Bosnia-Herzegovina

– in the House of Lords at 7:31 pm on 15 November 2005.

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Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever Spokespersons In the Lords, Foreign Affairs, Spokespersons In the Lords, Defence, Spokespersons In the Lords, International Development, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips 7:31, 15 November 2005

rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their assessment of the current situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

My Lords, I start by paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, who will soon be retiring and leaving Bosnia as the High Representative.

After a decade of conflicts—Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo—with a devastating impact on what used to be the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, with hundreds of thousands killed, ethnically cleansed and made refugees, it seems that this part of the Balkans region is finally making progress and looking to secure a stable future on the path to full European integration. Slovenia is today a member of the European Union and NATO. Croatia is starting negotiations to join the EU and is already integrated into NATO's Partnership for Peace. Kosovo's final status is expected to be resolved through imminent political negotiations. Bosnia-Herzegovina is taking steady steps from Dayton on the road to Brussels.

Ten years ago, when some 60,000 NATO troops flooded into the country, rebuilding Bosnia looked like an impossible task: 2.2 million refugees—half the Bosnian pre-war population—were waiting to go home. More than 250,000 Bosnian citizens were killed and Srebrenica was, to use the phrase coined during the Balkan wars, "ethnically cleansed" of all its non-Serb population. The atrocities committed were on a scale not seen in Europe since World War II.

Ten years since the signing of the Dayton peace accords, which brought the war to an end, the success of the international community's involvement is undeniable. The NATO force has been replaced by a European Union force, one of just over 6,000 soldiers. More than a million people have returned to their pre-war homes. The Bosnian Parliament has voted to create a single, unified army and defence ministry. It has agreed on the need to reform the police institutions consistent with EU standards. This has enabled the European Union to recommend launching negotiations on a stabilisation and association agreement with Bosnia-Herzegovina this year. The Partnership for Peace should be the next step. However, there remain major issues that will need to be addressed if Bosnia is fully to integrate into the Euro-Atlantic institutions and finally become a fully-fledged democracy and a stable European country.

There will be no real peace in the Balkans until the countries of the region bring the most notorious war criminals to justice. Ten years after the massacre at Srebrenica, the two Serb leaders directly responsible—Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic—remain at large. Accountability helps prevent future crimes; impunity only encourages further crimes. The fact that Karadzic and Mladic continue to evade justice is a sign of the international community's impotence. Will the Minister clarify who is responsible for the apprehension of these fugitives? What is the role of NATO/EUFOR in bringing these brutal war criminals to justice?

The US has been clear that Belgrade and Podgorica must comply with their obligations to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. The US will not agree to Serbia's and Montenegro's participation in NATO's Partnership for Peace until Mladic is turned over to The Hague. What recent representations have been made to the leadership of both Serbia and Montenegro on this issue?

The Dayton accords were never meant to be set in stone. A majority of people in Bosnia-Herzegovina have already recognized the need for reform if they are to join NATO and the EU. When the Bosnian war ended in November 1995—exactly 10 years ago—the ethnic divisions in the country were frozen in place. For Bosnia to join the Euro-Atlantic Structures these divisions must be removed. Does the Minister agree with the US officials who recently stated that it is now time to remove the,

"Berlin Wall of separation between Bosnians", and strengthen the institutions that will make Bosnia a truly unified state in the future and that the time may have come for the revision of the Dayton peace accords? Does he agree that the ethnic principle governing the country's division into "entities", which underlies the Dayton accords, in fact constitutes the surest guarantee of the continued dominance of the nationalist parties?

The Bosnian lawsuit against Serbia and Montenegro for genocide and aggression has become another important issue. Certain Western countries are seeking to solve this problem through arbitration, without recourse to the International Court of Justice. However, is it not imperative that the suit be dealt with by the court? Serbia's aggression towards non-Serbs must be addressed and legally established. Does the Minister agree that only by deconstructing and demystifying the project of a Greater Serbia in relation to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia can the region achieve stability and peace? Can the Minister shed any light on recent reports of attempts by Her Majesty's Government to use the anniversary of Srebrenica to call on the leadership of Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia to issue a common declaration of "reconciliation and apology"?

