HC Deb 07 June 1995 vol 261 cc199-201
8. Mr. Nigel Griffiths

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what further discussions he has had with his counterparts in the UN over further Serbian aggression in Bosnia and Croatia. [25438]

Mr. Hurd

I have been in close touch with counterparts about the future of the UN force in Bosnia and the detention of UN troops by the Bosnian Serbs. We have been holding talks in London with the Russian Foreign Minister, Mr. Kozyrev, in the past two days. The new French Foreign Minister will visit me this evening and that will no doubt be our main topic of conversation. While the release of the second group of hostages this morning is welcome, we all agree that all UN troops should be returned unconditionally, unharmed and at once.

Mr. Griffiths

What does the Foreign Secretary think of the failure of the Bosnian Serbs to allow the Red Cross access to the hostages? Is not that in breach of recognised international codes of conduct and morals?

Mr. Hurd

The Bosnian Serbs are in breach of those codes by detaining the hostages in the first place. We are applying pressures, both direct and indirect, to bring about their unconditional and immediate release. There has been some progress, although not yet enough. While people are held, they should be treated decently, and access by the Red Cross should be allowed.

Sir Patrick Cormack

In view of the need to maintain firmness and cohesion among the nations of the contact group, are there plans for the contact group to meet either at Heads of Government or Foreign Minister level? If there are no such plans, will my right hon. Friend consider convening a meeting?

Mr. Hurd

We had a meeting at ministerial level last week, and I am sure that we shall need another such meeting before long.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

The Foreign Secretary will know that there have been some reports that Mr. Kozyrev is unenthusiastic about the proposals for an additional deployment of troops from the United Kingdom. Can the Foreign Secretary tell us as a result of his conversations with Mr. Kozyrev whether he is now reconciled to that further deployment? Is there now a risk that Russia will object at the United Nations to the deployment of those troops?

Mr. Hurd

Mr. Kozyrev said yesterday that he had been reassured by the explanations on that point. The draft resolution, which will need to go before the Security Council, will be designed to lift the ceiling of UNPROFOR, which is defined in the present resolutions and is too low, but it will not need to change the mandate. There is plenty of scope in the mandate for useful work by the reinforcements now going out to protect the British contingent in UNPROFOR—for example, supplying light artillery and equipment for mine clearing, while giving greater protection to those involved.

Mr. Budgen

If it be true that there is risk that the Bosnian war might spread across the map of Europe and involve Russia and the United States coming in on opposite sides, why are we talking about withdrawing the troops?

Mr. Hurd

Our aim is not to withdraw troops; our aim is to make a success of the present exercise. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and others have said for a long time that that is our aim and our wish.

One can conceive of circumstances in which that becomes impossible, in which case, obviously, we would need to withdraw. I think that then the arms embargo would probably be lifted, that the present half peace, half war in Bosnia would become once again a full and savage war and that there would be a risk of it spreading outwards to other parts of the Balkans, with the accompanying risk that the big powers might be divided as to which side, if any, they supported.

However, our aim is not to withdraw. Our aim is to make a success of what we have set our hand to.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

The whole House will wish whatever negotiations are taking place about release of the hostages to be successful, but may we have an assurance that the British Government are not sanctioning a trade-off whereby we give, or anyone gives, undertakings not to make air strikes in return for the release of hostages? May we have an assurance that the British Government are not giving any sanction to any party that that might be our position?

Mr. Hurd

The Prime Minister gave that assurance to the House in the debate last week.

Mr. John Townend

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the majority of my constituents—I agree with them—consider that the only national vital interest we have in Bosnia is obtaining the release of our troops? Is it not strange that we have to have more troops there than any other country, especially when Italy, which presumably has a much greater national interest, and Germany, have almost none? Will he tell the House what will be the total monthly cost of humanitarian aid in the presence of our troops when all the reinforcements have been deployed, and who is paying that cost?

Mr. Hurd

We do not at the moment have the greatest number of troops; the French have the greatest number of troops, although my hon. Friend is right to say that, when the full reinforcements that have been promised are in place, we shall probably have the greatest number. The Prime Minister set out in the debate last week—I believe he had general support on both sides of the House—two main reasons why we sent troops to Bosnia. The first is the humanitarian one—to save lives. The second is the strategic one—that we wish to damp down that war if we can, to contain it and to prevent it spreading. Those are the two reasons for our decision that the Prime Minister explained, and I think that he was right.

The humanitarian aid and UNPROFOR, the UN force, are financed by the UN, overwhelmingly. We make our contribution to that, as do other countries. The UN is not sufficiently financed at the moment. There are countries—not including us—who do not pay their dues, so there is a slowness in being repaid. Fundamentally, however, those are UN operations.

Mr. Robin Cook

May I join the Foreign Secretary in warmly welcoming the latest release of hostages, and express our full support for every pressure on the Bosnian Serbs for the early and safe release of all hostages? Does he agree that the release of the majority of the hostages shows that the international community was right to show a new resolve towards the Bosnian Serbs and to refuse to give in to blackmail, and that the House was right to set aside the voices urging an immediate withdrawal, which would have been the biggest concession that the Bosnian Serbs could have asked for?

Mr. Hurd

The debate in the House last week showed the House at its best. It was entirely right that anxieties were expressed, because anxieties exist; I believe that we all feel them. However, it was also right that the great majority of voices should support the line that we are taking. We will hold to that line.

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