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1993 - Mr Major’s Joint Press Conference with the Swedish Prime Minister

Below is the text of Mr Major’s joint press conference with the Swedish Prime Minister, Carl Bildt, held in Stockholm on Wednesday 11th August 1993.


PRIME MINISTER BILDT:

We are extremely pleased to see Prime Minister Major here; it is as a matter of fact a quarter of a century since a Prime Minister of Britain paid an official visit to Sweden.

We have now had an hour and a half of official talks covering mainly the situation in former Yugoslavia, what we jointly are trying to do there as well as different European Community matters, primarily of course the enlargement negotiations.

We have, on the question of former Yugoslavia a desperate situation in Sarejevo and Bosnia and decided in the course of the day to take a joint initiative to bring the war victims, roughly 40 of them, out of Sarejevo, half of them children. They will be going to Britain, to Sweden, a certain number to Ireland. We are ready to start the operation with our own transport aircraft within the next 48 hours in consultation with the UNHCR in Geneva and of course the government of Bosnia.

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

We spent the earlier part of our discussion, as the Prime Minister said, looking at the various problems in former Yugoslavia and the problems of enlargement in the Community; we will have the opportunity of continuing those discussions tomorrow during the day but also over a very lengthy dinner tomorrow evening so there is a great deal more to discuss bilaterally.

As the Prime Minister said, we have agreed that it in right to have a joint initiative to help the 41 seriously injured victims in Sarajevo. These discussions have been going on for a while, they have reached fruition today. What we propose is that 20 of those victims will come to the United Kingdom, 16 of them will come to Sweden and 5 of them will go to Ireland. We would expect that they would come out within 48 hours or so. The reason for the delay is the necessity of bringing the families of the sick people together so they can accompany them to the United Kingdom - there are some logistical difficulties. I would expect that we would send an air ambulance with around 25 doctors and nurses to Ancona; from there onwards, a Hercules would go into Sarejevo with some of the medical staff, bring the victims out and then bring them on to their destinations; that is certainly what we expect.

I think this is a desirable initiative but I think the point that both of us would emphasise is that that deals with the people who are seriously injured at the moment. We would hope that others would perhaps join this initiative and then make sure that in future we are able to deal more speedily and more comprehensively with people who need serious medical help and cannot get it there; I very much hope that that will happen.

We have had considerable help from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and I would also like to thank the Saudi Government who have made a very significant cash contribution towards the cost of this enterprise; I am delighted we are able to do it; I very much hope we will be able to get these sick people back where they can get proper medical treatment very speedily.

The Prime Minister and I will be happy to take any questions you may have on any of the matters we have been discussing.

PRIME MINISTER BILDT:

Could I add that we are ready to send a Swedish Air Force Hercules directly down to Sarejevo tomorrow. We have also been in touch with the Swedish hospitals that have the special capabilities to be able to treat especially children that have different war wounds so we are on both sides ready to go subject to UNHCR.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

QUESTION:

Mr. Major, where are the victims going to be treated in the United Kingdom and how soon can they be got out?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

We will get them out as speedily as we can. We will certainly have the medical staff, ambulance trauma staff, the doctors and nurses there within 48 hours. As soon as we can get them out, we will take them from Sarejevo to Ancona, from Ancona back to the United Kingdom.

We have had a large number of offers of support but I would expect that all the injured will be treated in National Health Service hospitals.

QUESTION:

At Government cost?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

At Government cost.

QUESTION:

Mr. Major, why didn't you start evacuating these people until the pictures of the little girl Irma appeared in the British media?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

We have had the largest humanitarian operation in Bosnia of any nation for a very long time; it is now very nearly a year ago since we decided to send a large number of British troops there. I think I would say to you in response that there are probably well over 100,000 people alive in Bosnia today as a result of the British humanitarian effort over recent months. I think that is a very proud record and I am delighted we were able to do it.

We have been considering what we can do for some time. The opportunity arose the other day with the little girl - we brought her out. We have now been able to extend that and I am very grateful that we have been able to do that. I hope now others will follow suit, that we will be able to cut down on some of the difficulties in getting people out and will be able to arrange a more permanent system of help for very many people.

