The cessation of hostilities agreement which, as the hon. Gentleman said, provided for a ceasefire in Bosnia, ended without extension on 1 May. There had been a steady increase in fighting and skirmishing between Bosnian Government troops and Bosnian Serbs since 20 March at a number of flashpoints along the confrontation line.
The end of the cessation of hostilities agreement in Bosnia on 1 May has not so far been marked by any new heavy fighting on the ground. The situation has not yet returned to levels of violence or difficulty experienced last autumn. It is true that the gradual deterioration and the restrictions on freedom of movement have made it more difficult for the United Nations Protection Force to carry out its tasks in areas near the confrontation line. There is no fighting in most of central Bosnia, where, the House knows, most of the British troops in UNPROFOR are deployed.
I shall add a word about the situation in Croatia, which has taken a sharp turn for the worse. Croat forces moved into western Slavonia on 1 May, and in two days' fighting have taken control of the central highway and expelled forces of the Krajina, or Croatian, Serbs, who retaliated by launching five or six missiles into Zagreb. The Croatian Government announced on 2 May that they had completed their operations, but the situation remains tense. There were further explosions in Zagreb this morning, and I have just had reports of continued hostilities in Litija in the western sector and at the town of Karlovac, south of Zagreb.
Early on 2 May, the Security Council adopted a statement that expressed deep concern at the resumption of hostilities, demanded that the Croatian Government end their military offensive, and offered full support to the Secretary-General's special representative, Mr. Akashi, in his negotiations to secure a ceasefire, to ensure the safety of the highway and of UN personnel, and generally to bring the situation back to normal. His efforts continue.
What is happening in both Bosnia and Croatia shows again the urgency of the political process. A negotiated settlement remains the only way to a lasting peace, whether in Bosnia or Croatia. No party will win a decisive military victory, and that is as true now as it has ever been.
The Contact Group is continuing its efforts to secure a settlement in Bosnia based on its plan and mutual recognition among former Yugoslav republics. The immediate priority in Bosnia is to secure a further ceasefire, or cessation of hostilities agreement. The Bosnian Government in Sarajevo have indicated that they could agree to that if President Milosevic recognises Bosnia. So, in its meetings this week, the Contact Group is focusing on that aspect.
The House will realise at once that recognition of Bosnia would be an important step, and would signify an end to Serb dreams of a greater Serbia, but it is one element only in a general and overall package that must include recognition of the other republics, settlement on territory and agreement on a constitution of Bosnia that preserves the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The House will share the Foreign Secretary's grave concern about the danger of a deepening war and the simultaneous breakdown of the ceasefire in Bosnia and the renewed conflict in Croatia, and will be determined that troops must not be exposed to unacceptable risk.
May I join the Foreign Secretary in condemning the unprincipled rocket attacks on Zagreb? The deliberate use of anti-personnel bombs against women and children is not a courageous act of war, but a cowardly act of terrorism. There can be no justification, however, for the Croatian Government's military conquest of a UN-protected area. Does the Foreign Secretary accept that the easy success of that action may renew doubts about the UN's resolve to defend protected areas in Croatia and its safe areas in Bosnia?
May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that, last month, the UN representative in Bosnia stated that the UN would use air power if civilians in safe areas were attacked? Is he aware that the only use of air power in Bosnia since then was the bombing last week of civilians in Bihac, as the ceasefire deteriorated? Why was there no response to that breach of the no-fly zone, and is there not a danger that, in the absence of any response, the Serbs will conclude that we were bluffing once again?
On the conflict in Croatia, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that President Tudjman of Croatia is due to arrive here on Saturday to represent his country at the Victory in Europe celebrations? Do the Government still think it appropriate that the celebration of peace in Europe should be attended by a Government who have just broken the peace? If so, will our Government take the opportunity to impress on President Tudjman that there must be no further military assaults on UN-protected areas?
