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House of Commons

Tuesday 10 June 2003

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Sierra Leone

1. Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent): If he will make a statement on Sierra Leone. [117938]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell): The UK has made a significant political, military and financial investment to end the conflict in Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone has now enjoyed over a year of peace under a democratically elected Government. The UK has a long-term commitment to Sierra Leone, and will continue to support the Government as they make the reforms that will ensure a sustainable peace.

Hugh Robertson : Two key elements in that long-term stability are the prosecution of war criminals and preventing conflict in adjoining countries from destabilising Sierra Leone. In view of that, will the Minister tell the House what practical steps Her Majesty's Government are taking to bring President Taylor to justice? Secondly, what steps are they taking to secure a regional solution to the problems of the area?

Mr. Rammell: We have taken the lead in establishing the special court, and committed some £6.6 million to that effect. The court and the prosecutor are entirely independent. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was referring to the indictment that was recently laid down in respect of Charles Taylor. The prosecutor makes his own decisions, but we are urging that Charles Taylor should give himself up to the authorities, and that others in the region should support that move.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central): The hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) rightly made the connection with the situation in Liberia, because we know that Sierra Leone's problems have almost always been imported from that country. Even more important than the indictment of Mr. Taylor—although that would be a good thing—is the peace process in Liberia. