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22 Nov 1995 : Column 317
"The conflict in former Yugoslavia is Europe's most tragic problem. Two hundred thousand people have lost their lives over the past four years. Over 1.5 million have lost their homes. The conflict has caused suffering and destruction of a scale not seen in Europe since the Second World War.
"From the start, Britain has upheld the principles that internationally recognised borders must not be altered by force, and the legitimate rights of all ethnic groups must be properly protected by their governments.
"The Government warmly welcome the agreement initialled in Dayton yesterday. We applaud the work of all the negotiators. I congratulate the leaders of the parties to the Bosnia conflict, who have shown the wisdom and courage to make the hard choices and difficult compromises needed for peace. And we must recall with gratitude the work of all those who laid the foundations for this achievement: notably Lord Carrington and Lord Owen, Cy Vance, Thorvald Stoltenberg, Carl Bildt, and the American officials, who died so tragically a few weeks ago while engaged in earlier stages of these negotiations.
"The full text of the peace agreement will be placed in the Library of the House as soon as it is available. It is a detailed and complex document. I will not attempt to describe it in detail to the House now. But I would highlight some key elements. The agreement maintains a single unitary Bosnian state, within internationally recognised borders. There will be a central three-man presidency, with representatives from each of the three ethnic groups, a Council of Ministers, and a Central Parliament. Underneath these central structures, there will be two entities, the Federation and the Republika Srpska, each with substantial autonomy.
"Elections for the central presidency and parliament and for the institutions of both entities will be held within nine months of signature of the agreements. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe will supervise these elections. There are to be special arrangements for refugees and displaced persons, who will be encouraged to return and will have the option of voting where they lived before the war. Those indicted for war crimes will play no part in future public life in Bosnia. The UK continues, moreover, strongly to support the work of the War Crimes Tribunal. We believe that those responsible for atrocities should be tried. We look to all the states of the region to fulfil their international obligations. Sanctions against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia are to be suspended immediately. They will be formally lifted 10 days after free and fair elections have been held in Bosnia. There will also be a phased lifting of the arms embargo, alongside the establishment of an arms control regime. Territorial issues were the most difficult to settle and took the talks
"It would be foolish to underestimate the size of the task that the international community now faces. The first requirement is that the parties live up to their commitments. Unless they abide by what they have agreed, and work to make the settlement a success, the documents initialled at Dayton are just pieces of paper. The history of this conflict is one of broken agreements. Now, as never before, promises must be kept.
"The international community will deploy an international force to Bosnia following signature of the agreement to supervise the withdrawal of respective armies to the agreed zones of separation. It is the wish of the parties that NATO take the lead in establishing such a force. We hope to see a number of non-NATO nations, in particular Russia, working with us in this force. Apart from the OSCE supervision of elections, the international community must also establish an international police task force to advise and train the local police forces, and oversee the establishment of the agreed central structures. The international humanitarian agencies must meet the continuing needs of the Bosnian population and monitor the human rights of returning refugees. And with the World Bank in the lead at technical level, the international community must help with the task of economic reconstruction in the region; restoring infrastructure and utilities, stimulating the development of market economies, and encouraging economic interaction in the region.
"We will therefore hold a Peace Implementation Conference in London, to mobilise the international community for the tasks ahead. This conference will ensure that the military operation meshes with the civilian, and that tasks at the crucial civilian/military interface are properly handled. It will establish a co-ordination structure with a senior political figure, the High Representative, at its centre. It will ensure that those supervising the elections, assisting with economic reconstruction and undertaking humanitarian tasks, will work together as part of a coherent implementation plan. And it will help to pin down the parties' agreement to the details of implementation.
"We must also decide nationally how we shall contribute to peace implementation in Bosnia. We expect to play a central role alongside our American and French allies in a NATO implementation force. In particular, I should emphasise that the early commitment of the substantial US ground troop presence which the US Administration proposes is a prerequisite for our participation. We expect to arrive and leave alongside our American and French allies. But we now need to study the details of the peace agreement. We must ensure that our forces would be acting in conditions of reasonable safety, that they
"The agreement in Dayton is an historic event. An end to the brutal and tragic conflict in former Yugoslavia is now within our grasp. But we are not there yet. With the London Peace Implementation Conference, and a British contribution to a peace implementation force in Bosnia, Britain will play a central role in ensuring that the agreement in Dayton is translated into a peaceful future for all the people of the region".
Perhaps I may begin by echoing what she said about the agreement. I should like to express very firmly our welcome to and our pleasure at the agreement that has been reached. However one looks at it, it is a remarkable diplomatic achievement by the United States who deserve great credit for it, as does President Clinton. I expect too that exile in Dayton, Ohio, may have helped a little on the margins. It is a tribute also to the effectiveness of economic sanctions imposed on Serbia. Sanctions have not always worked in the past, as we all know, but in this instance they clearly seem to have had an effect in persuading President Milosevic that the time had come to settle. However, the real test is to come when the negotiators get home. It is a truism that for an agreement to succeed it must stick, but nevertheless it is true, particularly when, as in this case, it is not a settlement that has been dictated on the battlefield by any victor; it is one that has been brokered by outside mediators.
I wish to put a number of specific points to the Minister, some of which I hope she will be able to answer. First, does she have any indication as yet of the attitude of the Bosnian Serbs to the agreement? At lunchtime on the news there were signs of dissatisfaction. I am not sure how deep they run nor precisely what is happening. If she can give the House any information on that, I am sure we would be grateful.
Secondly, the Minister mentioned the provision of troops. Can she confirm the figures in the press that a commitment of 20,000 American, 13,000 British and 10,000 French soldiers is envisaged, together with some contingents from our other NATO allies? I agree that what is crucial to success here is the commitment of United States troops. We know that Mr. Clinton has his problems with Congress. I wonder whether the Minister has any assessment of the likelihood of Congress blocking this proposal. She obviously has an assessment because she will have received one from our officials in Washington. Presumably the Government reckon that the proposal will go through Congress and it will therefore go ahead. I am grateful to the Minister for spelling out that if the Americans do not commit their troops then neither will we be bound under the agreement to commit our troops.
Thirdly, what mix of troops is envisaged? Will they be relatively lightly armed peacekeeping forces or are they to have heavier weapons and to be capable of being employed in a more active role? Can the Minister say anything about the chain of command as regards NATO forces? How is the agreement to be associated with the United Nations? I suppose that there has to be some kind of Security Council cover. I wonder whether the noble Baroness can say one or two words on that.
There are not many details in the Statement and, having listened to the Minister reading it, I am not sure precisely how the civilian and the military sides will mesh together. I believe that I am capable of understanding the military side, but as to the civilian side with a police task force, I am not sure what that force will do. The Minister said that it was to train the local police forces and to oversee the setting up of the necessary central constitutional structures. It is a strange role for a police force, but if that is what the parties want then we should not cavil at it. Will Britain contribute to it? If so, what kind of contribution might we be asked to make? How do we view the possibility of that contribution?
Finally, I repeat our welcome for the agreement. For all the fine words and the constitutional structures, Bosnia is to be de facto divided. I hope that the divided parts may now, after the years of war, at least be able to acquiesce peaceably in each other's existence.
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