Bosnia and Herzegovina

Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 12:30 pm on 1st March 2007.

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Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence 12:30 pm, 1st March 2007

Before I make my formal statement on the UK military commitment in Bosnia-Herzegovina, I want to pay tribute to Rifleman Coffey, who died in Iraq on Tuesday. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.

The UK first deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992, as part of UNPROFOR, in response to inter-ethnic violence resulting from the collapse of the former Republic of Yugoslavia. We are all sadly familiar with the atrocities committed during the Bosnian war, which resulted in an estimated 100,000 people being killed and the forcible displacement of some 1.8 million people. After three years of conflict and following a NATO air and land campaign, a ceasefire in Bosnia-Herzegovina was agreed in 1995. This was followed by the brokering of the general framework agreement for peace—more commonly known as the Dayton agreement—underpinned by the deployment of NATO forces.

The international community has retained a military presence in Bosnia-Herzegovina since then, initially through NATO and, since 2004, through a European Union force. At its peak, the international community presence under NATO amounted to some 60,000 troops, including approximately 12,000 UK personnel. Today, there are approximately 6,000 international troops in EUFOR, some 600 of whom are from the UK. This significant reduction over the years is testimony to the continually improving security situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Through the UK's involvement in the United Nations, NATO and now EU forces, we have been operating in Bosnia-Herzegovina for some 15 years, contributing to the maintenance of a safe and secure environment. Indeed, we led EUFOR for its first year of operations and have been the lead nation in Task Force (North West). Over the years, UK troops have been engaged in many operations to recover illegally held weapons and ammunition and explosives, as well as assisting local authorities in combating organised crime. I want to set out the detail of some of our successes.

There are still dangerously high levels of small arms and light weapons in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and while a number of international organisations are implementing initiatives in this field, they are all dependent on donors. Last November, I had the pleasure of opening an explosive waste incinerator designed to destroy surplus small arms ammunition. The UK funding for this project amounts to some £500,000. In addition, the UK continues to fund the training of junior officers from all the three main ethnic backgrounds, thereby contributing to the building of the state. In this financial year, UK support for this project is in the region of £1 million. The UK is also assisting in the development of the NATO trust fund mechanism to facilitate the resettlement into civilian life of up to 6,000 personnel made redundant through defence reform processes. The project will aim to provide training and advice to former soldiers returning to civilian life.

It is clear that Bosnia-Herzegovina is becoming increasingly safe. In recent years, there have been growing indications of a security situation approaching normality. Parliamentary and presidential elections took place last year and were judged to be free and fair. Significant steps in defence reform have been taken, resulting in the establishment of a single, multi-ethnic military force compatible with NATO. As a result, Bosnia-Herzegovina has been able to contribute a small number of troops to operations in Iraq.

Perhaps most importantly, the majority of people displaced from their homes during the war have chosen to return—many of them to areas where they do not belong to the majority ethnic group. In recognition of progress in these areas, Bosnia-Herzegovina was invited to join NATO's "Partnership for Peace" programme last autumn, on the condition that there will continue to be full co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. NATO will closely monitor these efforts.

The time is right, therefore, to reassess the role of the international military presence. In December, EU Ministers agreed in principle to transition EUFOR from a large dispersed force structure to a smaller, centralised one. At a meeting of the Political and Security Committee on Tuesday, EU member states gave the final approval, in light of the continually improving security situation, to this change. The resulting reduction in force levels—from approximately 6,000 troops to 2,500—will allow Bosnia-Herzegovina to take more control of its own affairs.

The EU decision to move to transition is in accordance with clear military advice that the security situation is stable, and that the local authorities are able to cope with all but the most serious incidents. The Welsh Guards, who are currently deployed, will therefore not need to be replaced by any further manoeuvre troops. More than 600 troops, principally from the Welsh Guards, will return to the UK. That means that the UK's future in-theatre commitment for the next phase of EUFOR will be a small number of staff officers in the Sarajevo headquarters, although we will continue to contribute to the pan-Balkans operational reserve force. A small number of troops will also be needed to ensure a smooth transition to the new EUFOR structure, and to dismantle the base at Banja Luka.

