Written Answers. - Bosnian Peace Accord.

Seán Haughey

Question:

92 Mr. Haughey asked the asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has satisfied himself with the implementation of the peace accord in Bosnia with particular reference to the return of Bosnians from Croatian camps to Bosnia and the clearance of these camps; his views on the disappearance of people in Sarajevo since the implementation of the peace accord; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [

The peace agreement for Bosnia and Hercegovina is an agreement between the former belligerent parties and it is, therefore, primarily the responsibility of the parties themselves to implement it. A wide range of international organisations have a role in assisting with, and monitoring, its implementation. These include the Office of the High Representative, Carl Bildt, the United Nations, and the international Implementation Force, IFOR.

Two reports have so far been transmitted to the United Nations Security Council on the operations of IFOR, the most recent of these having been submitted on 23 January. On that date, the assessment of the IFOR command was that a spirit of good co-operation was continuing between the parties and the Implementation Force and that substantial progress had been made in meeting the terms of compliance with the Peace agreement. Overall, the country-wide ceasefire continues to hold firm and the number of breaches of the ceasefire is reducing. Most importantly, the parties had, by 19 January — the deadline specified under the agreement — complied with the requirement to withdraw their forces from the four-kilometre wide zone of separation. IFOR commanders stated that considerable progress had been made with regard to mine clearance, although, due to the scale of the problem, it had not been possible for this to be completed on schedule. The necessity of clearing the mines was tragically confirmed by the deaths of a number of British IFOR troops in a mine explosion on Sunday, 28 January. The assessment was that the parties were also making every effort to ensure that all foreign forces leave the territory of Bosnia and Hercegovina, as required by the agreement.
However on one issue, there was deliberate non-compliance on all sides. The terms of the agreement had specified that all prisoners should be released on 19 January. In the event, 217 prisoners were exchanged under the supervision of the International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC, leaving some 645 still detained. Intensive negotiations, involving the High Representative, the ICRC and IFOR ensued, with the aim of ensuring the release of those detained, and most of the remaining prisoners were finally freed on 27 January. The ICRC is continuing to work for the release of the remaining detainees.
With regard to civilian aspects of the implementation of the agreement, the High Representative has been reporting regularly to the EU Council of Foreign Ministers on this issue, most recently on 29 January. Structures to co-ordinate the efforts of the many organisations which will be involved in the implementation of the non-military aspects of the agreement, including the joint civilian commission within Bosnia and Herzegovina, are up and running. Work in relation to ensuring the observance of human rights throughout the country is well under way. Mechanisms for the channelling of rehabilitation and reconstruction aid are in place, and the most urgent work, concerned with the restoration of basic amenities in many locations, is going ahead.
Tensions persists over some issues, most notably over the future status of a number of Serb-populated suburbs of Sarajevo which are to be restored to the control of the Bosnian Federation, and the High Representative is working closely with the parties on confidencebuilding measures aimed at creating conditions where the Serb population will feel that they can continue to reside in the Bosnian capital in safety.
The deployment of the United Nations International Police Task Force (UNIPTF) will be an important contribution to this effort, as well as to the broader effort towards fully implementing the civilian aspects of the agreement. The Government has made available an Assistant Garda Commissioner, Peter Fitzgerald, for the post of Commissioner of the Task Force, and I am pleased to be able to report that Commissioner Fitzgerald travelled to Sarajevo yesterday and has assumed his duties there.
The implementation of other areas of the agreement, including steps towards the establishment of new constitutional structures by the parties within Bosnia and Herzegovina, the task of assessing the suitability of conditions for elections — which is being carried out by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), assisted by the European Community Monitor Mission (ECMM), and negotiations on confidence and security-building measures and arms control measures in the context of regional stabilisation arrangements, are proceeding well at this stage.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is the lead agency concerned with assistance to refugees and displaced persons. The UNHCR has prepared a plan for the phased return of these people, in safety and on a voluntary basis. The parties have accepted this plan, and the various international organisations involved in the implementation of the agreement, including the EU and its member states, stand ready to assist in putting it into operation.
Croatia is currently providing shelter for more than 400,000 refugees from Bosnia. The Croatian Government recently closed two camps in the Zagreb area, at Spasko and Zaprudje, which had housed both Bosnian Muslims and Croats displaced from fighting in 1991 in Eastern Slavonia in Croatia. Those affected have not been expelled from Croatia, and have the opportunity to remain in other refugee camps in eastern Croatia. The UNHCR have stressed that refugees should not be pressurised to return to Bosnia before conditions are right for them to do so. It is important that the authorities in Zagreb and in all countries which host refugees continue to be guided by the advice of the UNHCR on this issue.
The abduction of a number of Bosnian civilians who were exercising their right to free movement was a deplorable act for which elements of the Bosnian Serb armed forces appear to have been responsible. However, following international condemnation, the captors released a group of 16 civilians on 4 January. There were reports in the ensuing days that a further five civilians continued to be held captive, but the latest information to hand now suggest that those who had been feared abducted have, in fact, been accounted for.
This incident, along with a number of attacks on IFOR troops, and on civilians, including the bomb attack on a tram on 10 January which killed one man, illustrate the fragility of the agreement, particularly in these early stages. While compliance with the terms of the agreement is largely being achieved, and while implementation generally appears to be proceeding well, much hard work remains to be done to ensure that the agreement will come to be seen as a framework for lasting peace and stability, and not merely a pause in the conflict.