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1996 - Mr Major’s Opening Address to the London Peace Implementation Conference on Bosnia

Below is the text of Mr Major’s opening address to the London Peace Implementation Conference on Bosnia, held at Lancaster House in London on Wednesday 4th December 1996.


PRIME MINISTER:

Could I begin by extending a warm welcome to the fifty-six delegations of the Peace Implementation Council assembled here today.

This is the fourth time in as many years that I have had the pleasure of welcoming many of you to London for a key international conference on the future of Bosnia.

So to all of you who are returning, it is excellent to see you again. And to those of you here for the first time, it is very good to have you here.

When we last met here in Lancaster House a year ago - for the first ever session of the Peace Implementation Council - the conflict in Bosnia had just ended. It had claimed over 200,000 lives; and it had forced more than two million people to flee their homes.

At that meeting, we set ourselves the task of ensuring that the guns remained silent. And we embarked on the massive task of implementing the peace settlement and rebuilding a shattered nation.

One year on, we should not understate the achievements:

- the guns have stayed silent. The armies have disengaged and have returned to barracks. Heavy weapons have been put in cantonments;

- national, entity and cantonal elections have been held;

- reconstruction has begun, with hundreds of millions of dollars spent over the last twelve months;

- a quarter of a million refugees have returned to their homes;

- Sarajevo, for so long a city under siege and a symbol of the Bosnian war, has been transformed;

- the new Presidency has begun its work and agreement has been reached on the structure of the Council of Ministers.

This is a substantial record.

It would be easy to claim that we should have done better, that more refugees should have returned, or that the new central institutions are not yet working.

But that would be to undervalue how much has been achieved. And it would fail to acknowledge the invaluable contributions of so many different organisations and individuals over the last year:

 - the drafters of the Peace Agreement who, under American leadership and with Contact Group support, drove the negotiations to a successful conclusion;

- the 60,000 strong NATO-led implementation force, drawn from over thirty nations, which represents the biggest such effort that NATO has ever undertaken. It proved itself a success - and has provided an historic turning point in NATO-Russia co-operation;

- the OSCE, which has organised elections involving about two million people;

- the World Bank and European Commission which have together led the reconstruction effort;

- the 1,500 plus members of the International Police Task Force who have been active throughout Bosnia, monitoring, training and improving police standards;

- and the UNHCR, who have been taking forward the difficult and complex task of refugee return.

I should like to pay a particular tribute to Carl Bildt, who as High Representative, has presided over the civilian side of peace implementation with exceptional energy and dedication, and formidable political skills. He has cajoled the international community and Bosnia's leaders in equal part, driving forward the peace process.

Could I therefore say to you, Carl, on behalf of all at this Conference, how much we have admired and appreciated your efforts over the last 12 months. No-one could have done more than you to consolidate peace in Bosnia: and we all welcome your agreement to stay on for a few months into 1997.

Last month's meeting in Paris set the framework for action to consolidate peace in Bosnia over the next two years. Today's conference focuses in on the next 12 months:

- on the priorities for Bosnia's leaders;

- and on the tasks and commitments of the international community.

Just before coming here, I was glad to have the opportunity of a talk with Bosnia's new Presidency. I would like to underline to this wider audience a little of what I have just said privately.

None of us at this conference underestimate the task you face. You are rebuilding a nation, only a few months after a bitter war, with the wounds and divisions not yet healed.

But you were elected by the Bosnian people as their investment in and commitment to a brighter future.

They have placed their trust in you.

They want you to help them restore their homes, reunite their families and recreate the communities in which they once lived in peace.

And they want, above all, to be sure that the war which disfigured Bosnia's past will never return.

This is a heavy responsibility. And none of it will be easy:

- it will require difficult decisions, difficult compromises, difficult concessions;

- it will require the statesmanship to put the wider interests of your people above short-term or factional concerns;

- and it will require concentration on the substance - on the establishment of your Council of Ministers and of your Central Bank for instance - not on the trivia of protocol.

Over 50 states and international institutions have come to London with one objective in mind: to decide how we can best help you in the future.

We are united in our wish to see Bosnia and Herzegovina succeed, so that you are able to assume in full your rightful place in Europe. The UK has devoted huge resources, both financial and human, to Bosnia over the last few years. We are now planning, with our allies and partners, to maintain troops on Bosnian soil into 1998.