The long-term Bosnia peacekeeping mission has been successful. This was the result of consistency of purpose, clarity of mission and national support. The peacekeeping phases were clearly defined, allowing leaders periodically to re-evaluate the mission and adjust as the environment allowed. SFOR's success could be transferred to other similar situations. The number of peacekeepers is now being reduced as the international community expands its focus on economic and political progress. I hope that this will further contribute to the long-term stability, not only of Bosnia-Herzegovina but of the region as a whole.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour 7:40, 15 November 2005

My Lords, it is my pleasure to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Astor, on initiating this debate. I congratulate him, too, on its timeliness because it is the 10th anniversary of both the tragedy of Srebrenica and of the Dayton accords. It is also on the eve of the departure of the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown. Clearly he has done his job extremely well, using the Bonn powers available to him as the High Representative very effectively indeed. Certainly during the visit last November—exactly a year ago—of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the other place, which I had the pleasure to lead, there was almost universal admiration of his work—except of course for the most nationalist of politicians, some of whom were dismissed, quite properly, at his insistence. Both the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, and Major General Leakey ensure that there is a substantial British contribution to Bosnia at the moment—General Leakey, of course, heading EUFOR, which took over from SFOR in December of last year.

It is right to put this debate in the context of the western Balkans generally and the turbulence in the 1990s caused by the dissolution of the Yugoslav empire. Bitter ethnic conflict swept through the Balkans as the flaming baton touched all the relevant countries—except only partially Slovenia and Macedonia, with the flames of conflict reaching there in 2002, but, happily, they did not prevail. There are in the area still levels of ethnic hatred, high unemployment, the poorest education in Europe, smuggling, human trafficking and the arms trade—all of which form a lethal cocktail.

The western Balkans have been variously described as a "marginalised black hole". More positively, when I met George Papandreou—the then Greek Foreign Minister—in his office he crossed to a large map of Europe on the wall; he pointed out the western Balkans and said, "There is the missing piece of Europe's jigsaw"—and it does indeed seem like that when one looks at the map.

Yet even with this unpromising background there are now promising signs. Indeed, the past few months may be seen by historians as a tipping point in the relations of the western Balkans with the European Union. The noble Lord has already mentioned the decision in October that Croatia should be accepted as a candidate for the EU; on 7 November at Brussels, Foreign Ministers of the EU agreed to accelerate their commitments to the Balkans and to play an active part in the future of Kosovo as we now approach the decision on its final status, with Martii Ahtisaari charged by the United Nations with the responsibility for the negotiations. On the same day there was the official opening of discussions between the European Union and Serbia and Montenegro on a stability and association agreement, the first step to EU membership, and agreement then to open as soon as practicable similar SAA negotiations with Bosnia-Herzegovina. I notice that a month ago the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, referred to 12 December as the date for opening those negotiations, but now I understand that they are likely to open on 21 November.

The presidents of several of the countries—Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina—have met in Sarejevo. Nicholas Burns, the US Under-Secretary of State, has clarified the US position in relation to the conditional independence of Kosovo, with incentives for the Serbs, and no objection in principle if Montenegro were to vote for independence in its referendum next year. At the same time the EU Commission has declared Macedonia worthy of candidate status when only four years ago there was a real danger of civil war there.

As to NATO, can the Minister say what progress has been made in the area? We know of the progress with the Adriatic three but, even though in Bosnia-Herzegovina there is still a NATO mission dealing with defence reform, and given the lack of co-operation with ICTY, what prospects are there for somehow circumventing that and moving the countries of the area closer to NATO?

It is almost exactly a year ago that the Foreign Affairs Committee of the other place was in Sarejevo. We saw that Dayton was a necessary framework to end the war but clearly not to build a nation. We saw many negative features, including the vast bureaucracy in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where the state spends up to 70 per cent of taxpayers' money on governing itself and only 30 per cent on its people, with 14 Parliaments and 1,000 Ministers. We heard of the dependency factor whereby many politicians were unable to take necessary but controversial decisions and relied on the strong man at the top. There is widespread corruption, unemployment and a failure to deal with war crimes.

Can the Minister say how Her Majesty's Government view the extent of the co-operation from both Bosnia and Serbia? I understand that, over the past 11 months, 11 indictees—or "PIFWCs", as they are called; persons indicted for war crimes—have "voluntary surrendered" with seven remaining. How do we view the current degree of co-operation from both Bosnia and Serbia?