As we come to the end of UK military operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina, we can look back and see the contribution that our armed forces have made to the rebuilding of a country destroyed by conflict. As with other theatres of operation, they have been central in establishing a secure environment in which political solutions and reconstruction can be pursued. However, while the UK has achieved much, our efforts have not been without significant losses. We must remember those UK servicemen and women who were injured, or who laid down their lives trying to protect the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina. I pay tribute to them. A series of commemorative events, in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in the UK, is being planned in order to honour the 55 personnel who lost their lives and the many thousands who were deployed. I will provide further detail of these events in due course.

We must look forward as well as back. There is still progress to be made, particularly in pushing forward key political reforms, ensuring less nationalism in political discourse, and developing state-level institutions. The UK must, and will, remain engaged as Bosnia-Herzegovina strengthens her position within Europe and beyond.

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

I thank the Minister for his statement and for advance sight of it. May I fully associate the Conservative party with his remarks about the death of Rifleman Coffey? The whole House applauds his courage and sends condolences to his family and friends.

Fifteen years after the initial deployment of our troops in Bosnia, British troops are being withdrawn. Bosnia is indeed a different place today and the Balkans are calmer, although not calm. I pay tribute to the contribution of our armed forces. However, I have two reservations. The first concerns the foreign policy assumptions underpinning this statement, and the second is the specific military impact.

Those who have hoped to see a smooth transition for Kosovo and the end of the international community's governor-like role in Bosnia in 2007 may yet be disappointed. On all fronts, 2007 will be extremely challenging for the region. Serbia remains an unstable country. The most popular political party, the Serbian Radical party, is led by a man—Vojislav Seselj—who is in The Hague facing charges of genocide. Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica presides over a fractious coalition and rejects any notion of independence for Kosovo. The recent unrest in Kosovo and Belgrade's unwillingness constructively to engage in the final status talks have cast a shadow over President Ahtisaari's proposals for supervised independence for Kosovo. In Bosnia itself, separatist forces in the entity of Republika Srpska continue to hamper Bosnia's progress. Given all these problems, how can the Minister talk about the "normality" of the security situation? Where is the normality?

In June 2006, the international community declared that it wanted a transition from an Office of the High Representative-led presence to a European Union-led presence headed by an EU special representative. However, the uncertainties in the region have caused the peace implementation council to reverse its earlier decision. The Office of the High Representative mandate has been extended for another year. On several fronts, it believes that Bosnia is failing to make progress. Mostar remains un-unified and the governance of the canton of Brcko remains un-regularised. At the same time, the decision has been made to cut EUFOR numbers from 7,500 to 2,500. Where is the consistency? Perhaps most importantly, the alleged war criminals, General Mladic and Radovan Karadzic remain at large. What role, if any, will the remaining British contingent play in trying to bring those individuals to justice?

As I said, the High Representative's mandate has been extended for another year, as announced only yesterday, but the current representative, Christian Schwarz-Schilling, has accused Bosnian politicians of squandering the opportunity to make progress. The politicians are failing to make progress, but the troop numbers are being cut. Can the Minister clarify the discrepancy between those two different assessments of Bosnia's stability? If Bosnians are incapable of taking more control of their own affairs at the political level, how can he be confident that they can do that at a military level?

Unfortunately, there are still some Serbs who believe that all the Serbs should live in a Greater Serbia. That kind of regressive force, which was so destructive for Yugoslavia, cannot be allowed to return to the region. Is the Minister satisfied that those who harbour such ambitions will not find themselves emboldened by the lack of an international military presence in Banja Luka, which has so far served as a deterrent to those aspirations?

No part of Europe has such a complex ethnic patchwork, such a recent history of instability, or such a strategic importance in the "Great Power" politics of all eras. Can the Minister give his commitment that the withdrawals do not represent a change in policy towards the wider region?

Let me turn to the military implications. British troops make the primary contribution to mine clearance operations. How will those be conducted in the future, and by whom? What are the implications for the safety of the civilian population?

More than anything else, there is widespread suspicion that this decision is predicated on the need to free up more troops for the mission in Afghanistan. Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister talked about our troops coming home from Iraq with no mention of future deployments to Afghanistan. But within 48 hours, we learned, through a series of leaks, that 1,400 more troops were being sent. On Monday, I specifically asked the Secretary of State for Defence for a commitment that this represented the peak number of British troops to be deployed there. I received no such assurance. I ask the Minister to answer that question specifically today.

