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Metin Goktepe

Mr. Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if a British official attended the hearing on 6 February of the judicial investigation into the death of the Turkish journalist Metin Goktepe; and if he will make a statement. [17856]

Mr. David Davis: No British official was able to attend the Goktepe trial on 6 February. But we continue to follow this case closely, and we hope to be able to send an observer to attend the next session of the trial on 11 April.

Mr. Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make representations to the Turkish Government about the alleged use of torture by police officers on witnesses of Metin Goktepe's death on 8 January. [17852]

Mr. David Davis: Our embassy in Ankara has raised a number of aspects about the Goktepe trial with the Turkish authorities. These include reports that police officers used torture on witnesses. We will continue to follow this case closely.

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Seals (Russia)

Mr. Matthew Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, pursuant to his answer of 25 November 1996, Official Report, column 76, on the use of seals by the Russian authorities, if the information on research activities has now been provided.[17909]

Mr. Hanley: Despite repeated approaches from our embassy in Moscow, the Russian authorities have still not provided information on research activities on seals. Our embassy was most recently advised by the Russians on 31 January that the information was not yet available. We continue to press for this.

EU Information Offices

Mr. Lamont: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many EU information offices there are; what are their running costs; and what proposals Her Majesty's Government have to reduce the number of offices. [18078]

Mr. David Davis: We believe that the public should have ready access to factual information about the EU so that the debate on these important issues is as informed as possible.

Information about EU policy is available from Government Departments, public libraries and other information providers, including Commission representations in member states and third countries.

European Council

Mr. Luff: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the outcome of the General Affairs Council held in Brussels on 24 February. [17960]

Mr. David Davis: Twenty-three of the 25 A points in document 6052/97, the text of which will be placed in the House as soon as it is available, were approved. They included the decision to sign an interim association agreement and joint statement on political dialogue with the PLO. Denmark entered waiting reserves on two points; an EU/Mexico agreement on control of precursors and maximum residue limits of veterinary medicinal products in foodstuffs of animal origin.

The Council noted the resolutions adopted by the European Parliament listed on documents 5091/97 and 5094/97. Copies of these documents will also be placed in the House as soon as they are available.

The Commission and presidency gave an oral presentation to the Council on the preparations of the second meeting of Foreign Ministers within the framework of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership, which will be held in Malta on 15 and 16 April. The Council underlined the importance of the Malta meeting as an opportunity to take stock of progress and to set priorities for the future. The Council welcomed the signature of the EC-PLO interim association agreement, which was signed by Yasser Arafat for the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, the Commission and the presidency. The Council underlined its determination to conclude the negotiations with Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon as soon as possible.

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The Council was unable to agree a common position for the political declaration on the structured dialogue with Cyprus. The structure dialogue meeting was therefore postponed, but the association council was held as planned.

After lengthy discussion of the draft agreements on humane standards for leghold traps, the Council concluded that the Commission should renew its contacts with the Russian, Canadian and US authorities with a view to adapting the draft agreements to reflect a number of Council recommendations. The Commission undertook to report on the results of its further contacts, hopefully before the end of March and in any case before the Environment Council in June 1997.

The Council noted, without debate, the Commission's report on the state of play on the US Helms-Burton Act. The Council expressed regret that the latest bilateral contacts with the USA had not produced an outcome sufficient for the EU to suspend its action in the World Trade Organisation, but underlined its willingness to seek an overall bilateral settlement and in that case to halt or suspend the panel procedure.

The Commission gave a report on the successful outcome of the WTO telecoms negotiations in Geneva on 15 February.

The Commission reported that all outstanding obstacles to South Africa's qualified accession to Lome had been resolved in its 17 to 18 February talks with South Africa. The Council conclusions reiterated the importance of strengthening the relationship between the European Union and the Republic of South Africa through the establishment of a long-term framework of co-operation that will assist South Africa during and beyond its current transitional phase. The Council noted the resumption of negotiations in January 1997 and will consider taking advantage of the facilitating clause of article 364 of the revised Lome IV convention, which would allow early accession without further ratification. The Council recalled its commitment that the qualified accession of South Africa to the Lome convention will not negatively affect the interests of the current ACP membership.

The Council discussed the overseas countries and territories mid-term review but was unable to reach agreement. The Council concluded that it would return to this at a future meeting.

The Council called for an immediate ceasefire for humanitarian purposes in the Great Lakes region and reaffirmed the European Union's support for regional efforts to find a political solution and for the democratisation process in Zaire, noting the appointment of the Portuguese nominee, Mr. Vasconcelos, as head of the electoral unit in Kinshasa. It also asked for the Political Committee to examine the scope for a regional arms embargo. The Council welcomed the five point plan contained in UN Security Council resolution 1097 and the appointment of Mr. Mohammed Sahnoun as UN-Organisation of African Unity special representative to the Great Lakes region. It supported the efforts of African leaders, in particular President Mandela and welcomed their decision to hold a regional summit on 12 March in Nairobi.

The Council discussed the economic situation in the Balkans, in particular the difficulties of the countries in transition in south eastern Europe and noted the measures

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already taken by the European Commission to alleviate the consequences of the current crisis in Bulgaria. The Council agreed to follow the situation closely.

The Council had an exchange of views on Albania and the possibilities for the Union to contribute to a solution to the present crisis. The Council agreed that a joint senior officials' mission with the European Commission would deliver a message reporting its concerns to the Albanian Government and the Opposition leadership.

The Council discussed the situation in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in light of the fact-finding mission carried out by the presidency and the Commission in Belgrade on 20 February 1997. While acknowledging that the results of the elections of 17 November 1996 have been implemented, the council reiterated the need to implement the remaining parts of the Gonzalez report; the opening of a dialogue with the opposition on free access to the media and reform of the electorial law. The Council expressed concern about the situation in Kosovo and called upon the authorities of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to co-operate in the early implementation of a visit to the region by the special representative of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe chairman-in-office, Mr. Van der Stoel, and the chairman of the working group on ethnic and national communities and minorities, Ambassador Lutz. The Council agreed to return to these issues at its next session.

The Council underlined the importance of implementing the decision on Brcko and expressed its full support for the high representative in this context. Recalling the importance of the regional approach, the Council welcomed the European Commission's report on the practical application of conditionality and called for relevant Council bodies to continue to examine this principle in preparation for further discussion at the next General Affairs Council.

The Council noted the report of the fact-finding mission to Belarus and agreed with its recommendations. It asked the head of the mission, Mr Kosto, to pass the report's contents to Mr Lukashenko, President of Belarus.

The Council discussed human rights in China and reaffirmed its willingness to continue a dialogue with China on this issue. The Council hoped progress would be achieved. Meanwhile, it invited the presidency to continue and intensify, in close co-operation with others, consultations and preparations already underway for the possible tabling of a resolution on human rights in China in the UN Commission for Human Rights in Geneva. A decision will be taken in the light of the development of the situation.

Under any other business, the Commission's paper on preferential trade agreements was raised. The Council noted this for discussion at the March General Affairs Council.

The 10th ministerial meeting of the intergovernmental conference was held on the afternoon of Monday 24 February, preceded as usual by an exchange of views with the President of the European Parliament. Discussion focused on the presidency's text on justice and home affairs. I made it clear that the real requirement was to provide for more efficient practical co-operation against, for example, criminals, drugs, illegal immigration and terrorism: there was no added value in institutional change

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that simply extended the role of Community institutions and procedures in the third pillar. I emphasised the practical progress that had been made in the third pillar during the last five years, and the need to build on this.

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