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House of Commons

Tuesday 12 May 1998

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Madam Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked--


1. Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): What actions he is taking to help Nigerians establish democracy in their country. [40490]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tony Lloyd): We are pressing the Nigerian regime to respect human rights and restore a credible and democratically elected civilian Government. We have measures in place against the regime and, with our European Union and Commonwealth partners, we are keeping the situation under close review. At the same time, we are supporting activities that promote human rights and democracy in Nigeria and strengthen its civil society.

Fiona Mactaggart: Will my hon. Friend confirm that it is the Government's policy to promote democracy in Nigeria and other countries in the region, including Sierra Leone? Will he confirm that it is no part of the Government's policy to countenance any breach of the United Nations arms embargo?

Mr. Lloyd: Our policy in Nigeria, and more widely in the region, is to promote democracy. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister pointed out yesterday that the United Kingdom and the United Nations were trying to help the democratic regime of Sierra Leone against an illegal military coup. He also stated, quite clearly, that no one should breach a UN embargo.

It may help the House if I quote briefly from a letter sent to the Prime Minister by President Tejan Kabbah, who said:

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): Is it the Minister's assessment that the arms supplied to the Nigerian-led military observers group of the Economic Community of West African States--ECOMOG--which was working to

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restore democracy in Sierra Leone at the specific urging of section 18 of Security Council resolution 1132, could possibly also have been supplied in breach of that resolution?

Mr. Lloyd: The hon. Gentleman is right to ask that question. There is a real question about whether arms that go from anywhere into Sierra Leone are in breach of UN embargoes. I assure the House that the British Government, who were at the forefront of the UN move to establish an arms embargo in the first place, will also be at the forefront in ensuring that the legal position is rectified to allow the Government of Sierra Leone to conduct their business properly.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the essential ingredients of democracy is the rule of law? My constituent, Mr. Mark Davey, a welder in the oil industry, was murdered in Nigeria last month while he slept in a so-called secure compound. Since then, the Foreign Office has received no response from the Nigerian Government to requests for a copy of the police report and for the matter to be investigated by police at the highest level. Does my hon. Friend agree with me, and with my constituent's family, that that is unacceptable? Will he press the Nigerian Government at the highest level? Will he also try to enlist the support of the oil companies that employ people in Nigeria, as there are issues concerning the safety of British citizens working in the industry, as well as an obvious need to bring the murderers to justice?

Mr. Lloyd: The whole House will join my hon. Friend in commiserating with the family of Mr. Mark Davey. The high commissioner has not yet received any response, or a copy of the police report on Mr. Davey's murder. He has been asked to arrange a visit to the Nigerian Foreign Affairs Ministry to press for news on progress in the case. I shall certainly ensure that we continue to press the matter from both London and the high commission until we reach an acceptable conclusion.

Mr. David Faber (Westbury): On 1 April, the Minister met representatives of non-governmental organisations to discuss democracy and human rights in Nigeria and Sierra Leone. On 19 March, he met the Foreign Secretary's special representative, Mr. John Flynn. Was Sandline International mentioned at either of those meetings?

Mr. Lloyd: The best thing that I can say is that while many allegations have appeared recently, the hon. Gentleman should reflect on what I have already told the House today. I say again that no Minister had prior knowledge of or gave prior approval to any breach of the arms embargo. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is to establish an inquiry that will examine every aspect of the case. Unlike the previous Government in the case of Matrix Churchill, there will be no cover-up by this Government.

Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West): Is my hon. Friend aware of the harrowing case of Elizabeth Siah-Vandi, the 14-year-old daughter of a constituent of mine who is in hiding following the beheading of her uncle by the despotic regime of Johnny Paul Koroma in Sierra Leone? Does he agree that the removal of that regime has been

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welcomed by human rights campaigners? What steps does he propose to ensure that Elizabeth is reunited with her family?

Mr. Lloyd: I cannot comment on the specifics of an individual case, except to promise my hon. Friend that I shall look into it. I make the point solidly: the British Government worked hard for the restoration of democratic government in Sierra Leone because of the outrages committed by the junta. That is different from the arms-to-Iraq scandal, when the previous Government supplied arms to a regime engaged in torture and repression of its own people. That is the difference.

South-East Asia (Karen People)

2. Jackie Ballard (Taunton): What discussions officials from his Department have had with representatives of the Karen people in south-east Asia. [40491]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Derek Fatchett): In the course of their normal diplomatic business, officials in Rangoon, Bangkok and London have met Karens. Most recently, in March, our ambassador at Bangkok and officials from London visited camps sheltering Karen and other refugees on the Thai-Burma border.

Jackie Ballard: I thank the Minister for that reply. Will he ensure that the United Kingdom uses its presidency of the European Union to press for sanctions against the Burmese regime while it continues to repress pro-democracy groups and the Karenni people?

