Britain is playing a major role in efforts to restore peace in Bosnia and to provide humanitarian relief for millions of civilians caught up in the conflict. We are the largest single national troop contributor to the United. Nations protection force in Bosnia, escorting relief convoys. Our troops and aid workers are doing a magnificent job in difficult and often dangerous circumstances. We have also devoted considerable material resources to the aid operation.
Will the Minister take this opportunity to distance the Government from the suggestions made by Baroness Thatcher which, if implemented, would perhaps lead to an extension of the conflict in Bosnia, to the further killing of military and civilian personnel and would perhaps jeopardise the humanitarian aid effort? Does he also agree that the situation in Bosnia cannot be allowed to continue and that existing sanctions should be properly enforced and tougher sanctions implemented?
The broad nature of the policy that we are currently pursuing is, I think, the right one and the one to which we should hold. We need to continue to put all the pressure that we can on Serbia to get Serbia to induce the Bosnian Serbs to sign up to the Vance-Owen plan. That must be the heart of the policy. I think, too, that it is desirable that the sanctions be yet further tightened. As the hon. Gentleman will know, there is a draft resolution to hand, but, for reasons that. I think are good, it has been decided to defer the vote on the resolution until the end of April—but I hope that if the resolution is passed its implementation will be immediate and that no grace period, has proposed in the original draft, will be provided.
I do not wish to do anything other than praise the bravery of our British troops, but may I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to agree that our right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Thatcher, with whom I do not always agree, spoke for many people yesterday when she talked of the sense of horror and shame that people throughout this country feel when they see our troops having to stand by while women and children are shot down? Will my right hon. and learned Friend talk to the Foreign Secretary on the telephone today and ask him to summon an urgent meeting of his fellow Foreign Ministers so that we can begin to act a little more effectively?
My hon. Friend is clearly right when he describes what is going on in Bosnia as a tragedy and a crime. I do not suppose that a more appalling set of events has taken place since the end of the second world war. But on the question of shame—no, I cannot agree with him, because I look at what British troops in Bosnia are doing. We have 2,600 men there performing acts of great courage and gallantry. We—or rather, I should say, they—have escorted some 448 convoys conveying something like 33,399 tonnes of supply. I am proud of that contribution.
Does the Minister accept that Lady Thatcher is not alone in believing that the present arms embargo plays into the hands of the Croats and the Serbs, and places the Bosnian Muslims at a great disadvantage? Does he further accept that there is an increasing feeling that the arms embargo should be partially lifted so that the Bosnian Muslims will at least be able to defend themselves against the atrocities being committed against their nation?
I do not try to deny that a case can be argued for lifting the arms embargo, but I put to the House two considerations that point in the opposite direction. The first is that if we were to lift the arms embargo for the Bosnian Muslims I believe that others would speedily supply arms to the Croats and the Bosnian Serbs. That would not bring about an early ceasefire. The second consideration, which I find even more persuasive, is that it would take time for the arms to be delivered to the Bosnian Muslims and even more time for those people to be trained and expert in their use. I ask what would happen in the meantime; and I answer that rhetorical question by saying that the Bosnian Serbs would be likely to redouble their aggression so as to grab yet more land against the possibility that the Muslims might be in a better position thereafter.
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of the continuing horror caused by the evidence of alleged war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, not least that now forwarded by the International Red Cross to the special commissioners appointed under UN resolution 780? Is he aware that under resolution 808 the Secretary-General has to report by 22 April on the proposals to establish an ad hoc tribunal to try and, if necessary, punish people alleged to have been engaged in war crimes? Will he do all that he can on behalf of the British Government to ensure that such a tribunal is established as quickly as possible?
I am, indeed, aware of the resolution. I am also aware that the Secretary-General has been commissioned to report back to the Security Council by the end of April on ways in which to carry forward the holding of a war crimes tribunal. I think that that is an important object of policy and, to the extent that it is possible—one must recognise the difficulties—that people who are guilty or who are alleged to be guilty of war crimes need to be brought before that tribunal and punished appropriately.
Dr. John Cunningham:
Do not the Government recognise that even for those of us who have supported the peace process and the decisions of the Security Council, the policy of the United Nations appears to be falling apart in Bosnia? Is not it clear that sanctions are being widely breached by certain countries, including Russia, and should not any aid to Mr. Yeltsin be contingent on his obeying the mandatory sanctions against Serbia imposed by the Security Council?
Is not it also clear that the humanitarian aid programme is in danger of failing not because the High Commissioner has not organised convoys, but because members of the United Nations, including members of the European Community, have failed to keep their promises to provide food aid for Bosnia? Are we to stand aside and watch the slaughter of perhaps 50,000 innocent civilians in Srebrenica? Are not those all reasons why we should have an immediate recall of the Security Council to discuss the deteriorating situation in Bosnia? Is not it deplorable that the Government have agreed to delay those discussions in the Security Council for two weeks, apparently at the request of Mr. Yeltsin?
Our purpose—it must be—is to achieve continued consensus within the Security Council, because it is only by maintaining a united front between the five permanent members that we can hope to continue to place great pressure on Serbia. Against that background, we must consider the request by the Russian Government not to put the matter to the vote until the end of April. Our purpose must be to keep Russian consent, because if we lose it, the ability of the Security Council to act effectively will disappear entirely. That is the thinking behind our decision to accede to the Russian request. I believe that it was a right decision.