Finally, can the Foreign Secretary confirm that the European Union is in discussions with Croatia about granting it associated status on trade? Is it not a condition of those discussions that Croatia accepts that UN troops should remain in place in the protected areas, and does not its invasion of one of those areas make a mockery of that undertaking?
Does the Foreign Secretary see any prospect of peace for the peoples of the former Yugoslavia unless the UN can command respect from their political leaders? Does he really believe that we can build that respect for the UN if we give favoured trade status to a Government who are openly challenging the UN's authority?
The hon. Gentleman got the balance of comment right between the rocket attacks on Zagreb and the Croatian invasion of sector west. On the use of air power, I think that he was suggesting using NATO air power not against the Croats in sector west—that could not sensibly be considered—but in the Bihac pocket. Clearly, the use of air power by NATO has proved its good sense, and there have been occasions when it has worked. That is why, from time to time, we have said, "Yes, it is available."
Whether it is sensible to call down air power in particular circumstances or at a particular time must depend on the judgment of the commanders on the ground as well as that of the NATO authorities—that is the dual key—but particularly on the judgment of the former.
The hon. Member is correct about the invitation to President Tudjman, who was invited here some time ago for VE day. He accepted the invitation. We are keeping it under review in light of what is happening, but the hon. Gentleman's second comment may well be right, and it might be a useful opportunity to ram home to President Tudjman the Government's views and those of this House about the risks he is taking and the dangers, he is incurring, for his people as well as for his neighbours.
The same applies to the hon. Gentleman's point about the desire of the Croatian Government for closer relations with the European Union. We support that, but the pace and the way in which it goes ahead must depend on the Croatian attitude to the peace process, as he said. Clearly, that has been put at risk—indeed, it has taken a downward spin—during the past few days.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that there is now no peace to keep, in either Bosnia or Slovenia, and that therefore the position of our troops doing their gallant humanitarian work must be kept under daily and even hourly review to ensure that they are not exposed to a vastly increased range of risks? Given that the combatants, certainly in Bosnia, will not stop killing each other until they are deterred by each other's strengths, is he still convinced that an uneven supply of weapons to the two sides is the best stance to support at this stage?
There is peace in central Bosnia, where our troops are, albeit a ragged peace, which has been increasingly infringed since March. In Gorajde, there are difficulties of supply but no daily fighting. As my right hon. Friend said, we must ask ourselves what would happen if we pulled our troops out. The judgment of those who have visited the area recently is that, if we and UNPROFOR as a whole pulled our troops out, the present ragged peace might deteriorate rapidly into total war. Obviously, we want to avoid that.
But as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, and as my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) has said, there comes a time when the risks taken by our troops outweigh the benefits they bring. In Croatia, there is not a general war. Fighting has flared up because of the Croatian attack on sector west. It could develop into a general war. We do not have British troops in Croatia, although a number of British staff are employed there in different ways.
On the prospects for peace, I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford, and have often said in the House, that peace will come to Bosnia not because outside forces impose it but because those doing the fighting decide that they will not gain their way by fighting. An arms embargo is currently applied to all sides. Obviously, it has been breached to a certain extent, probably by all sides.
My right hon. Friend asks whether peace will be enhanced by removing the arms embargo. We think not. Removing the arms embargo would mean the certain withdrawal of UNPROFOR. That is now accepted by most people, and the combination of allowing or facilitating a flow of arms to all sides without inhibition and withdrawing the UN forces would probably be disastrous for all those in the area.
The Secretary of State referred to the Contact Group. Will he give the House an assessment of the extent to which the Contact Group is still unified, and all members of that group are doing their best to put diplomatic pressure on those parts of former Yugoslavia with which they may have had traditional affiliation? In particular, may I remind the Foreign Secretary that Croatia obtained early recognition at the instigation of Germany? What efforts are being made to persuade Chancellor Kohl to exercise influence on President Tudjman to show some self-restraint?
