Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to participate in this important debate concerning Canada's role in peacekeeping with specific reference to our role in Bosnia-Hercegovina and Croatia.
I have a personal interest in what has been taking place in Croatia and Bosnia because that is where I am from. I was born in Croatia. My roots are there. I have family and friends there. The situation in my old homeland has caused me great anxiety and it has been disheartening to say the least.
In 1992 when the United Nations Security Council announced that it was sending peacekeepers to Croatia and later to Bosnia and Hercegovina, I was confident that a resolution to the conflict was within reach. I was optimistic that with peacekeepers, there would be peace. Unfortunately I was mistaken.
On February 21, 1992 Canada announced that it would commit up to 1,200 personnel to serve with the United Nations protection force in Croatia. Two months later 30 RCMP officers made the trip to Croatia to assist as police monitors. Our contingent became part of a 13,000, 31-country mission, which was the largest UN peacekeeping operation since the Congo in 1960.
UNPROFOR's operational mandate currently extends to the five republics of the former Yugoslavia. Those include Croatia, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. It also has a liaison presence in the sixth republic of Slovenia. In Croatia, UNPROFOR was deployed to areas where it was felt that its presence could help to ensure a lasting ceasefire.
Those areas were designated as United Nations protected areas. In the UNPA zones in Croatia, Serbs constituted the majority or a substantial minority of the population and ethnic tensions had resulted in armed conflict.
The UN's original mandate for Croatia was outlined in UN resolution 743 and had several objectives: to ensure the withdrawal of the Yugoslav National Army from all parts of Croatia; to ensure that all UN protected areas were demilitarized through the withdrawal or break up of all armed forces in them; to see that all persons residing in those areas were protected from fear and armed attack; to control access to those areas and to ensure that they remained demilitarized; to monitor the operations of local police and to help ensure non-discrimination and protection of human rights; to support the work of UN humanitarian agencies; and to facilitate the return, in conditions of safety and security, of civilian displaced persons to their homes in the UN protected areas.
I can say with confidence that in Croatia the UN has been unable to fulfil much of the mandate which I have just described.
While it is true that the Yugoslav National Army no longer has a visible presence in Croatia and that UN peacekeepers have been largely successful in their support of humanitarian assistance missions, both in Croatia and Bosnia, UNPROFOR has been unable to ensure the demilitarization of the protected areas and it has had little success in helping displaced civilians return to their homes.
Some have been extremely critical of the UN's inability to fulfil its mandate, not just in Croatia and Bosnia and Hercegovina, but in other parts of the world. In a recent article by Robin Harris, political advisor to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Mr. Harris accuses UNPROFOR of presiding over "constant ethnic cleansing by Serbs who are driving
Croatian citizens from their homes in occupied Croatian territory".
He writes that during a recent trip to Croatia he also witnessed the daily shelling of the Croatian towns of Gospic, Karlovac, Zadar and Osijek by Serbs, all from within so-called United Nations protected areas.
The criticism has also unexpectedly come from all sides in the conflict. Last January the entire mission was placed in jeopardy when Croatian President Franjo Tudjman stated that he did not want to grant UNPROFOR an extension of its mandate because it had failed to achieve its original objective. In particular President Tudjman was reacting to the failure of the UN to demilitarize those forces in UN protected areas.
Even the United Nations itself has admitted that in Croatia UNPROFOR has been unable to establish conditions of peace and security that would have permitted the voluntary return of refugees and displaced persons to their homes in the protected areas. The UN has admitted that despite the best efforts of its civilian police they have been unable to prevent discrimination and abuse of human rights in the protected zones in the first year of their mandate. The UN has also expressed frustration over its inability to compel the warring parties into accepting negotiated agreements.
The situation in Bosnia is somewhat different from that in Croatia. For starters, the mandate of peacekeepers in Bosnia was strictly to assist in the delivery of humanitarian aid to the victims of the war. That has not been an easy job. Quite often the delivery of aid has been dangerous and difficult. Aid convoys have been detained at various checkpoints for hours and days on end while the war victims wait.