QUESTION:

Mr. Major, is there a risk, apart from all the obvious humanitarian aspects, that this might give the wrong sort of message to the Bosnian Serbs as they encircle Sarejevo, that if they make matters bad enough the West will come in and pick up the bits?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

I don't think the Bosnian Serbs should misread what we are doing in any way. What we are doing now is a humanitarian gesture to bring out seriously injured people who cannot get the help they need in Sarejevo, to make sure they get the medical attention they need speedily and comprehensively.

The Serbs should realise that we are determined to make sure there is a settlement to this dreadful dispute. Helping 41 people rather more I hope in the future - is very welcome but what we really need is an end to the dispute. That is why we have been pressing for the negotiations to come to a successful conclusion, it is why we put diplomatic pressure on them, it is why we have been prepared for some time under the right circumstances to engage in air strikes and we are determined to continue to put pressure on the Serbs, on the Croats and on the Muslims in different ways to try and make sure that we get a satisfactory settlement and the end of fighting.

QUESTION:

But if this did actually appear to lead to an increase in the bombardment of Sarejevo would that make you change your attitude on air strikes?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

I see no reason to suppose why that is going to be the case and I think the Serbs are very well aware that they would be very unwise to increase the bombardment of Sarejevo. I think they are in no doubt about that.

QUESTION:

Why have the EC and the UN failed to stop the war in ex-Yugoslavia?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

I think that is a question that isn't just for us. Essentially, the difficulties in Bosnia are a civil war; that is not readily solved from outside.

Right from the outset of this conflict there have in theory been two ways to solve it: one way was to put in several hundred thousand troops on the ground and forcibly hold the combatants apart perhaps for years at tremendous cost of life and then with no certainty that the fighting would not start again the moment those troops left. The only realistic way to reach a satisfactory conclusion is the way that the West and the United Nations have chosen and that was to seek to provide humanitarian aid to limit the suffering and to seek a negotiated settlement that would end the war. I know of no other way that would have been successful.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible] but do you see air strikes on Serbian positions happening this week?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

I think you know the present position about that; that has been discussed. We have indicated that in order to reinforce the diplomacy air strikes have been a possibility for some time.

PRIME MINISTER BILDT:

We have also discussed what is necessary in order to reinforce the UNPROFOR forces primarily when it comes to the implementation of safe areas and the preparations under way in the Nordic countries for the sending of a heavy Nordic battalion to the area and I hope that we will be ready to take the final steps on that in terms of decision-making in the four Nordic countries within the next few days subject to political procedures in all of the four countries.

QUESTION:

Have you suggested that the Americans should help in this action?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

In the humanitarian action no. This is not something we have discussed with the Americans on this occasion. This is an initiative Sweden and the United Kingdom have been discussing for a few days; we decided that for the time being we are able to cope with the difficulties that exist and the important thing is to do it quickly and so we have proceeded to make sure we have got the quickest possible outcome but in the future of course we would welcome help from every source in order to help with the humanitarian assistance.

PRIME MINISTER BILDT:

And from our point of view you can say it is a logical extension of the effort that we have on the ground in Bosnia and in Sarejevo with medical staff there helping at the actual hospitals but what is being done now is to bring out those people, children and others, that can't for different reasons be treated there but it should not be forgotten that a lot of countries, Sweden in the forefront, have a major effort around the hospitals and helping people on the spot in Sarejevo and the rest of Bosnia.

QUESTION:

When you talk about a permanent system of getting refugees out, how would that operate?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

That has to be discussed with the United Nations, the High Commissioner for Refugees and others but what we wish to ensure is that in future where necessary there is perhaps a speedier route to ensure people receive the medical assistance they need. I think that will be welcome. There are obvious difficulties in achieving that - don't let me suggest to you that that is going to be readily done or easily achieved but I think we should seek to see if it can be done; I hope and believe it can.

QUESTION:

If we hadn't witnessed the case of this little girl, can you honestly say that you would be standing here today making the same announcement?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

I can certainly say to you that we have been looking for some time at what we can do to help the seriously injured people in Bosnia and in particular in Sarejevo, yes I can certainly say that.

PRIME MINISTER BILDT:

Ladies and Gentlemen, we are short of time and there will be a press conference on Friday when we can sort out the rest of the problems of the world.