The Germans are doing that. Indeed, they did that yesterday. In the past few hours, I personally impressed on the Germans the importance of Germany, like all of us, playing our part in the control of the border between the Serbs and Bosnian Serbs.
As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, there is now a breach between President Milosevic and the Bosnian Serbs. It is important that we should make the best use of that breach, and do our best to satisfy ourselves that there is proper control and that armaments do not pass between Serbs and Bosnian Serbs. If the Germans, Americans, British and French can build up that control force, it could be very useful.
The Contact Group is in one piece, as the hon. Gentleman suggested. It is meeting in London today, and, as I said in my statement, is pursuing the idea that, if President Milosevic and the Serbs recognise Bosnia and then, of course, Croatia, that could be a powerful help to bring about a new cessation of hostilities in Bosnia.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the prime responsibility for our remaining on the brink of an all-out Balkan war rests with Serbia and its repeated violations of the United Nations charter and resolutions, including the violations which led to the seizure of Croatian territory?
Does my right hon. Friend recall that, on a number of occasions in the House, I have pressed him and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for a meeting at the highest level of Heads of Government and Heads of State on the Yugoslavian conflict? Does he not now accept that the time has come for the Prime Minister, the President of the United States and the President of France, when elected, to sit down together and seek, as permanent members of the Security Council of the United Nations, to try to bring about a settlement?
The historical responsibility for the events of 1991 and 1992 rests most heavily on Serbia. The present position is different. President Milosevic has accepted the Contact Group plan—that is to say, he has accepted the territorial integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The people who have consistently obstructed that are the Bosnian Serbs, with whom President Milosevic is now in dispute—Mr. Karadzic and the so-called assembly in Pale. Now the situation is complicated by the Croatian attack on sector west in Croatia.
My hon. Friend is perfectly correct. He has urged a summit meeting, and so indeed have others—the Russians and the French, from time to time. It may well be that that could, at the right time, bring things to a head. But a summit meeting for its own sake is not magic. The essential is to find a means—the ideas and the pressures—to bring together those who are responsible for ordering and encouraging the fighting, and show them ways in which they can consult their own interests and their own advantage best by a peaceful negotiation. A summit meeting may at the end be part of that.
I agree with the Foreign Secretary that the problem can be resolved only through discussion. Will he pass on the thanks of the I-louse to Mr. Akashi for the work that he has already done, and will he take up with the Secretary-General the possibility of intensifying the role of the United Nations in mediation?
I am not always grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I am on this occasion. The role of the peacemaker is always easy to mock. Peacemakers, diplomats, get into aeroplanes and hurry about. They are not dramatic or heroic. Drama and heroism have their day, and, by heaven, they have had their day in Bosnia. If the torment of these peoples is to be brought to an end, it will be because of the patience of the peacemakers.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is clear that the Croats do not accept the present situation, that the Bosnians do not accept the present situation, and that there are very few Serbs who have any intention of giving up any of the ground that they have occupied? In those circumstances, is it not clear that UN diplomacy has failed so far, and we must admit it?
Does my right hon. Friend accept that I am perturbed by the talk that there has been of further concessions to the Serbian Government which, apparently, have done nothing more than bring about the end of the ceasefire? I hope that there will be no more talk of further concessions until we make real progress towards peace.
Certainly the peacemakers have failed up to now, and so have the warmakers. It is the failure of the warmakers that brings this suffering upon the Croats, the Bosnian Government, the Bosnian Muslims, and the Serbs, and has cut off all those peoples from the future of Europe.
All the peoples of the former Yugoslavia except Slovenia are living in a time warp: they are living in the Europe of the first decade of this century and the last decades of the previous century. They are not part of what is happening now in the way of reconciliation, reconstruction and the making of a new Europe. That is what the warmakers have imposed upon their peoples. So the UN has to go on trying. My hon. Friend is right to say that it has failed so far.
