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8. Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North): What recent discussions he has had with the Cuban Government. [104195]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): I met my Cuban counterpart, Felipe Perez Roque, in the margins of the Rio summit in June, the first such formal meeting since the 1950s. At that meeting and at others, we have raised our concern over human rights in Cuba. However, it remains our strong view that we are more likely to make progress on human rights and other issues of mutual concern through dialogue than through blockade.

Dr. Gibson: Does my right hon. Friend agree that we have much to learn from Cuba--high literacy rates, a health service that apparently works the whole year round, and a successful bio-technology industry? When he is next in the State Department in Washington, will he urge

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the Americans to remove their blockade of the Cuban people and lift the economic and travel sanctions against them?

Mr. Cook: There are opportunities for us to co-operate to our mutual benefit. One such example is the agreement to develop the vaccine against meningitis between SmithKline Beecham and the Finlay institute in Cuba. I welcome such co-operation to the mutual benefit of our two countries and our two peoples.

May I say to my hon. Friend that Cuba also has a lot to learn from the rest of the world? I endorse the view that we are likely to make progress if Cuba becomes more open to the world, and the world becomes more open to Cuba.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): Does the Secretary of State agree with Human Rights Watch in its report last year, which observed that Cuba has developed a highly efficient machinery of repression? Under the terms of our ethical foreign policy, why are we engaging with Cuba in a way in which we are not prepared to engage, for example, with Burma?

Mr. Cook: I have always made it clear that we are more likely to make progress if we are prepared to deal with regimes about which we have concern, where there is a possibility of engaging in genuine and sincere dialogue. I have great difficulty in sitting down with members of the military regime in charge of Burma, not only because of its extensive ethnic cleansing of large parts of Burma, and not only because of the fact that at one time it had 200 elected Members of Parliament locked up, but because of its plain connivance and complicity in the heroin trade from Burma, to which it is a major contributor.

In the case of Cuba, I did raise with the Foreign Minister of Cuba a number of the issues of concern to Human Rights Watch and the rest of us, in particular the trial of four people for doing nothing other than calling for national elections.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): In my right hon. Friend's communication with the Cuban Government, has he made it clear that Her Majesty's Government support the principle that the little boy who is now in Florida should be returned to his natural father, and that we are making representations to the United States in support of that view?

Mr. Cook: That is entirely a matter for the immigration authorities of the United States and its bilateral relations with Cuba. With respect to my hon. Friend, I will not run my neck into that noose.


12. Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the sanctions currently applied to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. [104200]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Keith Vaz): The EU sanctions regime is a crucial part of the EU's strategy to encourage democratic reform in the Federal Republic of

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Yugoslavia. The United Kingdom continues to oppose any easing of the regime while the current Government are in power in Belgrade, and we fully support the humanitarian exemptions to the regime and the exemptions for Kosovo and Montenegro.

Mr. Heath: Does the Minister recognise that many of us who wholeheartedly supported the intervention in Kosovo nevertheless have grave reservations about the present sanctions regime against Yugoslavia? Is it not possible to make the sanctions regime more effective and less counterproductive or, better still, to find alternative ways of encouraging the Government of Yugoslavia towards better government? Lastly, will the Minister make sure that there is no hindrance or bar to humanitarian aid for a population that has already suffered enough from Milosevic and his antics?

Mr. Vaz: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the constructive way in which he asked his question. We have no quarrel with the people of Serbia, only with Milosevic. The sanctions regime is important to ensure that his regime understands that his behaviour is cruel. Of course we are providing humanitarian aid--the European Union contributed 62 million euros last year through its humanitarian office in Belgrade. We shall continue to provide that aid, but we shall not allow Milosevic to get away with his behaviour. Sanctions will continue, and will be monitored at every opportunity.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Are not sanctions idiotic and counterproductive? Do not they strengthen Milosevic as they strengthened Saddam Hussein?

Mr. Vaz: No. I supported sanctions against South Africa, and I fully support sanctions against Serbia.

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon): One part of the Yugoslav Republic suffers from a particular form of sanctions. In June, the Foreign Secretary stated:

Does the Minister realise that the murder of Serbs, Bosniaks and gypsies is a daily occurrence, that more than 120,000 Serbs have been driven out of Kosovo and that the gypsy population has left en masse? Is that the multi-ethnic Kosovo that the Foreign Secretary had in mind and for which NATO fought a war?

Mr. Vaz: United Nations forces in Kosovo are ensuring that no ethnic cleansing occurs. If it does, they will ensure that those responsible are brought to justice. That is the way to tackle the problem.

Mr. Maples: I know that the subject is not as familiar to the Minister as it is to the Foreign Secretary, but that is one of the most complacent answers that has been given the House. Nearly the whole Serb population has been driven out of Kosovo. Is not the problem sheer incompetence? Of the 6,000 police requested by the United Nations mission in Kosovo, only 1,800 are in place. The Serb enclave in Mitrovica is in danger of

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leading to the partition of Kosovo. Only 50,000 of the 120,000 ruined houses have been made habitable for the winter. No progress has been made in establishing a civil society. The stability pact has led to nothing and promised money has not been forthcoming. Our armed forces may have won the war, but the Foreign Secretary is losing the peace.

Mr. Vaz: The Foreign Secretary deserves enormous credit for his actions on the issue that we are considering. The hon. Gentleman should be ashamed of himself. Half of KFOR's time in Kosovo is spent protecting 5 per cent. of the population. The hon. Gentleman should support efforts in Kosovo, and not try to undermine them.


13. Laura Moffatt (Crawley): If he will make a statement on the United Kingdom's relations with the Government of Argentina. [104201]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): We have good relations with Argentina. Former President Menem's visit to Britain assisted the process of reconciliation and paved the way for last July's agreement, which resolved communications with the Falkland Islands and co-operation on fishing in the south Atlantic. I have invited the new Government's Foreign Minister to visit Britain, and I hope to meet him next week in the margins of an international conference.

Laura Moffatt: I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement about better relations with Argentina and I share his views. However, on a visit last month to the Falkland Islanders, I became acutely aware of the sensitivities that surround those British people. Will the Foreign Secretary assure them and me that no decisions on the future of the Falkland Islands will be taken without full consultation with them or without their full approval?

Mr. Cook: I am happy to assure the House that the Falkland Islands are a British overseas territory and will remain so as long as the Falkland Islanders wish to remain British. We will not undertake any agreement in relation to Argentina without the full involvement of the Falkland Islanders. The decision that was made last July followed a long period of talks in which Falkland Island councillors took a full part and witnessed the agreement. I congratulate them on their courage and vision in looking forward to the future of the Falkland Islands.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire): The master of a yacht registered in the Falklands recently received a letter from the port authorities in Ushuaia stating that boats registered in the Falklands are banned from Argentine ports. Has the Foreign Secretary taken that case up with the Argentine Government?

Mr. Cook: We have taken up the case of the Golden Fleece and understand that we are nearing a point at which the matter can be resolved in a way that will not result in a recurrence of that incident.

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