When the committee was there it also saw signs of hope. We saw the first EU joint civil and military crisis management operation, with the transfer last December from SFOR to EUFOR, the first real test case for the ESDP. There has been a smooth transition; it has worked. Bosnia and Herzegovina have one currency, one passport, and more common institutions. A centrally administered VAT will be in operation from the beginning of next year. As the noble Lord mentioned, more than 90 per cent of property claims from the turbulence of the 1990s have been settled, and of the 2.2 million refugees only about 250,000 are still waiting to return.

The key slogan "From Dayton to Brussels" is underlined by the report of the International Commission on the Balkans, The Balkans in Europe's Future, and, of course by the important decision of Republika Srpska a month ago to join in the police integration, which may take many years to be implemented but is still a very significant step. The EU is the terminus. It is the key to promoting regional co-operation and internal restructuring. It is clear that the western Balkans are manageable and it is in our mutual interests to do so. Otherwise there will be instability on our doorstep, a constant flow of immigrants and increasing criminal and terrorist networks.

What are HMG—including the World Service of the BBC—specifically doing in respect of Bosnia-Herzegovina? Is the European Union now considering a relaxation of the visa regime in respect of Bosnia? What lessons have we learnt from other accession countries—for example, Bulgaria—in terms of the scale and nature of financial assistance? Should there be a national development plan for Bosnia-Herzegovina to help integration?

I end on this point about the symbolism of Sarejevo. In the summer of 1914 Sarejevo sparked the outbreak of the First World War. That war inspired the founding fathers of the European Union to dream of a united Europe. The Commission on the Balkans declared boldly:

"It is in Sarejevo in the summer of 2014 that Europe should demonstrate that a new European century has arrived".

That is the challenge—in my judgment it is attainable—and it is in our mutual interests that we grasp the opportunity.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Spokesperson in the Lords, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs 7:50, 15 November 2005

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, for initiating this short debate. I congratulate him particularly on his timing; politicians from most of the important parties in Bosnia are meeting, together with people from the international community, to attempt to thrash out a more suitable constitution 10 years after the Dayton Accord was first agreed. The noble Lord's timing is impeccable, and I thought his speech was as well, as was that of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. They are both far more distinguished than me in this field. I put my name down to speak in this debate, thinking that I would offer a few comments arising from my visits to Bosnia and how the people I have spoken to there see things, and now find myself having to wind up the debate from these Benches—that is the way of the world in this House.

I agree fundamentally with the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, that the European Union is the key to the whole of the Balkans, particularly to sorting out Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is not the most important thing; most important are the citizens of that country, who have to find ways of working with each other sensibly and democratically, running a modern democratic state and building a modern economy. People from the European Union can help to put appropriate pressure on them to do this.

My visits to Bosnia have mainly been connected with meeting members of political parties and engaging in training sessions to try to get some of the non-sectarian parties—very small, weak parties—to understand how they might make electoral progress. I have to say that the results have been almost a complete failure. The only non-sectarian party which has really been able to survive in the environment of Bosnian politics is the Social Democratic Party, the SDP. It had the great advantage of being the successor to the old Communist Party so it inherited a lot of property, money and resources which enabled it to survive. The rest of the parties are floundering around in a murky maelstrom and find it very difficult to survive.

The international community has at various times tried to support some of these parties, but has not been very successful. Initially, at the first elections, it thought it would be a good idea to encourage candidates, so it paid people to become candidates. Surprise, surprise—more than 100 political parties and lots of independents registered. They did not want to get elected; it was simply a way of getting some income after the collapse of the former Yugoslavian and Bosnian economy. That is an example of the law of unintended consequences.

In order to survive, some non-sectarian parties found it necessary to make alliances with sectarian parties, particularly the SDA, the main Muslim party, the Bosniak nationalist Party of Democratic Action, which has formed a coalition for a united and democratic BiH, or the KCD, which has made some progress. In doing so, it has subsumed its own non-sectarian nature as part of what is still an overtly sectarian coalition, although less nationalist in its approach than some of the parties such as the SDS in the Republika Srpska and the HDZ, which was described to me, before I met some of its members, as the right-wing faction of Mr Tujman's party from Croatia. Having met them, I know exactly what that means. I now know what old-fashioned eastern European bureaucrats are like. I had never met people like that before and it was quite an interesting experience. It was a combination of old-style party apparatchiks and Croatian nationalism. They gave us a half-hour lecture on Croatian history, how Croatia had been independent for about 10 years in the 11th or 12th century and how that justified everything they were doing.