No, there is no question of further rewards being given to the Serbs in return for nothing. There has been a temporary suspension of certain sanctions against President Milosevic and his Government, because he accepted the Contact Group plan and because he has gone a long way to sealing his border with the Bosnian Serbs. But if there are to be further concessions, that has to be because of further progress, and I have suggested the lines that we think that that should take.
Accepting that the breach between Serbia and the Bosnian Serbs is an important potential step forward and can be used to make a peace more certain, is it not a pity that, at this stage of the game, the Foreign Secretary and others should be putting forward a proposal to President Milosevic that he should now recognise the borders of Bosnia-Herzegovina? Is the Foreign Secretary making a distinction between recognition of the Government of Bosnia-Herzegovina and recognition of its frontiers?
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not press me too far down a diplomatic path that is strewn with terminological difficulties. If—I shall not try to elaborate the phrase—President Milosevic in Belgrade clearly recognises Bosnia-Herzegovina, that puts to rest a lot of fears. It could lay the foundation for a new cessation of hostilities, and then for discussion about territory within Bosnia-Herzegovina and constitutional arrangements—the sort of links that could exist between the Bosnian Serbs and the Serbs in Serbia, just as they could exist between the Bosnian Croats, the Bosnian Muslims and Croatia.
Does not all the discussion of the details of this horrible civil war and all this grand but ineffectual lecturing give the impression that we are responsible for these horrible events? Is it not now time that the Government recognised that a British national interest never existed in the battle in the Balkans, that the British people are not prepared to risk either their treasure or their troops in the Balkans fight, and that the sooner we disengage the better?
As my hon. Friend will acknowledge, I have made it clear over the years not only that we are not responsible, either as Britain or as a part of the European Union, for this tragedy, but that we cannot solve it from outside. I have repeated that again today, although my hon. Friend does not always seem to listen. He belongs, and has always belonged, to the school of "let them fight it out", which is opposed to the school of "something must be done". Over the years, I have had a bit of impatience with both those powerful bodies of opinion.
There are certain things that we cannot do, and should not pretend to do. One of them is to impose a just peace—or an unjust peace—on a particular part of the Balkans. But there are things that we can do, where we can save lives and get aid through, which is what we are doing.
The British have carried more than 20 per cent. of the entire United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' airlift to Sarajevo. Our Overseas Development Administration lorries constitute 25 per cent. of the convoy fleet. Our engineers have provided shelter for 20,000 refugees. There are 350 gas, water and electricity projects. Our engineers have built the bridge connecting east and west Mostar after the devastation there. They could not have done it without the presence of troops to help. To say that Britain should not do the things that it can do must be wrong.
Does the Foreign Secretary recall the sense of outrage felt by people in this country,—as well as, obviously, by people in many other countries—when the capital of Bosnia and other towns were subjected to continuous shelling by the Serbs? Is it not a fact that, to some extent at least, those areas were designated as safe areas by the Security Council because of the feeling of outrage in Europe?
Will the Foreign Secretary now tell the House whether it is the intention to make it perfectly clear to the Serbians that those safe areas are safe areas, and that military means will be used? Otherwise, the Serbs will take the point that they have always taken: if no action is taken against them, they will continue their aggression. I have never been a believer in appeasement.
The hon. Gentleman has not been following recent events very carefully. What has happened, both in Croatia and in Bosnia, in the past few weeks is that there have been attacks on the Serbs—first in Bosnia by Bosnian Government troops since the end of March, and more recently by the Croatians against the Serbs in Croatia. The Serbs have retaliated, disproportionately and brutally, as they have done in the past. That is the situation with which the Security Council and Mr. Akashi have to wrestle.
One supports all the diplomatic work being undertaken, and of course the humanitarian work done by the British forces, but is the Foreign Secretary aware that, if that appalling and tragic mess escalates, there can be no justification for putting even one British service man's life at risk? Will my right hon. Friend therefore give a positive assurance that, if the situation should escalate, British troops will be withdrawn without delay?
