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Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): Does the Foreign Secretary believe that the best way in which to hit this brutal regime would be to freeze its bank accounts and foreigh assets?

Mr. Rifkind: We need to examine all the options carefully. We certainly do not exclude any option at this stage, but we are primnarily concerned to identify measures that would not harm the Nigerian people but would make the internationl condemnation of the Nigerian Government clear and unmistakable.

Mr. Chris Mullen (Sunderland, South): Does the Foreign Secretary think that this is the right momemt for Shell to be launching its major new gas investment in Nigeria? if not, what is he doing about it?

Mr. Rifkind: In the first instance, that must be a matter for the company concerned. I understand that the

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company has said--it is for the company to explain its position--that the investment would not bring any revenues to the Nigerian Government until after the turn of the century. If that is true, we all hope that Nigeria will have a democratic Government long before then.

Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate) rose--

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) rose--

Mr. Rifkind: I want to make some progress, but I shall give way, for the last time, to the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highate (Ms Jackson).

Ms Jackson: Expatriate Nigerians who are living in my constituency as refugees and seeking asylum because their lives are in danger of being extinguished in their own country have made strong representations to me. They believe that the Government should whole-heartedly support President Mandela's call for sanctions to be exercised against Nigeria. They say that the circumstances of the ordinary people of Nigeria can in no wise be any worse than they are now under this corrupt, brutal and illegal regime.

Mr. Rifkind: I have no doubt that that may be the view of the people that the hon. Lady has spoken to in London. However, it is important to reflect carefully on the implications for people in Nigeria if general economic sanctions were proposed.

In an important way, the Commonwealth has turned a significant corner. Quite serious accusations used to be made that the Commonwealth had double standards, that it was prepared to attack human rights abusers in the old Rhodesia or South Africa but that it turned a blind eye to comparable abuses in other parts of the world and especially in the third world. What is significant on this occasion is that the Commonwealth, with President Mandela of South Africa as one of the leading forces, has been prepared to take action against a country that is guilty of grave human rights abuses. The Commonwealth as a whole is stronger for that and it shows that the Harare declarationm, which was passed a few years ago, has considerable force. The creation of a group consisting of Commonwealth Foreign Ministers in which the United Kingdom will play a part, is an important step in monitoring policy in this crucial area.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East): The Foreign Secretary is being extremely generous in giving way. He will appreciate that this issue has some immediacy and that it obviously concerns many hon. Members. In considering sanctions, wll he take account of two factors? The first is that sanctions against Mr. Milosevic appear to have had some effect in making him change his mind. Secondly, will he bear in mind that we continue to exercise sanctions in the name of the United Nations against Iraq and Saddam Hussein, no doubt because we believe that they are likely to be effective in persuading him to change his mind? In assessing the value of sanctions against Nigeria are not both of those compelling examples?

Mr. Rifkind: We have been willing to see sanctions applied against Iraq and Serbian Montenegro essentially because of the international aggression for which the Governments of those two countries were deemed to be responsible. This is always a complex issue and, as I have said, the government have not reled out any course of

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action. Any action would have to be international and at this time there does not appear to be in the Security Council or elsewhere the kind of international consensus that that would be the right way to go. It is early days and I would not want to exclude action of that kind.

There have been some major and beneficial developments over tha past few weeks in the former Yugoslavia. In particular, I draw attention to the agreement that was reached on eastern Slavonia, an area in which there was the potential for the beginnings of a new war in the Balkans. the agreement between Croatia and Serbia is of great significance and, as I know the House will be aware, it will allow the reintegration of eastern Slavonia into Croatia. that ought to resolve the difficulty.

There has also been progress at the talks in Ohio and agreement has already been reached on certain issues. However, big issues still divide the parties and it looks increasingly unlikely that there will be the kind of comprehensive breakthrough that we ideally wish to see within the next few days. I am not too depressed about that because if the parties are unable to reach a comprehensive agreement in the next few days, the most likely outcome is a temporary suspension of the negotiations rather than a breakdown. There is still a high probability that in the relatively near future there will be agreement. That will be of great significance.

The progress that has been made owes its origins to three quite important developemts over the past few months. First, the United States--very much on the recommendation of the European countries--has put its full weight behind the diplomatic process. Until a few months ago, the United States had shown some ruluctance to enter into the diplomatic efforts with all the autority at its disposal. Fortunately, that policy was not pursued during that time and that has been an important contributor to the progress that has been achieved.

Secondly, as the House will recall, the London conference that was called by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister led to the creation of the rapid reaction force involving the united Kingdom, France and the Netherlands. That gave considerable additioal authotityy to the United Nations forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina and was an important factor in creating stability, especially with regard to Sarajevo. Finally, one must also refer--it is of major significance--to the success of the contact group and of the international community in divorcing President Milosevic from the Bosnian Serbs, leading to a split in the Serb position and, ultimately, to President Milosevic being given plenipotentiary powers on behalf of the Bosnian Serbs, which has enabled much agreement to be reached in areas that previously were resisting progress of any significant sort.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman clarify for us the Government's position with regard to the war crimes triunals? Will he assure us that the British Government are working to get even-handedness in that process, including the large number of people responsible for atrocities in Krajina and representatives and military commanders in the Bosnian Government forces who have also carried out atrocities, that our position is impartial, unlike that of some other governments, that we recognise that there can be no

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imposed solution that takes one side in the conflict, and that we shall get that message through to the United States of America as quickly as possible?

Mr. Rifkind: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Sadly, atrocities have taken place, for which people in each of the communities concerned have been responsible, and it is for the tribunal to judge where the evidence to bring such charges exists, but I agree with hin that there must be no assumption that charges can be levied only against persons from one particular community. If the evidence is there, the consequences should follow.

If and when there is agreement in the talks going on in Ohio, the next step would be a conference that the British Government have said they would host in London, which will be concerned with the matters that are the responsibility of the international community: for example, the need to develop a reconstruction package to assist the rebuilding of former Yugoslavia; the need to reach final agreement on the shape, composition and role of the implementation force likely to be led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and that will replace the United Nations Protection Force in hoping to monitor the settlement concerned; and the measures that will be needed to supervise elections and to help in the return of refugees and such matters.

Those will be important measures, but it is crucial that such a conference takes place fairly soon after the completion of the negotiations between the various Bosnian parties. We cannot tolerate any gap or vacuum that might emerge and that would give options for the agreement to disintegrate. Therefore, we would hope to move quickly towards such a conference once the political breakthrough had been achieved.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): I welcome and agree with everything that my right hon. and learned Friend has just said, including his initial remarks, but will he nevertheless place on record yet again that the vast majority of the appalling incidents that have so disfigured that part of Europe has been the responsibility of the Bosnian Serbs, and that it was the united, tough and cohesive action against them that did more than tnything else to bring about the present better state of affairs?

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