Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Sierra Leone

9. Mr. Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford): If he will make a statement on the situation in Sierra Leone. [108538]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Peter Hain): The Lome peace agreement offers the people of Sierra Leone the best prospect of lasting peace and security, after eight years of brutal conflict. We remain concerned, however, about the continued violations of the peace agreement. We are pressing all parties to honour their commitments.

Mr. Shaw: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that the situation in Sierra Leone remains extremely fragile, and that the Lome peace agreement offers the best possible opportunity for that country to restore stability, so that people may once again live in peace and harmony? What are our Government doing to ensure that the Lome agreement works? If it is not successful, should we not be fairly pessimistic about the consequences?

Mr. Hain: I agree with my hon. Friend that the Lome peace agreement is very fragile. Last month, I visited Sierra Leone and was able to see at first hand the agreement taking root. There is now a United Nations peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone that Britain has supported. Indeed, we are providing more support than any other country outside Africa for the progression of that agreement. However, some of the individuals and parties to the agreement have still not fulfilled the full terms of the agreement which they signed. In particular, Foday Sankoh, leader of the RUF, is still not complying with the disarmament measures. I am concerned that he should return as soon as possible from Abidjan, which he recently visited, to carry through the full terms of that agreement.

15 Feb 2000 : Column 763

Austria (Bilateral Meetings)

11. Mr. Jim Murphy (Eastwood): If he will make a statement on the UK's future bilateral relationship with the Austrian Government. [108541]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): Britain fully supports the position of the 14 European Union countries which have announced that they will not hold bilateral meetings with Ministers in the new Austrian Government. Mr. Haider's appeal to xenophobia and racism is in flat conflict with the values of tolerance and mutual respect on which the European Union is founded. I also fully understand the grave offence to Jewish communities, including here in Britain, of Mr. Haider's statement that the Waffen SS were "decent men of character".

Austria is entitled to exercise its full rights at meetings of the European Union, but, with regret, we cannot maintain our traditionally warm bilateral relationships while its Government includes people who reflect Mr. Haider's repugnant views.

Mr. Murphy: I welcome that response. Is my right hon. Friend aware of Jorg Haider's description of the concentration camps where 6 million Jews were murdered as "punishment camps"? I also welcome the sanctions taken by the British Government and by our European Union partners against the Austrian Government. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, if necessary, further action will be taken, not against the Austrian people but against the Austrian coalition Government?

Does my right hon. Friend share my sense of utter horror that, in the same month in which the British Government announced plans for a national holocaust memorial day, Austria formed a coalition involving a party that has an entirely different sense of history and of the holocaust?

Mr. Cook: I was in Stockholm on that day, addressing the holocaust conference, and it was moving to see so many countries of Europe come together to make it clear that we have to be open and honest and face up to our past as a foundation for the future. I regret that Mr. Haider does not seem to recognise the importance of acknowledging what happened in the past if we are to ensure that it does not happen again in the future.

As for our relations with Austria, the Austrian Government have issued a statement of full support for human rights. It is a very good piece of rhetoric and a wonderful statement. We shall now be watching very closely to ensure that they abide by those commitments.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle): Does the right hon. Gentleman think that he should be disqualified from holding ministerial office now because of the very many foolish things that he said in the past when he was in opposition? Would it not be fairer and more democratic for him to be judged on his current record, disappointing though it has been so far?

15 Feb 2000 : Column 764

Mr. Cook: If the hon. Gentleman can produce any statement of xenophobia or racism made by me in the past, I shall happily resign.

Mr. Ben Bradshaw (Exeter): Has the Foreign Secretary had the chance to study the detailed programme and policies of Jorg Haider's Freedom party? If he has not, may I tell him that they are no more extreme those of the British Conservative party?

Mr. Cook: I have to say that I am not aware of any hon. Member who has spoken of the SS in the terms that Mr. Haider has used. We should recognise that the consensus among the 14 member states has been built in the clear recognition that this is not a matter of political programme, but of values. Mr. Haider has rejected the values on which parliamentary democracy and the European Union are built.

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar): The Foreign Secretary talks about rhetoric. Does he realise that there is more than a whiff of armchair anti-racism about his attitude towards Mr. Haider who, with the Government's ethical foreign policy in tatters, is an easy target? If he wants to encourage Mr. Haider's policies in Austria, the best way is to continue the isolation.

Mr. Cook: The polls do not support the hon. Gentleman's argument. Since the European Union's 14 member states took action, Mr. Haider's personal standing has dropped from 8 to 5 per cent. and his party's popularity has also dropped. Our action does not appear to be helping Mr. Haider, as the hon. Gentleman argues.

East Timor

12. Kali Mountford (Colne Valley): If he will make a statement on the status of East Timor. [108542]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. John Battle): East Timor was invaded by Indonesia in 1975. The United Nations never recognised Indonesia's annexation of East Timor. In the UN-organised ballot of 30 August 1999, the East Timorese voted by an overwhelming majority to reject the autonomy proposal put forward by the Indonesian Government and in so doing indicated their clear desire for independence. The subsequent violence led to the intervention of a peacekeeping force. Indonesia relinquished all claim to East Timor on 20 October. UNTAET--the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor--is now established and is carrying out its mandate to prepare East Timor for independence.

Kali Mountford: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. In the midst of the international efforts to restore justice and human rights in East Timor, will he assure that House the Britain will continue to play an important role in the transition from UNTAET, and will he join me in congratulating our armed forces on their excellent work in the early days of the multilateral intervention?

Mr. Battle: I am sure that the whole House would be happy to congratulate the armed forces on their excellent work on behalf of the international peacekeeping forces. Our Gurkhas were among the first to go to East Timor.

15 Feb 2000 : Column 765

When I visited in January, the Australian General Cosgrove, who was in charge of the forces, singled out the Gurkhas for special praise for having helped to bring about a prompt peace.

The transition from the peacekeeping force to the UN administrative authority is due to be completed by the end of February. We are happy to continue to play a leading role in the UN process, as we have done since the outset. The Department for International Development pledged a further £13 million over 13 years at the recent World Bank conference in Tokyo, and the Foreign Office has opened a staffed support office in Dili. We shall do all that we can to rebuild the newly emerging country that was so badly devastated in the conflict.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): I share the Minister's hopes for the development of the new state in Timor and the speedy return of those in West Timor to their own land. Will he express his concern to the Government of Indonesia, now released from responsibility for East Timor, that they should exert discipline over their armed forces, which have sometimes perpetrated acts of terror against their citizens in other parts of Indonesia?

Mr. Battle: The hon. Gentleman has frequently raised issues relating to the other islands that make up the huge complex that is Indonesia. As he knows, there was a change of Government in September. A civilian is now in charge of the armed forces. There has been a quiet revolution in Indonesia in the past few months. At the same time, the United Nations and Indonesia's national inquiry have reported on the activities of the military and are bringing them to heel. There will be trials to bring to book all those responsible for atrocities in East Timor. There are different causes for the conflicts in the other islands, but solutions will be found through democratic, peaceful means.

Next Section

IndexHome Page