That is what the Prime Minister said yesterday. We are not there yet, but obviously there could be circumstances in which the risks to our troops and to other United Nations troops—I am sure that my hon. Friend would not expect us to withdraw unilaterally—would become such that they had to withdraw. As my hon. Friend knows, there is NATO planning for that eventuality. Those concerned with ordering the fighting should not take for granted the presence of our troops or of the other United Nations troops.
In view of the invitation to President Tudjman to come to this country to commemorate the victory over fascism, will the Foreign Secretary study an article in a Croatian magazine, called Magazine, by Dinko Sakic, who was the commander of the Jasenovac concentration camp, where 10,000 Serbs died, from 1941 to 1945? That man describes Tudjman's Government as a flowering of Croatian freedom parallel to the Pavelic dictatorship, which was the ally of the Nazis.
Notwithstanding my right hon. Friend's comments about unilateral withdrawal, will he make it clear that the overriding priority is the safety and security of British troops, and that if he comes to the conclusion that that safety and security is in jeopardy, notwithstanding other countries' attitudes, he will bring our troops back home?
Except in circumstances that it is hard to foresee, I do not think that the House is likely to support a unilateral British withdrawal, especially as our troops sit astride the main communications line from Split into Bosnia. However, the position is as the Prime Minister stated it yesterday, and a similar position has been taken by the French and Canadian Governments and others.
We keep the situation under review all the time, but we believe that our troops and the rest of the United Nations force are playing an essential part in preventing the present fighting from escalating, dominating the whole country and plunging Bosnia back into the kind of war that existed before United Nations arrived. That situation might change. As my hon. Friend says, the risks to our forces could increase until they became unacceptable. In that case, they would have to withdraw, and planning for that possibility is in hand.
Does the Foreign Secretary realise that it is not good enough to attack those whose views are different from his as being in favour of a fight to the finish? Does he recall that, about two years ago, when Germany wanted to recognise Croatia straight away, in the initial stages he stood at the Dispatch Box and took a different view, but that then he suddenly changed his mind? Why was there a change?
Some pundits, including Lord Carrington, say that the British Government changed their mind and decided to recognise Croatia, thereby emboldening the people there to take affairs into their own hands, because of a deal on two Maastricht opt-outs. The Government are partly to blame for the mess that we are now in.
Lord Carrington would have preferred to delay the recognition, but the suggestion that it was linked to Maastricht comes entirely from the hon. Gentleman's own fevered imagination. There was no such connection.
Historians will argue about the timing of the recognition of Croatia and Slovenia, but no one could seriously suggest that it could have been long delayed. No one could seriously suggest that we could have gone on pretending that the old Yugoslavia still existed. We must deal with realities, and the reality was that Croatia existed. Whether it should have been recognised in the autumn, which was what the Germans wanted, or at the end of the year, which is what happened, or a little later, is a matter for dispute, but it is not relevant to the present.
Is not our real problem that we find ourselves dancing on the head of a pin? The war has escalated—it is not a case of when we will make decisions about troop withdrawals. The British troops are situated in the middle of a zone of war. The Croatians have more than $ million worth of arms, many of which came from the former east Germany after the unification of Germany.
The concept of an arms embargo has utterly failed. We now have troops stationed out there who, to my mind, are serving less and less purpose. The food that is shipped out to those areas is mostly being used to feed the fighting troops. We must have a policy of limiting diplomacy; it is now time to say that we shall withdraw by a certain time and that, unless something specific happens, those troops are certainly on their way out.
There are no British troops in Croatia. We are dealing with the position of British troops in Bosnia. The position that we have arrived at after much thought and review is as I have stated. Of course, we look at the position all the time. As I have said, those concerned—who may well, as my hon. Friend said, to some extent profit from the help that we bring to the civilian population—should not take the presence of British forces or the United Nations force for granted.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the United Nations forces have neither the numbers nor assets in the former Yugoslavia to conduct anything remotely like an organised campaign? The indiscriminate and unwise use of air power, however well intentioned, could lead to circumstances that would make the position of the troops on the ground untenable. Therefore, is it not about time that we began to recognise that history has shown 'that civil wars of that sort can go on for many years, and are rarely resolved by outside interference?