This was amusing, but the real problem is that such people are still very strong on the ground and can get most of the votes from the Croat community in Bosnia. It is not just a Serb problem. The fact that the war took place was clearly mainly at the instigation of Serb nationalists. However, the real problem in Bosnia is that when you talk to people individually they say they would love to transform to a modern European state, but most vote defensively for the party they see as representing their community. They think that if they do not vote for them and vote for social democrats, liberals, conservatives or republicans, they will lose out because the other lot will still vote for the nationalist lot. It reminded me very much of Northern Ireland, except that there are three ethnic religious groups rather than two. That leads to extra complications, quite apart from the structure of the two entities.

The last time I went to Bosnia, three years ago, I was told by people across several small non-nationalist parties from both the Republika Srpska and the federation, "This is our only opportunity to meet. We can't function as a normal democratic political party because we have no income, effectively. The party has no resources and we can't afford to come to Sarajevo and all meet together". They found it very difficult. Some people from a northern town in the Republika Srpska explained how politics worked in their town. The privatisation which had taken place after the war resulted in some of the local state enterprises being sold off to people who were prominent members of the SDS, the Serbian Democratic Party. They owned the enterprises and, in turn, funded the political party. The privatised industry which had been sold to the old bureaucrats—the old apparatchiks—was now funding the political party it was supporting. It was a dual relationship. When I asked whether they could campaign against these people, they said, "The problem is that they run everything; they deliver everything through these firms so they give the contracts back to the firms that support them and pay for them and they determine who gets what. So if you want to put central heating in an old people's block of flats or employ wardens, you vote for that party. If you don't, they will spend the money on people who do vote for them". That is an example of old-fashioned machine politics and very difficult to counter.

I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Ashdown and the fantastic work he has done in Bosnia. He has taken the country forward as far as it was possible to take it forward. But he and everybody else now recognises that we are no longer in a position whereby an old-fashioned colonial government—what a commentator in the Guardian this week called "benevolent liberal imperialism"—is possible. The country has to move on, and power has to be transferred to local politicians and local people. In that respect, would the Minister like to comment on the discussions that have taken place between the international community, the Americans and others, and political leaders from Bosnia? We are told that secret discussions have taken place for six or seven months; I wonder what role we are playing in that. Does the Minister think there may be some favourable outcomes in doing away with the entities, the cantons and the federation, and moving towards a much more unitary state? It may seem strange for a liberal to say that but, in a country of 4 million people in those circumstances, it is absolutely necessary. Does he believe that we may be able, with the help of people in Bosnia, to move forward to a new era politically, as well as everything else—because if we do not do it politically, the place will not survive?

Photo of Baroness Rawlings Baroness Rawlings Spokespersons In the Lords, Foreign Affairs, Spokespersons In the Lords, International Development 8:00, 15 November 2005

My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Astor of Hever for initiating this important debate. These two provinces, now a federation but once part of the former Yugoslavia, form part of the most fascinating area in the Balkans. Very briefly, they were part of Illyria in the days of the Roman occupation; they then swayed, by military conquest, between Byzantium and Hungary-Croatia. Serbian tribes began to settle during the 7th century, and gradually a local independence was evolved. The complications, as usual, were religious rather than racial. A Bulgarian creed, Bogomilism, soon spread to Bosnia; its primitive communism appealed to people who knew only the tyranny of local or foreign rulers. That is a tiny glimpse of a fascinating history that gives an insight to today's debate, in which we are looking at the present situation. Of course we have had a fascinating debate, with several knowledgeable and enlightened contributions, as is typical in your Lordships' House.

The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, the High Representative of the international community, describes the progress made in Bosnia-Herzegovina as nothing short of miraculous. He says:

"The miracle in Bosnia is how much has been done in 10 years. A sixteenth of the population was killed, more than in France after World War II, half the population made homeless, 90 per cent of the buildings destroyed. We have lost touch with how long it takes; healing is always measured in decades".

He is right; a lot has been achieved. But the situation remains fragile.

Nearly 300,000 civilians are still waiting to go home. Although Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro earlier this year agreed to try to get everyone back to their towns and villages by the end of 2006, it is not clear whether that goal, ambitious even by Balkan standards, will be met. What progress has been achieved and what help have our Government offered to the countries concerned? Does the Minister agree that, in order for Bosnian refugees and internally displaced persons to be able to return to their pre-war homes in northern Bosnia, it is essential that the Serbs expelled from the Croatian Krajina region are allowed to return to their pre-conflict homes?