We all want peace in the Balkans, but our faith in the competence of the Government's foreign and defence policy is being sorely tested. We need much better assurances than we have had to date. Yet again, the assessments are too rosy and the assumptions too optimistic, as they have been so often in recent years.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

I would have thought that we would hear at least some recognition of the success that has been achieved, but I was seriously disappointed by the hon. Gentleman. Let us go back 15 years to when the deployment was first agreed. The commitment given by the then Secretary of State for Defence—Sir Malcolm Rifkind—was for 12 months. As we know when we enter areas of conflict, we may have to attend to situations that deteriorate, but sometimes they make progress. That is exactly what we have been doing.

I have been dealing with this issue and hoping to get to this point for almost three years. The assessment in terms of the political dimension must be that a time has to be determined when we have confidence that progress has been made. If I understand the hon. Gentleman's message correctly, he suggests that we need a continuing commitment in Bosnia. At the same time, he says that we should cut commitments elsewhere. We repeatedly ask him which commitments we should not fulfil, and he repeatedly fails to answer the question. Now he is saying that we should continue our commitment when the full international community that has responsibility for that country says that we can move to a new military and security posture to encourage normality to develop.

I have visited the country and the region on several occasions and I have seen the marked progress. I mentioned the opening of the destruction facility that I attended in November and it is clear that change is happening. There are still issues to be attended to in collecting the ammunition and other equipment that needs to be destroyed, and efforts are being made to achieve that.

I do not understand what the hon. Gentleman seeks from us. We have made a major military contribution. We have measures of success and an international community that is now supportive of those efforts. All countries involved are making reductions. The hon. Gentleman asks about bringing the war criminals Mladic and Karadzic to justice, and that remains the determined intent of the international community. Pressure will continue to be applied to countries in the region to deliver that intent, and it is one of the preconditions for EU membership and full scale NATO membership.

The hon. Gentleman also asked how we ensure a response if the situation descends into some form of violence. There will still be 2,500 troops there and we will still have the pan-Balkans operational reserve force ready to act, as we did in 2004 and 2005 in Kosovo, which is a much more volatile environment in many ways. We responded to and dealt with the civil unrest on the streets.

The hon. Gentleman asked about military implications and future effort. One of the things that we are doing in the country is building the capacity of their defence forces to deal with their own needs. That is why we will keep 50 or so military personnel in the country, several of whom are engaged in training the trainers. We make a tremendous contribution in mine clearance training, and many other areas of training, in countries that are moving from periods of conflict into stability.

The hon. Gentleman's charge that the withdrawal is just an attempt to free up troops for Afghanistan does not add up. Every country has come to this conclusion. If the conclusion of the international community had been that we should remain there—because his scenario was prevailing—we would have maintained our presence. As in Iraq and Afghanistan, and wherever else we serve, we will not cut and run: we will continue until the job is done.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Chair, Parliamentary Labour Party

Contrary to the more than grudging comments from the Opposition, Bosnia and Herzegovina is a tremendous success. The people of Bosnia and Herzegovina are the ones who say that, not simply foreign politicians. In particular, the people are grateful that the British commitment over the years has meant that the area has moved from active war—not simply insecurity—to a point at which it is possible to say that Bosnia is secure in military terms, whatever the political challenges that undoubtedly still remain.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in applauding the actions of our troops over the years? It was the British troops at Prijedor who were the first to arrest war crime indictees, and the British arrested more than did all the other troops in Bosnia and Herzegovina put together. Our contribution has been really significant in changing the face of Bosnia and Herzegovina and we should be proud of what the British troops have done.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has a great deal of knowledge of the issue. He makes a substantial point—we have a proud record of achievement and we can hold our head up high. We have led the way in so many ways, in that area and elsewhere, in trying to establish the right standards for countries coming out of conflict into a new future. The whole issue of war criminals is one that still has to be addressed. We have made a contribution in the past, and if we have to make a contribution to achieve that objective in the future, we will do so. I thank my hon. Friend for his comments.

Photo of Nick Harvey Nick Harvey Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

I thank the Minister for his statement and join him in paying tribute to those who have made a contribution over the past 15 years in Bosnia. In particular, I pay tribute to those who paid with their lives or came back injured.