I agree with my hon. Friend. The question is not whether one can resolve a civil war from outside, because one cannot, unless one is prepared to send in an imperial army and impose a solution. No one in this contest has been willing to do that. Those who have talked most about it have tended to do least about it.
We have done what we can, and we continue to do so. We shall go on doing that as long as we believe that our effort is worth while in reducing suffering and preventing a Balkan war from escalating out of control—it is very much in Britain's interest to prevent that.
When will we learn from history? While the United Kingdom clearly has a role in helping the Muslim Government of Bosnia-Herzegovina, am I not right in saying that it is the Russians who could intervene to influence the Serbs, and the Germans who could intervene to influence the Croatians? What role is either Germany or Russia playing in the negotiations to bring about a ceasefire? Clearly, from what we read in the press, they are very much taking a back position when they should be taking a forward position.
No, I think that the Germans were the main influence in persuading President Tudjman to accept a renewal of the United Nations force. As I said earlier, they were active yesterday in restraining the Croatians from further military interventions. My hon. Friend's analysis is right—the Russians have been active with President Milosevic. I have sometimes wished that they would be more active. It is correct that both Russia and Germany have been historically, and are now, powerful influences on the Croats and the Serbs.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the real key to peace lies in Belgrade? Will he urge the Contact Group to extend its efforts to persuade President Milosevic to use his influence on Karadzic? After all, despite the stresses and strains between the two men, there is a strong link. We should not forget that it was Milosevic who encouraged and supported the war in the first place. Can my right hon. Friend possibly tell us when the next meeting with the Contact Group will take place?
As I said, the Contact Group is meeting today. It has been in touch with President Milosevic frequently, not least through our chargé d'affaires in Belgrade, who has a good relationship and good communication with Milosevic. I agree with my hon. Friend: the more one looks at the present situation, the more one asks how peace will come about. I believe that it will come about by mobilising the full pressures that President Milosevic and the Serbs could bring against the Bosnian Serbs, so that there can be acceptance on the basis of the Contact Group plan and real discussions within that plan of territory and the constitution of Bosnia.
My right hon. Friend will know that the deployment and the length of deployment of British troops within the former Yugoslavia has caused problems of overstretch within the armed forces and the appropriate types of armed forces which are sent forward. Does he agree that the Government's decision to start a third armoured reconnaissance regiment, which they promised to base in Dorset, is a welcome improvement? Will he urge his colleagues in Cabinet to get on and fulfil that promise as quickly as possible?
I think that my hon. Friend has asked me to trespass a little. I will certainly pursue his point where it can usefully be pursued.
I should like to add one point which has not yet emerged from these exchanges. Of course, the British Army goes where it is sent. It does not choose where it goes. Right hon. and hon. Members who have visited our troops lately in Bosnia have come to the conclusion that the officers and men have no doubt that they are pursuing an extremely useful and important task in the interests of Britain.
Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that, in the event that the end of the ceasefire heralds a further escalation of the fighting in Bosnia and throughout the region—an escalation which ultimately imperils the security of our troops on the ground—prompt authorisation will be given by NATO commanders for the use of air power in the defence of our own troops, if required, without interference or delaying tactics on the part of the United Nations? The certainty of a swift response is crucial in these matters.
My hon. Friend will be the first to acknowledge that General Rupert Smith, the commander of UNPROFOR on the ground, must have a say in that. We cannot have NATO intervening from the air on some sort of report which is not validated by the British general on the ground, when it is the safety of the UN forces which the whole exercise is designed to promote. That is the case for the dual key. My hon. Friend is perfectly right to say that it has not always worked well in the past. I hope that it is being brisked up now. NATO cannot and should not proceed without some regard to the advice from the ground.