Croatia was recently officially granted European Union candidate status at the European Council summit in Brussels, yet further progress is needed in the areas of minority rights, refugee returns, judicial reform, and regional co-operation. What representations have been made to the Croatian Government regarding that issue?

I turn to the security situation in the region. While overall security in Bosnia has improved immeasurably, the question of whether it is possible to hold Bosnia together and what sort of commitment that will demand from our Armed Forces is important, given the current commitment of British troops across the globe. The UK is supporting the fight against organised crime, as is the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. As we have heard today, Ministers have described the security situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina as stable, with the EU-led operation there continuing to provide a safe and secure environment. However, it is important that that statement is put into context.

Recently, in a Written Statement to this house, the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, stated that in a typical three-month period, EUFOR collect some 500 small arms, 200,000 rounds of ammunition, 2,500 hand grenades and over 250 kilograms of explosives. That is in addition to operations against organised crime gangs, fuel smugglers and illegal loggers. It would be misleading to suggest that there are not substantial problems still to be addressed. Most worrying of these is corruption, which has plagued Bosnia since the end of the war. Investment has been slow to materialise and unemployment remains high. The victims of corruption are often the most vulnerable groups—the elderly, the unemployed and other low-income groups, women and minorities, facing a judiciary and administration appointed according to ethnic majority criteria.

The situations that I have just outlined suggest that, while the situation may be stable, there are certainly challenges ahead. We recognise that there has been significant progress in several key areas, in infrastructure and the economy. The work of international bodies has helped the country remain relatively peaceful, and GDP has shown a steady rise in recent years. We on this side continue to support EUFOR's aim to provide an environment in which reform and reconstruction can take place. The UK continues to provide about 1,000 troops in EUFOR, which took over the operations of NATO's SFOR in December 2004. Earlier this year, we saw the introduction of major reforms to strengthen the role of central government, and the country now has a single defence structure and intelligence service alongside a central judicial system and a single customs service.

An important breakthrough was also achieved when agreement was reached in creating a unified multi-ethnic national police force to replace the separate forces operated by the entities. As noble Lords will be aware, reform of policing is a precondition for the start of talks on a stabilisation and association agreement with the EU. This, when the time is right, will be welcome news. The Conservative Party has long been a vocal supporter of the European Union's enlargement and, like the Secretary of State for Defence, we on these Benches believe that the European Union offers an opportunity for stability and prosperity, which are essential elements at mitigating the worst excesses of nationalism.

As several noble Lords have said, there has been insufficient progress to date with the capture of the two Bosnian Serb war crime suspects, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. Just as it is important to address the arrest of the alleged war criminals, co-operation with the International War Crimes Tribunal, and the return of refugees and internally displaced persons, so it is essential to address corruption and organised crime in Bosnia-Herzegovina—a problem sadly not unique to the federation in the Balkans—both to minimize the consequences for Europe and to facilitate the country's progress toward EU integration.

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 8:10, 15 November 2005

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, for a timely debate. It may have had relatively few speakers, but it has generated a great many questions. Ten years ago next week, on 21 November 1995, representatives of the warring parties in Bosnia and Herzegovina assembled on an air base in Dayton, Ohio, to initial what would become the Dayton peace agreement. This finally ended the bitter fighting in Bosnia and Herzegovina and established the constitutional structures of the country we know today.

Today, Bosnia stands on the threshold of a new chapter in its history: the beginning of a long and arduous path to eventual membership of the European Union. I noted the mention by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, of the 100 candidates who pitched in as a lesson that we should not follow that path. I also noticed his argument, with which I agree, that there is an overwhelming desire for more normal political and economic life. The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, described to us the ebb and flow of history over 2,000 years, which would certainly lead me to desire a bit more normality.

The achievements of the past 10 years are largely thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, and I hope we will see him in his place in the House soon. For the past three and a half years he has been the international community's high representative and EU Special Representative to Bosnia. The noble Lord has spent that time well supported by his team, and, when necessary, he has been prepared to take hard decisions himself. He leaves Bosnia in a far stronger position. I am sure noble Lords will join me in expressing gratitude and admiration for all that he has achieved, and indeed other noble Lords have said so during the debate. We owe him a great debt. The noble Baroness used the word "miraculous", and he has contributed significantly to that miracle.