While aid is getting through to some of those in need, it is getting there with great risk to those who are delivering it. The war is fiercely continuing in Bosnia. Sniper fire and shelling continue to be daily occurrences. While the UN refers to safe areas in parts of Bosnia, fighting continues in and around those areas.
In fact it is in one of those so-called safe areas that Canadian peacekeepers have been surrounded. They are unable to leave until replacement troops arrive. However replacement troops have not been permitted to enter the town of Srebrenica to relieve our troops. While an agreement to allow our peacekeepers to leave appeared to have been reached in principle several weeks ago, Canadians are still waiting for their replacements.
In conclusion, this peacekeeping mission has had some unforgettable successes. In July 1992 Canadian soldiers liberated the Sarajevo airport and enabled airlifts of humanitarian assistance to commence in a region that had been without food and other necessities for far too long.
On another occasion just before Christmas it was Canadian peacekeepers who came to the rescue of Bosnian psychiatric patients abandoned by hospital staff. We all remember the television images of those helpless people in a field outside the hospital, some without clothes, all unable to care for themselves. Had it not been for our peacekeepers those people may not be alive today.
Those are but two of the highlights in a war that has been raging for over three years. However noble and brave those acts were, we must accept that tensions are rising. It appears as though all sides are getting frustrated with what they see as the status quo. They are beginning to take their frustrations out on our peacekeepers.
This past weekend we learned of two incidents in which the lives of our Canadian soldiers were placed in jeopardy. One of those incidents took place in a so-called protected area in Croatia, and the other in a peacekeeper's camp in Visoko, outside Sarajevo. These events follow several others which have taken place over the past two months.
I am sure that members of the House recall that Canadian peacekeepers were held at gun point and endured a mock execution in Bosnia at the hands of Serb soldiers not long ago. We also recall that they were detained by Croation soldiers in Gospic at approximately the same time. It has only been a few weeks since Canadian peacekeepers were caught in the middle of a shootout between Bosnian Muslim and Croat warriors.
Canadians are extremely sensitive people. We are propelled by a desire to help people in need. That is why we cannot bear to witness the daily suffering and tragedy in Bosnia and Croatia. That is why we sent Canadian peacekeepers to those two countries. We felt that we could help put an end to the suffering of the innocent victims of war. However we must decide whether our desire to help the people of Bosnia and Croatia is more important to us than placing the lives of Canadian soldiers in jeopardy.
The decision to remove Canadian peacekeepers from Bosnia and Croatia is a difficult one. The situation in Croatia while serious is not nearly as volatile as that in Bosnia and Hercegovina. There is a role for the UN to play there. Efforts demand to be redefined.
While I am concerned that the departure of our peacekeepers from Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina may result in increased hostilities in the region and place the lives of my friends and relatives and jeopardy, I can no longer support any initiative in which Canadian soldiers are often used as human shields separating warring factions.
There are also fiscal implications. As everyone is well aware our country's pockets are not overflowing with money. We have a serious debt and deficit problem that needs to be addressed. We must assess whether we can actually afford, not just the missions in Bosnia and Croatia which last year alone cost us
approximately $120 million and where we have more than 2,000 peacekeepers but other missions around the world where we have additional Canadian peacekeepers.
I am of the opinion that we must review and redefine peacekeeping altogether before we agree to participate in future peacekeeping missions. This review of peacekeeping operations should take place at the international level within the context of the United Nations. Perhaps at the same time we could come up with some suggestions on how to make all UN operations more effective. However that is a debate that can be reserved for another day.
I submit that we should no longer risk the safety of Canadian troops. Nor should we continue to place a financial burden on Canadian taxpayers by footing what is amounting to be a rather expensive venture.
Members will by now know that this is not a decision I have reached lightly. I urge my colleagues to give this their utmost consideration so that we may find the best possible solution for Canadians first and foremost.