Should not the House be celebrating the statement today as a sign of success and a job well done, and congratulating the Minister on being able to make a statement in these terms? He made the point in his statement that at different points in that time UK forces have been part of a UN mission, a NATO mission and, in the last few years, an EU mission. While NATO remains our key strategic alliance, will the Minister join me in noting the success of the EU mission in recent years, and in celebrating the fact that EU nations can act successfully when they see eye to eye on things? If the situation in Kosovo deteriorates, will he reassure the House that there will be a similar readiness among EU countries to work together?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has hit the right note. There is no question but that we should celebrate the success of the EU mission, and we should never forget the work done by its members. Some of them paid the ultimate sacrifice or were injured in their efforts to create the increasingly peaceful environment in the country. The mission started out as a NATO enterprise, then transformed into an EU mission—the first of its kind. I am sure that it will prove to be a model for the future. It demonstrates that the EU nations are increasingly able to deliver in such circumstances, although what the approach to Kosovo will be in the longer term remains to be seen. I hope that we can finish the work with NATO and that we do not have to undertake another extended mission, and I know that the hon. Gentleman shares that objective. Much remains to be done in some parts of the Balkans. We have made a contribution and, when asked, will do so again.

Photo of Tom Watson Tom Watson Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement. The news is very welcome, especially for the families of the brave men and women serving in Bosnia. What lessons for other conflict zones can be learned from the reconstruction effort in Bosnia and Herzegovina? Does he agree that success will be measured in terms of what happens over years and decades, rather than weeks and months?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

Again, I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and he makes a very important point about the lessons to be learned. There is a continuum about the way that conflict zones move into reconstruction, but he will know that each area and country has its own key and individual characteristics. In all the regions where British forces are deployed, our aim is to ensure that the momentum of the security profile is maintained, and that efforts to improve governance are begun as early as possible. In that way, confidence is given to the people who take over the instruments of civil power and who drive change forward. The civil community must have the confidence to take on defence and security reform, and to move on from the prevailing hostilities.

None of that is easy. We must remember that we have been in Northern Ireland for nearly 40 years and that, although we are very close, we still have not quite reached the final stage of the process. All the lessons that we learn from our experiences in such situations make our armed forces personnel even better at dealing with troubles around the world.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Conservative, North Essex

How enthusiastic are the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina about the withdrawal announced today?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

That is an interesting question. I have met Ministers in a variety of countries, one of whom said, "As long as you're here, people see you as an occupying force. We don't see you that way, but you deny us the opportunity to take on the governance of the country, even though we have the instruments to do so."

That remark struck home. Today's announcement will receive a mixed response, because some people in Bosnia and Herzegovina depend on our presence: the statistics show that our forces are very much part of the local economy. If people there fear that they might lose out, we must use our EU connections to offer assistance and create a strong economy to fill the gap.

Earlier, I described how we are working with the 6,000 or so soldiers moving into civilian life. We have a major commitment to making sure that they have jobs and a future, and that they understand that their society has changed. That is a big contribution on our part. Will some local politicians oppose our withdrawal? Yes: we have heard today that not all good news is welcome.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

Is this not an appropriate time to remind ourselves of the terrible massacre of Muslim men at Srebrenica in July 1995, which happened while the international community looked on? Should we not be pleased at least that the present Government acted in respect of Kosovo—something that their predecessors did not do in response to what occurred in Bosnia, Srebrenica and elsewhere? However, I am not alone in being deeply disappointed that the two notorious mass murderers responsible for what happened at Srebrenica have not been apprehended. It is absolutely vital that those arch-criminals should be brought to justice.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

I agree entirely with that final point, and that is why so much effort is still being made in that regard. It is also why conditions are placed on the country's progression towards full EU and NATO membership. We are talking about brutal war criminals who must be brought to justice. In recent weeks, NATO has attempted to apply more pressure to achieve that objective, although I do not suppose that that was much reported in the media here.

My hon. Friend is also right about the timely action that we took in Kosovo. Some hon. Members criticised it, but it has proved to be the right thing to do. It is a matter for regret that this country did not act earlier in the 1990s. We paid a price for that, but more importantly, the people of Srebrenica and elsewhere paid a much heavier one.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

May I echo the Minister's concluding remarks? I was sometimes a lone voice on the then Government Benches when I argued for intervention—something that the official Opposition of the day did not support. I welcome much of what the Minister has said, and want to record my thanks to the brave troops who have done so much to help to restore a degree of normality. However, will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge the force of some of the points made by my hon. Friend Dr. Fox, and by Mr. Winnick, who has been consistent on this matter? We do not know where in the Balkans those two arch-criminals may be hiding, but until they have been brought to justice, we cannot begin to consider writing the final chapter.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

I thank the hon. Gentleman for those remarks. Even today, when we see things happening, all of us must ask ourselves, "Is it right to intervene? How do we intervene? If we do go in, do we intervene as part of a UN, NATO or EU force, or as part of a coalition of the willing?"

