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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 20 Apr 1994

Vol. 140 No. 1

Adjournment Matters. - Massacre in (Gorazde) Bosnia.

I am glad that Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Spring, is in the House for this Adjournment Matter. It is with considerable regret that I have to say that the situation in Gorazde is deteriorating by the minute. The ceasefire that had been brokered has totally collapsed. As the House may be aware, reports have come in that the hospital in Gorazde has been hit by rocket fire and at least ten people, and possibly more, have been killed.

The city of Gorazde is at present being razed to the ground by rocket fire. Gorazde had a population of about 30,000 but it now has a population of 65,000 to 70,000 with refugees flooding into the city. There are approximately 3.5 million refugees in the former Yugoslavia. Many years ago my wife and I spent our honeymoon in Yugoslavia and it was a magnificent country. It is sad to see what is happening there now. The Austrian Chancellor, Franz Vranitsky, was interviewed last night and he stated that approximately 75,000 refugees have fled to Austria.

I am concerned that we are facing a situation in Gorazde where the United Nations is not just being totally ignored but is being insulted. Many people will remember Haile Selassie addressing the League of Nations when his country was invaded by Italy and no action was taken. Haile Selassie got a poor hearing at the League of Nations at that time. Italy invaded his country and from then on we saw the beginning of the end of the League of Nations as we knew it. If the United Nations continues to be insulted and ignored and fails to take positive action it will cause such damage to the UN that it may signal the beginning of the end of the UN. That would be a tragedy for the world because of the high standing of the UN.

I regret to state that there has not been sufficient support from Britain, France and the US for the action necessary to stop the Serbian forces from attacking and slaughtering innocent civilians and carrying out atrocities the likes of which have not been seen in Europe for many years. The time has come for us to make certain that we endeavour to put our case to the United Nations to take positive action to prevent all of the former Yugoslavia being taken over by the Serbs. If this kind of aggression continues and armies are allowed to take over a city, town or country while democratic countries sit idly by, then I fear not only for the Balkan States as we know them but for other countries across Europe.

The UN must not be seen only as a talking shop but as an organisation which can ensure that when a conflict arises it will, following a meeting of the Security Council and following democratic decisions at the top echelons of the organisation, have the necessary resolve and determination to help to prevent military power from annexing territory, to prevent tyranny and to prevent total annihilation of unarmed civilians. This is what is happening at present. Gorazde, which is a case in point, has been humbled and brought to its knees, with the entire city razed to the ground. It is a matter that could not be more serious and I have great fears about what will happen over the next 24 to 48 hours.

I call upon the Tánaiste, as Minister for Foreign Affairs, to ensure that his views are brought to the attention of all of the relevant Governments, and of the UN, that the necessary action must be taken to ensure that the slaughter which is continuing is terminated immediately.

I welcome the opportunity to participate on the adjournment of the Seanad regarding the recent and ongoing tragic events in and around Gorazde. I fully share the concerns over these events which have been expressed so vividly by Senator Enright.

Before turning to Gorazde, I wish to state that the Government have pursued three essential aims in our policy on former Yugoslavia. These are, first, to maintain and develop the search for a peaceful settlement to the conflict in Bosnia on the basis of the European Union's peace plan; secondly, to prevent the spread of the conflict; and thirdly, to ensure the supply and delivery of humanitarian assistance to the victims.

Gorazde has been isolated and under siege for two years. For that period its inhabitants have been without running water and electricity. Most of the humanitarian needs of its inhabitants have had to be provided by the airdrop operation. The horrific events which have unfolded at Gorazde in recent days have shocked the international community. This assault on a small town, where some 65,000 people have huddled for protection, is an affront to human dignity. It has left over 300 people dead and more than 1,000 seriously injured. It is a further flagrant violation of international humanitarian law, examples of which we have witnessed all so frequently in Bosnia for over two years.

In view of the fact that many thousands of displaced persons had taken refuge in Gorazde and five other mostly Muslim towns, these were designated as safe areas by the Security Council in May 1993. Senators will recall that this step was advocated by the Irish Government at that time. Clearly it did not prove possible to achieve all of the UN's objectives in the designated safe areas, due to the inflexible attitude of the Bosnian Serbs and their continuing military actions. Events in Gorazde have highlighted this situation dramatically.

We should bear in mind, however, that Sarajevo is, at last, free from attack and while the situations at a number of other designated safe areas remains critical, the UN has, unlike in Gorazde, now been able to deploy in considerable strength in these towns. This has been a major factor in enabling UNPROFOR to work towards achieving its objectives.

In Gorazde, the UN made repeated attempts to secure the agreement of the Bosnian Serbs to an effective ceasefire and to stop their advance into the enclave. Undertakings to do so were repeatedly violated. In light of the shelling of Gorazde, which had jeopardised the lives of UN personnel there, as well as inflicting high casualties on the town's population, close air support was provided by NATO forces at the request of the Secretary General on 10 and 11 April 1994. The use of air power at safe areas under the authority of the UN was provided for in the Resolution 836, adopted by the Security Council in June 1993.

In advance of the action by NATO forces, clear and unambiguous warnings were repeatedly given to the Bosnian Serbs to cease their onslaught. Decisions to use force, including air power, to achieve the specific objectives of Security Council resolutions raise difficult and complex questions. I believe that the Secretary General's decision to authorise close air support in defence of UN personnel was taken after giving due weight to all the factors involved. Those Bosnians Serb commanders who defied the appeals and warnings of the international community bear the responsibility for the action taken.

It is deplorable that the Bosnian Serbs have continued their action against Gorazde, inflicting high casualties on its population and threatening the lives of UN personnel who courageously remained in the town. The actions of the Bosnian Serbs are a substantial setback for the peace process.

