Opening of the Bosnian Peace Conference

1995-12-08 - John Major


I am grateful to you - the representatives of over 50 countries and organisations - for coming to this third London Conference, and I welcome you most warmly to Lancaster House.

You have come with a serious purpose.

The war in Bosnia and Herzegovina has claimed over 200,000 lives.

It has been one of the most devastating wars of the past half century, and by far the most serious conflict in Europe since the Second World War.

Out of a population of four and a half million people, more than two million have been forced to flee their homes. A great many of their houses, their towns and villages, have been razed to the ground or rendered uninhabitable.

Families have been broken up. Many survivors have been disabled.

No-one who lived in this beautiful and once thriving corner of south-eastern Europe can have been untouched by the trauma of three years of savage fighting.

But the conflict is over. The guns are now silent. Next week, the peace agreement will be signed in Paris.

Our task, today and tomorrow, is to make sure that the guns remain silent; that the Dayton accords are put into effect; that war does not resume through any error or omission on our part.

Today, even before the final signature of the agreement, we must begin the huge job of implementing and consolidating peace, and of rebuilding a country.

Let me extend a particularly warm welcome to the Foreign Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, of Croatia and of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Making peace required courage, flexibility, and a willingness to give ground from the leaders of all of the parties.

Keeping it will need tolerance, forgiveness, discipline and the readiness to make a fresh start.

No-one underestimates the demands this will make on all of your peoples.

The wounds of this war will not heal easily.

But heal they must - and they can.

In the Spring of last year, I met soldiers from the opposing Croat and Bosnian Government forces in central Bosnia. Men who, weeks before, had been under orders to kill each other. I saw them policing the new ceasefire in that region - in a remarkably friendly spirit.

That ceasefire held.

And the wider peace negotiated at Dayton must hold.

It will hold so long as the Dayton commitments are honoured:

- The commitment to keep Sarajevo as a united city within the Federation. That carries obligations on all sides. Each side must work with the others to allow all the inhabitants of Sarajevo to live together in safety and security.

- The commitments on the separation of forces and removal of heavy weapons.

- The commitment to negotiate an arms control regime and other confidence building measures. The Bonn Conference will take this work forward.

- The commitment to respect human rights and ensure unrestricted access for humanitarian work.

- The commitment to develop the institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina to help manage reconstruction within the country and its relations with the outside world.

- The commitment to create conditions for free and fair elections by next summer.

- And the commitment to help refugees return freely and safely.

We are not asking you to act alone.

The international community has made a huge effort to save lives, help civilians, and negotiate peace over the past three years.

The message of this Conference is that we are ready to make no less vast an effort to help you to entrench the peace, and to find stability and security within the European family and the United Nations.

Let me now turn in more detail to the international community's role.

In their different ways, the countries and organisations at this Conference have helped to bring peace to Bosnia.

Through many setbacks and in the face of great danger, national and international aid agencies kept the lifelines open.

More than 200 people sacrificed their lives in the service of the United Nations and of the aid agencies.

As we begin today a new and much more hopeful phase of the humanitarian operation in Bosnia, let us remember those who helped to make it possible through three long years of war, and particularly those who will not see the vindication of their brave efforts.

Likewise, from the 1992 International Conference on the Former Yugoslavia onwards, efforts to negotiate peace never relented until they were crowned with success.

We owe a debt of gratitude to all of those who took diplomatic action on our behalf - whether under the auspices of the United Nations, the European Union or the Contact Group.

Now, in this third London Conference, we must harness the resources and capabilities of the international community in four main areas:

- First, on the military side, those in command of the Implementation Force will shortly describe its mission. It will be important to ensure that military and civilian work is carefully co-ordinated.

- Secondly, we are entering, as I have said, a new phase of the humanitarian operation. We shall examine how this is to be organised under the co-ordination of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, so that we can help refugees to return and ensure that human rights and human needs are protected.

- Third, the supervision of the elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina will be a significant challenge for the Member States of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. An ambitious challenge and a vital task.

- Finally, we shall discuss reconstruction. We do not aim to supplant the efforts of the Bosnian people themselves. They will wish to rebuild their own homes, and they have the pride and the skills to do so. But they clearly will need help and additional resources. We must start by identifying the needs and agreeing on the right mechanisms for meeting them. That will help to pave the way for the Pledging Conference which should follow at a later stage.

The responsibility for pulling these strands together within Bosnia will fall on the "High Representative". It is a task which will require exceptional energy and proven qualities of leadership. We are fortunate in having someone superbly qualified to act as the High Representative - in the former Prime Minister of Sweden, Mr Carl Bildt.

I hope we can announce today that Carl Bildt will take on this task. He will deserve the confidence and respect of all of us. He deserves all the help we can give him.

Conclusion

Many of you came to our last Conference in this building a mere five months ago.

We met then against a sombre and menacing background.

How much has changed for the better in those five months.

We took some tough decisions then, but they proved to be the right decisions.

Today we must take one decision, above all: that peace in Bosnia cannot fail. That we cannot allow the nightmare of the past three years to return. That, in our commitment to a powerful implementation force and a huge civilian effort, we must make it unthinkable for anyone to drag Bosnia back to the edge of the abyss.

Peace in Bosnia has been hard won. It has been dreadfully slow to come.

It is undoubtedly fragile.

But it is there, and each and every one of us must make sure that it lasts.