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the war criminals. I repeat that an intense effort is being made to achieve the objective that he set out. If we knew where they were, they would be apprehended and brought to justice.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. The House will be aware that today is St. David's day, and that a time-limited debate on Welsh affairs follows this statement. Therefore if I am to call all those who wish to speak on the statement, it would be extremely helpful to have brief questions and concise answers.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I very much welcome the statement, and anyone who has visited Bosnia will know how highly people there regard the British troops. However, will my right hon. Friend the Minister say how our forces will help the Bosnian police, whose actions in the build-up to the conflict were a huge problem? Although one would like to think that they have a positive role to play now, they still need support.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I refer him to what I said earlier about the need to encourage countries to move towards normal civil standards, especially in respect of their civilian police forces. There will be an EU police mission of about 170 officers, and Britain will supply 16 representatives. They will not be military police, but civilian officers on secondment. I am sure that they will do a tremendous job, just as they do elsewhere.

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster Opposition Whip (Commons)

Having served in Bosnia and Kosovo before being elected to Parliament, I obviously have an interest in this subject. May I ask a practical question? In recent years, troop numbers have been drawn down by making some troops pan-Balkan, covering both theatres. Will the reduction in the number of troops in Bosnia mean that troop numbers have to go up slightly in Kosovo to make some deployments, such as of engineers, sustainable?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is offering to volunteer for that role. I know that he has particular skills, for which I constantly pay tribute to him. It is an important issue. There is a sizeable NATO force in the area, some 17,000 strong. We have a number of people serving in the Balkans. It is not our intention to increase our presence and, given the size of that NATO force, I do not think that we should do so. Although we will contribute to the reserve forces, which have been deployed on two occasions—2004 and 2005—we have made it clear that there is a mismatch when there are 17,000 personnel in a country and we have to send a battalion to sort out problems on the street. NATO has now addressed that and it has a better operational approach. Circumstances on the ground will dictate whether the reserve force is used.

Photo of Denis MacShane Denis MacShane Labour, Rotherham

I agree with the comments about Srebrenica. I hope that one day the Ministers responsible for Britain's washing its hands of combating that evil crime will apologise to the nation.

I visited the Bosnian units of the Army to be with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers unit from my constituency of Rotherham. No one has mentioned the Territorial Army, but it has been rotated through Bosnia and has contributed enormously to the work of the British Army. May I invite my right hon. Friend to comment, on St. David's day of all days, on the ludicrous proposition that the Welsh Guards should stay there in some kind of perpetuity, as the shadow defence spokesman seemed to suggest? It shows how out of touch the Opposition are with the real needs and wishes of our soldiers on the ground.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

I think that we can say that our Welsh friends in Bosnia will be celebrating today. They have a lot of reason to celebrate—not just their national day but the fact of this announcement. They can take great credit for what they have done.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I had the privilege of leading the international election- monitoring mission to Bosnia at the recent elections, and I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for quoting my positive assessment on behalf of that mission. Whatever the political difficulties that undoubtedly persist in that country, I do not recognise the assessment of the security situation given by Dr. Fox.

There is one outstanding issue—mine and explosive clearance along the old front line that runs close to Sarajevo—and I wonder whether British troops will still be involved in it. About two miles outside the town, huge areas of land still cannot be visited because of the presence of unexploded devices. Will the British Army contribute to that mine clearance operation?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. I am sure that he recognises that, if his assessment and that of the monitoring team had been that the elections were not free and fair, it would have been an indication of some security problems, which would then have adversely impacted on the reduction to which we were moving. So the hon. Gentleman has made a good assessment and has a good feel for the situation.

I was asked about mine clearance. We will have a 50-strong residual presence—some staff officers and others in a training role. We approach the problem by training people to do the job themselves. We have a key support operations centre based there and we will continue to contribute to it. Increasingly, the defence forces of Bosnia will have to take on that role themselves, and they will do so because they have to remove the poisonous remnants of war if they want to return those bits of the country so affected to some normality.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda

I, too, welcome the statement made by the Minister today, not least because he said in October last year that he hoped to make a statement some time in March, and he has managed to do it on the first day. I wholeheartedly congratulate him.

