James Sunderland recounts his experiences in Bosnia and welcomes the current suspension of Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik’s separatist plans for Republika Srpska. He calls on the UK, as a witness to the Dayton agreement, to send British military planners to the country, back amendments to the Dayton agreement to encompass recent changes and cultural developments and for the international community to refocus on enforcing the political solution as set out at Dayton.
I was a young captain in 1997, when I deployed on my very first tour to Bosnia. It was an amazing experience. I was a logistics officer based in Split in Croatia, but I spent most of my time in Gornji Vakuf, Šipovo, Kupres, and Tomislavgrad. I also spent time in Banja Luka, which was then the headquarters of the multinational division that was entrusted with enforcing the peace and the Dayton agreement. Enforcement is a theme to which I shall return.
As some may know, Bosnia is a beautiful country. I have been there many times, and I refer Members to my interests, having visited it recently. It is full of lovely people of all nationalities and religious beliefs. These are great people; these are humble people; these are hard-working people; and these are people who deserve the full support of the international community.
The awful war that lasted from 1992 until 1995 left an appalling legacy. An estimated 100,000 people were killed, 80% of whom were Bosniaks. In July 1995, Bosnian Serb forces killed as many as 8,000 Bosniak men and boys from the town of Srebrenica. I have been there a few times. Ethnic cleansing became part of our language at that time, which it had not been for many years. The legacy is pretty horrible, and it is a legacy of which we must remain mindful today.
The Dayton agreement was signed on 14 December 1995. It was signed by the Republic of Yugoslavia, the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of Croatia, and the signatories in witness were the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and the EU. That means that the UK, as a signatory, also has an obligation to uphold the agreement. The commitment has been there since then. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) deployed in 1992, in the act of peacemaking. His tour was much more kinetic; it was called Operation Grapple. I deployed in 1997. My tour was peace enforcement, under the Dayton agreement. I served in support of that agreement, so I have skin in the game.
In a report delivered to the United Nations Security Council earlier this month, Christian Schmidt, the international community's high representative, suggested that Dodik had been persuaded by regional leaders to suspend his plans. That is very good news, but we cannot and must not take our foot off the gas. Why? Because Dodik’s rhetoric is separatist, and he has vowed to sever the legal and tax systems and the army in the Serb-run half of the country.
With reference to what was said by the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) and my hon. Friend’s wonderful words, may I point out to the House that, if Republika Srpska were to split from Bosnia, it would be a bit rich if Srebrenica—which is in Republika Srpska—stayed where it is, after what has happened there?
My right hon. and gallant Friend speaks very wisely, and I could not disagree with what he has said. I urge the Minister to heed those words.
As for the future, we know there is a problem, but let us not admire the problem too greatly. For me, this is about the solution. It is clear to me that a calm de-escalation of the crisis must be the current political goal and that, as a signatory, we must stand by the Dayton agreement. As was mentioned earlier, we must also give the high representative our unequivocal support. He knows what he is talking about, so let us get behind him. I agree with the suggestion that we should support the current headquarters in Bosnia with NATO troops, or even troops of support of the EU; it does not really matter, but an enhanced British presence in the headquarters and possibly on the ground is necessary to give us the eyes and the ears that we need.
I am pretty enthused by the progress so far. We are having this debate, and I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) for securing it. Baroness Goldie of the Ministry of Defence was in Sarajevo yesterday for the Bosnian Armed Forces Day. It was recently announced that Sir Stuart Peach would become the special envoy to the western Balkans. Let us recognise the good work that has been done so far. Let us recognise the senior engagement that is happening, and let us also recognise the need for a much broader unity of purpose within NATO and the United Nations, so that all signatories can come together and do what is necessary.
I will end with three points. First, I have mentioned the military presence, and it is very important to get military planners on the ground. Secondly, I believe that new Balkans policy is needed, perhaps amending the structures of the current Dayton agreement and perhaps even creating something called Dayton II, encompassing the changes and the cultural developments. The divides are still there in that fantastic country.
My last point is a simple one. I deployed in 1997 to do peace enforcement; I think we now need to do political enforcement.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Earlier in the debate, when reading from awful notes, I made an assertion about the perpetrators of the Srebrenica massacre. In the interest of absolute balance and objectivity, noting current sensitivity within Bosnia, I would like to state for the record that that is contested. I therefore pay tribute to all those across the whole region who have done so much to maintain peace since 1995, and I defer to the position of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.