I am sure I am not alone in saying that a peaceful and secure future for Bosnia is a key foreign policy objective - and that our relations with Bosnia's neighbours will be conditioned by their support for this objective.

But the international community's efforts in themselves will not be enough. There has to be a real commitment to peace and reconciliation within Bosnia.

And as representatives of the different communities, the people of Bosnia and the international community look to you to lead the way.

What precisely do we look for? The recent agreement on the structure of the Council of Ministers represents excellent and very welcome progress. I know that you are working to nominate individuals to their Ministerial posts as soon as possible. It is hard to over-emphasise the importance of your establishing quickly a fully-functioning government with which the international community can deal.

Economic regeneration also has to be a key priority.

In 1996, the international community took the lead in kick-starting the economy of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Dedicated efforts by thousands of technical experts, NGOs and IFOR soldiers have restored some of the basic infrastructure. Hundreds of thousands of people will benefit from the return of electricity this winter. Thousands of children have restarted their education.

But there is a limit to what the international community can do.

It is most important that next year, Bosnia and Herzegovina should accept the primary responsibility for your own economic development. Judging by my own visits, at least, what ordinary people want more than anything else - there as elsewhere - are jobs and a decent standard of living. These modest aspirations can only be achieved by establishing effective institutions and sound, market-based economic policies.

But such policies can only work if people, goods and capital move freely throughout the country. There will be no economic revival while a businessman in Banja Luka cannot pick up the telephone and call Sarajevo.

Moreover, without the right legal framework, the inward investment so crucial to economic recovery will tend to stay away.

The international financial institutions stand ready to help. The international community will continue to provide support. But we look to you to take the lead:

- to set up the Central Bank;

- to pass the necessary legislation;

- and to recognise that in today's open trading environment, economic cooperation is not an option but a necessity.

We look forward to 1997 also being the year in which large numbers of refugees start to return. In 1996, we achieved a great deal for those already living in Bosnia. But there are hundreds of thousands more in neighbouring states or further afield, who want to return but are unable to do so. We must address their fears and problems.

We need a comprehensive approach, which recognises the linkages between the various refugee groups in the region.

And we need to create conditions in Bosnia and Herzegovina in which refugees feel safe to return. This means:

- full respect for human rights;

- police forces working within international democratic policing standards;

- and genuine freedom of movement. One year on from the signature of the Peace Agreement, ordinary Bosnians are still afraid to cross the line between the two entities. This cannot continue.

I will identify one further priority among the many for 1997. This is full implementation of the arms control commitments in the Peace Agreement, within the agreed deadlines.

The achievement of a sensible balance in armaments in the region is self-evidently necessary for future peace and security. Everyone recognises this: that is why it was agreed at Dayton.

But follow-up has been less than whole-hearted. This cannot be allowed to slip. The international community is determined to maintain pressure on this issue until we have achieved our objectives.

How can the London Conference help with these priorities?

The aim in the next day and a half is to have a detailed debate on all aspects of peace implementation, drawing on the extensive expertise of those around this table.

I suggest that we need to identify precise, practical, tasks and targets in all areas, and commit ourselves to accomplishing them.

So, within the framework of the Peace Agreement, we shall be looking for a series of detailed political undertakings from Bosnia's leaders. We hope that the representatives of the Entities at this meeting will be ready to make commitments on areas within Entity competence.

The international community will in turn undertake to provide substantial further help and resources, both human and financial. But this international help will be conditional on the willingness within Bosnia and Herzegovina to implement all aspects of the Peace Agreement.

If we can work together to meet these shared goals over the next 12 months, we shall have taken a crucial and irreversible step towards securing Bosnia and Herzegovina's future, as a nation able to stand by itself, and to look after its own affairs.

Later in this conference, we will hear from Hans Van den Broek about the European Union's support for the peace process.

This is a key aspect, because Bosnia and Herzegovina's destiny lies in Europe. All of us look forward to the day when Bosnia and Herzegovina can take its place in European structures and institutions as a successful independent nation based upon the principles and values that we all support.

Much must happen before this vision can be realised. But if we can achieve our objectives for this conference - and then, crucially, carry them through on the ground over the next twelve months - we shall have laid solid foundations for a peaceful and prosperous future for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

I wish you well in your deliberations.