suggests.
The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, first, I thank my noble friend for one good piece of news; namely, that there are to be UNPROFOR monitors on those trucks. That is a considerable achievement in the tenseness of the situation and I am grateful to my noble friend for mentioning that and for giving us that information.
Does the Minister not agree also that in this situation, nothing is gained by either taking sides in a civil war or resorting to rhetoric? Talk of telling the Serbs to go back is meaningless unless it can or will be backed up by overwhelming force which, as we know, would only have the effect of enlarging the conflict. Therefore, does my noble friend not agree that in this matter rhetoric is to be abhorred, as is the taking of sides?
Is my noble friend really happy about the command structure? I believe that we all have a picture of, as it were, Mr. Akashi, on one side and the military commanders on the other. The United Nations Secretary General is to be empowered by a resolution still to be passed to "take all measures open to him". But that means nothing. Therefore, will she tell us about the command structure and any endeavours to improve it. I believe also that words of encouragement should go out from this House to the local commanders who are in a perfectly awful situation.
It is easy to condemn rhetoric or those who take sides. It is very much more difficult to see a resolution of these situations which does not draw a wider and greater number of people into the conflict. That is why I am not in the business of condemning anyone, other than those who cause the conflict. I am in the business of finding ways to resolve the situation. That is why I have referred on many occasions to the contact group meeting with Mr. Carl Bildt, which is taking place in London today.
It is right to encourage the commanders on the groundGeneral Rupert Smith and otherswho are doing a first-class job under very difficult circumstances. I understand my noble friend's anxiety about the command structure. I understand also that
Lord Dubs: My Lords, will the Minister say a little more about what can be done for the safety of the 30,000 or so civilians who have fled from Srebrenica? I appreciate that the situation is difficult and that that it is changing from minute to minute, but it seems to me that an ominous chill is caused by the description which the Minister gave of the separation by the Bosnian Serbs of the men from the women and children. Anything which suggests that there is some action which we or the United Nations could take would be most welcome.
The whole situation has an element of a nightmare. I only wish that there was some way forward. The Minister said that resolutions are being put forward to the United Nations for discussion today which demand that the Bosnian Serbs should withdraw from Srebrenica. Given that we have no power of enforcement if they do not comply, does not the whole process make us seem even more impotent than we were before?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, puts his finger on the real problem; that is, the preparedness of other nations to implement fully under Chapter VII the resolutions in the UN, whether or not by unanimity. As I described early on in the Statement, when the safe areas were first put forward and there was a call for more support to resolve the matter, we were one of the first contributing nations at every stage to try to resolve the problem. Therefore, in no way can the British nation be blamed. But there are other nations which have spoken loudly and done little. That has been one of the major problems which the UN must face. There are too many who talk but do not do.
I should say also that this is a nightmare scenario. At the moment, we are working to try to look after those who are seeking refuge at Potocari, some of whom may go on to Tuzla. I cannot give the noble Lord any hard or fast advice about what will happen. We have dealt with situations even grimmer than this and have saved a very large number of lives and we have begun to bring back some normality. However bad the situation in Srebrenica about which we are talking today is, perhaps I may assure your Lordships' House that there are some areas in central Bosnia which were not peaceful but which have been made so by the tactics that we have, as the UN, deployed.
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