Mr. Fatchett: The hon. Lady knows that the United Kingdom has in its presidency reconfirmed the common EU position on Burma, which expresses our strong condemnation of the Burmese regime's violation of human rights. I assure her that we will continue to work hard to help the humanitarian position of refugees, particularly the Karen refugees. She will be pleased to know that during the last financial year the United Kingdom devoted more than £250,000 to that purpose.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Will the Minister's Department, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, issue a reassuring statement to the Karen people of Myanmar, and to the peoples of all the states neighbouring India, about the grave potential consequences of the detonation of three nuclear devices in a test programme by the Indians yesterday and the risk of an arms race and nuclear proliferation in the region?

Mr. Fatchett: I am sure that all hon. Members condemn the nuclear explosions detonated by the Indian Government yesterday. They will add to regional instability and are a source of concern for others in the region. We urge the Indian Government to sign up to the non-proliferation and test ban treaties. We also urge restraint on Pakistan so that it is not persuaded into an arms race that would be even worse for the stability of the region.

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3. Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne): What plans he has to visit Cyprus to discuss a settlement between the communities; and if he will make a statement. [40492]

14. Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton): What support the Government are giving to efforts to recommence the United Nations-sponsored negotiations in Cyprus. [40505]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Derek Fatchett): We fully support the current UN efforts to achieve the resumption of negotiations on a comprehensive political settlement in Cyprus. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary met the UN Secretary-General on 3 April to reiterate that message.

My right hon. Friend has no immediate plans to visit Cyprus, but we continue to maintain close contact with leaders of both communities in Cyprus with the aim of getting the UN negotiations resumed.

Mr. Waterson: I thank the Minister for that answer. Following the recent visit to the island by Mr. Holbrooke, I urge the Minister not to allow any retreat from the proposals for a federal solution and I ask him to continue to urge the Americans to keep up their pressure on the Turkish Government.

Mr. Fatchett: We shall certainly continue to work with all our allies toward the objectives set out by the hon. Gentleman. We strongly support a bi-zonal, bi-communal solution to the problems of Cyprus as that is the only way to make progress. Whatever contribution we, the United States and the United Nations can make toward that objective will clearly be welcome.

Mr. Love: May I add my voice and those of my Cypriot constituents to those expressing concern at Mr. Denktash's decision to impose conditions that effectively block further negotiations toward a settlement? Will my hon. Friend reassure the House that the Government are taking every action, both in Cyprus and in Athens and Ankara, to ensure that the parties are brought to the negotiating table as soon as possible?

Mr. Fatchett: Like all other disputes of this sort, the Cyprus problem lends itself only to negotiation and to a resolution via the diplomatic process. There is no other way in which there can be a just and lasting settlement to the problems of Cyprus. Such a settlement is in the interest not only of Greek Cypriots, but of Turkish Cypriots. We shall continue to remind Mr. Denktash of his responsibility to the peace process and to his own people.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South): May I use this opportunity to congratulate David Madden, the high commissioner in Cyprus, and his staff on the work they have done to support the bi-communal activities of the Cypriot people? May I also seek an assurance from the Minister that we will make every effort to bring the two communities together and exert pressure on Mr. Denktash? The real solution to the Cyprus problem, when one accepts that both communities want a solution, is that pressure needs to be exercised through Ankara.

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Until the British and American Governments are prepared to tackle that issue front-on, the situation in Cyprus will continue not to be solvable.

Madam Speaker: I did not hear a question in that, but I am sure that the Minister will respond to the hon. Gentleman's comments.

Mr. Fatchett: I shall do my best to help the House by finding a question. I shall then set up my own question and answer it.

I shall convey the hon. Gentleman's congratulations and best wishes to our high commissioner--I am sure that they are well deserved. He is right in saying that there is a need for movement on both sides, including Turkey, if we are to come up with a satisfactory solution. I emphasise the point I made to my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love); the only way to achieve that is through negotiation and diplomatic activity and I assure hon. Members that we will spare nothing in our diplomatic efforts.

Ms Joan Ryan (Enfield, North): I understand that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is to visit Turkey in the near future. Will the Minister comment on whether he will urge the Government of Turkey to press Mr. Denktash and his regime to take a far more positive approach to a just solution for Cyprus in line with the United Nations resolutions?

Mr. Fatchett: I find it surprising that Conservative Members can find nothing else to do but laugh when we are dealing with such difficult and sensitive issues, especially given the suffering endured by the people of Cyprus over the past 20 years or more.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will indeed urge the Turkish Government to become involved in a solution to the problems of Cyprus, which would be in the interests of Turkey and of the Turkish Cypriots. We hope that that approach will enable us to make progress in the near future.

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar): Part of the increasing tension is undoubtedly due to the purchase of £600 million-worth of anti-aircraft missiles by the Cypriot Government. In our presidency of the EU, what pressure does the Minister think we can bring to bear to ensure that that additional military hardware does not further exacerbate the situation in Cyprus?

Mr. Fatchett: I realise, from the serious nature of the hon. Gentleman's question, why he has risen to the status of vice-chairman of the Conservative party. He is taking the issues seriously and he is right to say that the introduction of the S-300 missiles later this year will add to the tension. We have said that that is unwelcome and it is not in the interests of the people of Cyprus. We will urge caution and negotiation, as I have already said and will continue to say. The hon. Gentleman is right to ask for that restraint and continued negotiation.

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