I also pay tribute to another British citizen to whom Bosnia, the EU, NATO and the international community have reason to be grateful. Next month we will see the UK hand over command of the EU peacekeeping operation in Bosnia, EUFOR, to the Italians. EUFOR has been commanded by Major-General David Leakey for the last 12 months, and he has done a superb job. EUFOR has successfully established itself as a robust and credible successor to NATO's stabilisation force, guaranteeing a safe and secure environment. It is true, as the noble Baroness says, that much of the continuing work on disarmament and dealing with criminality takes us to a much more secure future, and it is down to that force.

It is in part a testament to the international community's military, diplomatic and political investment in Bosnia—and, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, says, to the Bosnian people themselves—that Bosnia has come so far in 10 years. Just how far Bosnia has come is underlined by other 10th anniversaries commemorated this year: that, as has been mentioned, of the massacre of around 8,000 Bosnian men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995; and those of the massacres that took place in countless other towns and villages all over Bosnia. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs attended the commemorations in Srebrenica this year.

All this must make us reflect on the path that Bosnia and Herzegovina are going down. Noble Lords have raised the issue of the Dayton peace accords in this sense. Those accords were not only a peace treaty, but also the constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina. That constitution has the support of the US and Europe, and any change to it requires the consent of all three constituent peoples. It is enshrined in Dayton. Imposing constitutional reform would break the principle of consent, and would hinder Bosnia and Herzegovina's further Euro-Atlantic integration. The discussions are important because they are the means of moving towards greater consent, and constitutional reform, although not a prerequisite for further Euro-Atlantic integration, is essential if progress is to be made along that path, particularly in Europe. Those are questions that both the noble Lord, Lord Astor, and my noble friend Lord Anderson raised, and it is right that we focus on them.

It is right, too, that we focus on Bosnia's future in a general sense, as well as on the past. If, as we hope, the European Union opens negotiations with Bosnia on a stabilisation and association agreement before the end of the year, this will send an important message about the direction of travel in which both Bosnia and the EU are headed. For Bosnia it will mark the first step on the path to eventual EU membership, and with this step will come important benefits in terms of trade and assistance—precisely what the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, urged upon all those involved.

For the EU, opening these negotiations will be another signal that the enlargement agenda—to which I know the Conservative Party is committed, as are all other parties in this House—remains on track. It will also show that the European Union keeps its promises. If the countries of the western Balkans meet the necessary conditions, the EU will honour its part in that bargain. It will also mean that the countries of the region will have concluded, or will be negotiating, formal contractual relations with the EU. So the 10th anniversary of Dayton should bring with it reasons to celebrate, as well as reasons to reflect, for Bosnia-Herzegovina, the UK and the EU.

It is important, as we have done in this debate, to acknowledge the progress Bosnia has made up to this point. That progress, as the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, says, would be all the more marked if people could return safely to their homes across the whole of the area. Bosnia has carried out far-reaching reforms of its judiciary, tax and defence structures, as my noble friend Lord Anderson pointed out. A functioning state court will be trying its first war crimes cases, transferred back to Bosnia by the tribunal at The Hague. It has just agreed, after a long struggle, to root out and deal with police structures. These are vital steps in getting to grips with corruption and waste.

Perhaps the biggest success to date has been in defence reform. Bosnia agreed earlier this year to reforms that will unite the three former armies into a single military force. This is a huge step for any country or peoples whose armies faced each other across enemy lines in such a spirit of violence just 10 years ago. The best guarantee that external forces, including ours, can hand the job over is the emergence of a credible military force that can take over the security issues.

All these reforms have one thing in common: they have strengthened the Bosnian state and laid the foundations for the process of Euro-Atlantic integration. There is a good deal more to be done, however. Despite the important progress of the past few years, there are significant challenges. International support will be required for years to come and many of the challenges are a legacy of the years of conflict. In particular, if Bosnia is to complete the transition from a post-conflict state to a member state of the European Union and NATO, it must draw a line once and for all under the issue of war crimes. This means demonstrating full and unequivocal co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. A number of noble Lords made exactly that point. It means ensuring that all fugitive indictees—in particular Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic—are located and transferred to The Hague. It is an outrage that the two men indicted as the architects of the atrocities at Srebrenica remain at large 10 years on.

The transfer of a number of indictees to The Hague earlier this year was a welcome step. I can say in response to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, that progress has been visible but it is partial and it cannot be described as more than that. But it also showed that the EU and NATO policy of conditionality—making clear that full co-operation with the ICTY was a pre-requisite for further integration—works. But Bosnia's co-operation with the ICTY and that of Serbia and Montenegro cannot be considered full while Karadzic and Mladic are still at large. And Croatia has acknowledged that it must maintain co-operation with the ICTY until the fugitive indictee Gotovina is also at The Hague.