There is one outstanding issue. Many British troops who have served in Bosnia have not been able to wear a medal associated with their tour of duty. Has that yet been agreed, and can the delay that often occurs in allowing our troops to wear medals for a tour of duty that comes under a European force be removed?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for recognising that I am a Minister who keeps my promises. I am sure that he recognises that all Ministers in this Government keep their promises, not just me.

I understand that what my hon. Friend believes to be the case about medals is not the case. I will make sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, who has responsibility for the matter, writes to him with full information so that he can respond to those who are raising this issue with him.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

I congratulate the Minister of State on his encouraging statement. I spent a period in Bosnia-Herzegovina, including in Mrkonjic-Grad and Banja Luka, as part of my armed forces parliamentary scheme. Will the Minister pay tribute to the huge contribution that UK forces played in restructuring the country, especially in rural areas, and assisting, including financially and manually, in the re-establishment of commercial and enterprise businesses?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

The hon. Gentleman is correct. It is interesting that those who have knowledge of the country welcome the statement. The armed forces parliamentary scheme gives good insight. The hon. Gentleman is also right about the way in which we and the other international missions have recently been out in small numbers in the country in what are called liaison and observation team houses, working with the local community, ensuring that those who wish to return home can do so, and trying to encourage through other agencies the type of economic development that is essential. What is going in is very encouraging. Anyone who has any doubts should visit the country, as the hon. Gentleman has done. I am sure that they will come back with the same positive message.

Photo of Hugh Robertson Hugh Robertson Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

As someone who commanded the then pretty small British detachment in Sarajevo in 1994 during the siege, may I say how much I welcome the progress that has been made, even though concerns remain. One of the regrettable features of that period was the considerable number of war crimes perpetrated by members of both sides of the conflict in Sarajevo. Much of the attention has concentrated on the Bosnian Serbs, but is the Minister convinced that all the members of the Bosnian Government side who were responsible for war crimes have been properly pursued and brought to justice?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. Although it was some time ago, I recognise that he also understands and welcomes the developments that have taken place. He may have thought that they would happen sooner rather than later, but the very fact that it has taken us 15 years to get to this point shows how difficult the issue is.

There are residual issues. It is not just the two major war criminals. There are a whole lot of other remnants of the problem. I do not want to draw a direct relationship with Northern Ireland, but this is what happens when a country, part of a country or a region has such tensions, whether they are based on ethnicity or other aspects. One then has to deal with the scale of what is left by seeking reconciliation and building for peace in the future. That is a matter in which the international community can assist, but only the people of that country can find the answers to the problem.

Photo of Robert Walter Robert Walter Conservative, North Dorset

The EU mission has been conducted under the Berlin-plus arrangements, whereby the operational commander is the deputy supreme commander Europe NATO, General Sir John Reith—a British general. Given that the Minister said that this was a model operation and given that the new head of the EU military staff as of yesterday is General David Leakey, another British general, will the Minister reaffirm the Government's view that Berlin-plus is a model and that it is unnecessary to create a separate military operations and command centre in Brussels?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

Berlin-plus has proved successful. The international community will always look at what it is doing and ask, "Do we have success? Can we build on that success? Can we improve on it?" This EU mission, which has been a success, will teach us a lot for the future. There were those who argued against the EU—some within NATO and some in the House—because they believed that the EU could not deliver. The EU did deliver and we are where we are today because of that.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Opposition Whip (Commons)

I join in the comments about Rifleman Coffey. I was the platoon commander of his unit in the Royal Green Jackets and his loss will be felt across the regiment. As someone who also served in Bosnia, in Sanski Most and Banja Luka, I cautiously welcome today's statement, but there are lessons to be learned, including those from the break-up of Yugoslavia after the death of the dictator. I believe that avoided a massive civil war in the Balkans, and is something to which we should pay heed with regard to Iraq. There are also lessons in respect of troop numbers. In Bosnia, we had one NATO soldier for every square kilometre; in Afghanistan we have one NATO soldier for every 600 sq km. Does the Minister agree that that is one of the reasons we face so many challenges in Afghanistan?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution to getting us to the position we are in today. Everyone who served made that individual and collective contribution. My understanding is that he advocates the fragmentation and break-up of Iraq, yet he also points out the effects of that and the problems that follow. He needs to square his logic. There is no simple solution that one can lift from the shelf because it worked, or did not work, in a particular place. As I said earlier, we have to learn lessons and to do so we must be realistic and honest. We need to ask whether we can do things better and, if we can, we should do so.