This is especially disheartening, given that much progress had been made recently towards an overall settlement in former Yugoslavia. The fighting between Bosnian Croats and Muslims in central Bosnia, the major conflict area for over nine months, has been brought to an end. Both parties have agreed to establish a Croat-Muslim Federation in Bosnia. In Croatia a ceasefire was agreed last month and forces are withdrawing from the confrontation lines. In Bosnia the vital issue of the delimitation of the Croat-Muslim Federation, as well as the future relationship between this Federation and the Bosnian-Serb territory, remain to be determined. These questions can be resolved only by negotiations conducted in good faith by all the parties.

The recent events at Gorazde have given rise to questions in some quarters as to whether the UN should continue to be engaged in Bosnia. It is clear that the UN has not been able to achieve all of its objectives. It would be the ultimate tragedy if, following events at Gorazde, despair should precipitate a withdrawal of the UN peace keeping force. However difficult and frustrating the process may be, the presence of the UN in Bosnia is vital to create the climate for negotiations and to provide desperately needed aid, not least in Gorazde, whose inhabitants are threatened by an appalling humanitarian crisis.

The EU, which co-chairs the International Conference on Former Yugoslavia, is fully engaged in the search for peace. Many people do not realise that EU member states are contributing some 15,000 personnel to UNPROFOR. A valuable contribution is also being made to a peaceful settlement by the 200 EU monitors in the EU Monitor Mission. Some 65 per cent of the total cost of the humanitarian aid in former Yugoslavia has been provided by the EU and its member states. The EU has also agreed in principle to administer the town of Mostar for a two year period and this is a major contribution to the rapprochement between Bosnian Croats and Muslims.

For Ireland's part, we will continue our efforts to promote the essential objectives I have outlined through our participation in the International Conference on Former Yugoslavia and our participation in UNPROFOR and in the EU Monitor Mission. We are also providing help for the victims of the conflict and we support the work of the international tribunal which has been established to prosecute the perpetrators of war crimes. We will continue our support for the vigorous implementation of the sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro.

Along with our EU partners we are fully engaged in the search for an overall settlement for Bosnia. Our aim is a comprehensive and durable peace for that country and the region. What has been achieved in recent weeks must not be lost. A ceasefire at Gorazde is now essential. This should be built upon and extended throughout Bosnia. EU Foreign Ministers, in Luxembourg on 18 April, demanded an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, the withdrawal of Bosnian Serbs from the vicinity of Gorazde and the lifting of all obstructions which have been placed in UNPRO-FOR's path.

Ministers also called for an intensive and co-ordinated effort by the international community, involving the EU, UN, United States and Russia, to relaunch the negotiations on the basis of the EU Plan of Action, which has been accepted by all of the parties to the conflict. President Yeltsin has proposed a summit meeting between Russia, the United States and the European Union. On behalf of the Government, I welcome this initiative. The Russian Foreign Minister, Mr. Kozyrev, who met Dr. Owen and Mr. Stoltenberg in Moscow today, also said that these powers and the UN, which effectively represent the greater part of the world, must co-operate. This is necessary to provide the resolve and determination needed to bring about a solution. I will have the opportunity to discuss these matters with Mr. Kozyrev in Moscow next week.

All civilised people must be outraged by the recent and ongoing events at Gorazde but I think it is important to bear in mind two points. First, a lasting settlement cannot be imposed on Bosnia. The Bosnian Serbs, in particular, must return to the negotiating table to arrive at a solution through negotiation. The world must convince and impress on them that this is the only option. Failure to do so will rightly condemn the Bosnian Serbs and Serbia to isolation from Europe. Second, while the Security Council has authorised the use of force in certain circumstances, the mandate of UNPROFOR in Bosnia is of an essentially humanitarian nature — to facilitate the distribution of aid and to promote a political settlement.

A ceasefire at Gorazde was negotiated early this morning. This provided for the deployment of some 100 UNPROFOR troops to the left bank of the Drina river. In addition UN military observers are to be deployed throughout the town. It was hoped that these arrangements would facilitate the delivery of vital humanitarian assistance and the immediate evacuation of the wounded. The latest information available to me, however, indicates that the Serb shelling against Gorazde is continuing and that it has not yet been possible to deploy the UNPROFOR personnel. An effective ceasefire and the immediate deployment of UN troops is absolutely essential in Gorazde. The Government is fully supportive of the ongoing UN efforts to bring this about.

In our approach to the conflict in former Yugoslavia the Irish Government has always favoured dialogue and negotiation. However, as we have seen in Sarajevo, the threat or use of force is sometimes necessary to achieve our humanitarian and political objectives. In the case of Gorazde, the international community cannot leave the besieged citizens defenceless. We hope the negotiations can be successful. But if these do not succeed, the most serious consideration will have to be given to the request from the UN Secretary-General to NATO to authorise air strikes, at the request of the United Nations, against artillery, mortar positions or tanks in or around Gorazde and the other safe areas which are determined by UNPROFOR to be responsible for attacks against civilian targets within those areas.

I know that Senators fully share my preoccupations regarding the safety of the two Irish citizens who are trapped in Gorazde. They are part of a small UNHCR team who have been doing outstanding work in the most appalling of conditions. I wish to confirm that I have directly requested the intervention of the Bosnian Serb leader, Dr. Karadzic, to guarantee safe passage for the evacuation of these aid workers from Gorazde. Mrs. Ogata, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, is also working to this end.

My latest information is that Dr. McLoughlin and Mr. O'Dwyer are safe. It is hoped that the ceasefire, which the UN is working strenuously to put in place, will permit UNHCR staff to reach Gorazde and those who wish to leave to do so in safety. I am sure that all Senators will agree that these two Irish citizens deserve our highest commendation and support for their efforts on behalf of the victims of war in Gorazde.