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10 Dec 2002 : Column 149—continued

Middle East Peace Process

10. Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown): What assessment he has made of the implications of the policy statements made by the new leader of the Israeli Labour Party for the peace process. [84330]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mike O'Brien): It is for Israeli voters to decide which party's policies are most likely to bring them peace and security. We look to the next Israeli Government, whoever leads it, to engage with the Palestinians and the international community in the implementation of the Quartet road map within the time frame set out by President Bush on 24 June.

Dr. Turner : I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that the emergence of Mr. Mitzna offers us new hope for restarting the middle east peace process and for withdrawal from illegal settlements on the west bank? Does he also agree that whether Mr. Mitzna becomes Israel's next Prime Minister or the leader of the Opposition, this Government should do their utmost to support his efforts towards a peaceful and political settlement in the middle east?

Mr. O'Brien: We certainly want a peaceful settlement of the middle east conflict. Our policy on settlements is clear. They are illegal under international law and are an obstacle to peace. Israel should freeze all settlement activity, including road building, because it is creating facts on the ground. It breaks up Palestinian territory throughout the west bank and makes the possibility of a negotiated settlement much more difficult to reach. We have consistently called on both parties to refrain from unilateral acts which prejudice the outcome of the permanent status negotiation. Each brick in a settlement is a barrier to peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton): Mr. Mitzna said that if he were Prime Minister, he would immediately begin talks without condition. Whichever candidate wins the forthcoming Israeli elections, does the Minister agree that with attention largely focused on Iraq, the international community, especially the United States, must actively re-engage in pushing for a resumption of the middle east peace process? Does he agree that a continuing stand-off is simply not acceptable and that there is a moral compulsion on all parties to make every effort to engage in dialogue based on a genuine desire to reach an agreement? Who is he in touch with on each side who might actually be prepared to talk to each other?

Mr. O'Brien: It is the case that we need to resume the talks. The process would be enhanced if the suicide bombings stopped and the Israelis were able to remove their forces from the large areas of the west bank that they occupy, which disrupts activity among Palestinians, so atomising that society. We are in regular contact with both the Israelis and the Palestinians. Indeed, this week I met Palestinian representatives and this afternoon I will meet the Israeli ambassador. We are also obviously in contact with representatives of the Quartet who are working hard to create the road map that we hope will be the basis on which a peace process will be constructed. A great deal of discussion is going on and there are many contacts between various Israeli and Palestinian groups. It is important that we

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encourage a process of dialogue because it is only through negotiation and dialogue that we will secure peace.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): Have the British Government made representations either to the new leader of the Israeli Labour party or Mr. Sharon on the illegal building of the great Israeli wall? It is illegal from end to end because it is built 6 or 10 km within Palestinian territory, thus confiscating 10 per cent. of the total land.

Mr. O'Brien: Only a small portion of the wall is built. I have seen photographs of it, but I have not been to see it. The wall is clearly wrong. We have made strong representations to the Israelis that it should not be constructed. Israel has a right to protect itself from terrorist activity, but, frankly, building barriers and walls is not the way to go about creating long-term security for Israel. The Israelis will get long-term security when there is a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians and when a middle east peace process brings about a two-state solution—a state for the Palestinians, but also a secure and peaceful state for Israel.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Endorsing what the hon. Gentleman has just said, has the Foreign Secretary told the leaders of both major parties in Israel that the constant flouting of UN Security Council resolutions is not conducive to peace in the middle east?

Mr. O'Brien: Both parties are well aware of our view that resolutions 242, 338 and 1397 are the basis on which any peace process needs to go forward. We have made it clear that flouting or ignoring those resolutions is not acceptable, but we also know that those resolutions require a peace process. That is why the discussions in the Quartet are important—they will provide the road map to peace. We hope that both parties—Israel and the Palestinians—will work with the international community to ensure that that road does lead to peace.


11. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): If he will make a statement on the political situation in Colombia. [84331]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell): The new democratically elected Colombian Government face enormous challenges, particularly in their fight against terrorism and the illegal drugs trade, as well as over human rights and Colombia's humanitarian crisis. We support their efforts to tackle all those issues.

David Taylor : The United States of America has earmarked $1.3 billion for Plan Colombia, of which 80 per cent. is destined for the military and the police and a pathetic 1 per cent. for the peace process. Can the Minister reassure the House that the millions of euros pledged by the EU nations will be used for the search for an economic, political and social solution to the complex difficulties in Colombia, which have worsened

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with the endemic violence in that country and the ambivalent attitude of President Uribe to the trafficking of heroin and cocaine?