The noble Lord, Lord Astor, raised a number of important points about this process. The United States and others have been clear that Belgrade must comply with its obligation, and until the government turn over the indicted mass murderers, the United States will not agree to Serbia and Montenegro's participation in NATO's partnership for peace. Those are the representations that this Government have also made. We support NATO's position on the need for co-operation and we will make further representations in addition to all those we have made with the Belgrade leadership to ensure that they understand those points.

Important questions were asked by the noble Lord, Lord Astor, on the need for a functioning state and state reforms. I am happy to have had the opportunity to make these key points. We will insist that there is a continuing process of reform so that Bosnia's future can be self-sustaining and viable. Increasingly, the international community is looking to the Bosnian authorities to show the leadership and political maturity required to deliver the next stage of Euro-Atlantic integration. These are not just economic issues; they are political issues. As all noble Lords have said, the nationalist, zero-sum politics, too evident in the region, cannot continue to be the norm.

Despite the excellent work of the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, and EUFOR in this area, the rule of law remains a challenge also. Having reached an agreement in principle on police reform, Bosnia must now implement that agreement and do so in the right way. Without this, there is little chance of a serious effort to tackle the scourge of organised crime.

The EU police mission, EUPM, is working to assist Bosnia's police and law enforcement agencies in tackling the challenge. Bosnia must be able to function effectively as a state. The Dayton peace agreement gave Bosnia its constitution, but it is a complicated and costly set of arrangements and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, put the point very well. As Bosnia makes progress towards EU membership, it will need to evolve and ensure that it is capable of complex negotiations in order to make the progress full and ensure regional stability. I do not believe that further Balkanisation—to take the word that rightly came from the area, cantonisation—is liable to help that process. I believe that we must take that stance across the region, too.

In conclusion, perhaps I may answer the comments of one or two noble Lords as there is a little time to do so. The aim of the BBC World Service is to provide the audience with an authoritative and reliable news service and current affairs coverage of the region and the wider European and international agenda. I believe that it has done that and will do so successfully. In response to my noble friend Lord Anderson, the visa regimes throughout that area, as elsewhere, are kept under review on their individual merits and they will be lifted when it is judged that the threat that led to their introduction has been removed.

The discussions in the western Balkans on progress towards EU integration is also important and we are using our presidency to drive forward the stabilisation and association process. We expect to enter discussions with Bosnia shortly. We anticipate that the discussions will start on 21 November. We talked a little about refugee returns and I made a few comments on that in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings. I can add only that we are working hard on that with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The rate of return of displaced people to their pre-war homes has dropped in the past five years as most of those who are willing to return have done so. That makes the remainder of the task harder, but we should not give up on it.

The final key question—if there are others I will read the text of what other noble Lords have said and do my best to respond to anything that I have missed—was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and it was in several other speeches as well. It was about Bosnia being invited to join NATO's Partnership for Peace and what the position would be with Albania, Macedonia, and Croatia—the Adriatic Three as they are called. They all have a number of reforms to complete. I have mentioned some of those reforms in my response to the debate. There has been some good progress on meeting military conditions. However, NATO Foreign Ministers have not invited Bosnia-Herzegovina to join the PFP because there are still those remaining concerns about co-operation with the ICTY. I make that point clearly and succinctly. The condition is so simple and so clear that it can be grasped as it is; and as it is grasped progress can be made.

As we have all said in this debate, Bosnia has come a long way in 10 years with significant gains and it has a long way to go. Its past is a matter of bitter regret, but its future is clear. It can one day be a member of the EU and of NATO, but how long that process takes largely depends on the Bosnians themselves. It also depends on the continued support of the UK and the wider international community, and Bosnia can count on that support. We have said what it needs to do to have that support fully expressed. That support will include frank advice about what needs to be done, including ICTY co-operation. Next week's anniversary is a chance to reflect on how far we have come and also on why we must remain engaged to ensure Bosnia's long-term sustainability and success. I am very grateful for this debate, because all noble Lords who have taken part in it have emphasised that sense of hope against a very real sense of what must be done. If this House can send a message, that is the best message that it can send.

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Government Whip

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.32 pm.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.27 to 8.32 pm.]