Mr. Rammell: I thank my hon. Friend for his interest in those issues. I should make it clear to him that the British Government and the EU more generally have no involvement in Plan Colombia. The British Government are committed through the EU process to a package of Euro330 million to support humanitarian development, the peace process and, particularly, projects involving the rule of law and the defence of human rights. I heard what he said about President Uribe and his alleged past associations. However, despite exhaustive investigations, no evidence to support those allegations has been produced. Nevertheless, we constantly urge Uribe to tackle paramilitaries, collusion and impunity, and we will continue to do so.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Will the Minister give the Government of Colombia, who have been democratically elected—there is nothing better than the rule of law throughout the country—the fullest possible support, especially in the war against terrorism? Is he aware that hundreds of distinguished Colombian citizens—bishops, priests, mayors, congressmen, judges, senators and countless others—have been kidnapped or have lost their lives as a consequence of terrorism? Can he therefore assure the House that, on behalf of the Government, he will proscribe FARC and the ELN in both Colombia and the EU? Without the elimination of those organisations, the drugs trade will not be eliminated and peace will not be restored.

Mr. Rammell: We have already introduced a number of the measures that the hon. Gentleman has called for. I very much share his view that we are dealing with a true humanitarian crisis. The statistics show that 2 million people are displaced, 60 per cent. of whom are under 16. More trade unionists were killed in Colombia than in the rest of the world put together last year. The crisis is appalling, and we must support President Uribe's Government. On the point about democratic legitimacy, we certainly take account of the fact that Uribe got 53 per cent. of the vote and has a 70 per cent. approval rating, so there is clearly support for the measures that he has introduced to tackle the crisis. At the same time, however, he must respond to legitimate concerns, especially from non-governmental organisations engaged in the country.

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East): Is my hon. Friend aware of the proposal from human rights organisations for an exchange of kidnapped people for political prisoners in Colombia? Would the Government consider and support such a proposal?

Mr. Rammell: I am not aware of that, but if my hon. Friend speaks or writes to me about it, I would be more than happy to discuss it.

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12. Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): What assessment he has made of co-ordinated al-Qaeda activity against British interests abroad. [84332]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mike O'Brien): We constantly monitor the threat to British interests posed by all terrorist groups worldwide. All the intelligence that we receive is sifted and carefully assessed by the intelligence agencies. All the resulting threat assessments are then passed to policy makers.

Dr. Lewis : Given that the Australian Government managed, nearly a fortnight before the event, to pass on a specific warning to their holidaymakers about the threat of a terrorist attack in Mombasa, why did the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with access to the same intelligence, fail to pass on a similarly specific warning to our holidaymakers in the area?

Mr. O'Brien: There was no specific intelligence of an attack being planned in Bali—[Hon. Members: XMombasa."] I am sorry; Mombasa. As far as we are concerned, there was no specific intelligence. If there had been, we would certainly have made that information available.

As the Prime Minister recently said, hardly a day goes by without a terrorist warning of some kind. Indeed, each month the security services get between 300 and 400 pieces of information about terrorist activities. Of those 300 to 400 pieces of information, usually none results in a predicted incident. Some of the information is partial, imprecise, unreliable or deliberate disinformation; rarely is it precise. It is a matter for the intelligence services to give professional advice on their assessment of the quality of that information. The intelligence services are not infallible, but they make the best professional judgment that they can. We support the way in which they analyse that information. Other countries may take a different view about the way in which they give warnings and analyse information. We believe that our intelligence services are doing the best that they reasonably can to ensure that they assess the information in a professional way.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): My hon. Friend is aware that for many years a large number of British people have been going on holiday to Kenya. He will also know that last week the British embassy there had to be closed on security grounds. Can he reassure constituents who contacted me last week that he will further consider updating the website that gives advice about the situation whenever circumstances change so that people do not have to rely on press reports or radio broadcasts when they are about to go on holiday and, understandably, anxious about whether they should cancel it, even if they are going to a part of the country far from the incident?

Mr. O'Brien: We amended all our travel advice on 18 October to warn travellers of the increased threat from international terrorism. The fact that that was a global warning should not detract from its relevance. Travel advice is kept under constant review in the light

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of all the information available to us. It was changed on 28 November to reflect the implications of the Mombasa attack and the risk of terrorist groups carrying out further attacks in east Africa.

We cannot guarantee that anywhere is completely and totally safe. What we do know is that al-Qaeda is a threat and that there are other terrorists at large in the world. There is therefore a need to be vigilant. We try to assess professionally all the information that we get and make a good judgment about it. We are currently reviewing the way in which we make those decisions to ensure that we improve wherever possible the way in which that intelligence information is assessed and to ensure that we provide information of the best possible quality to members of the public when they travel abroad.

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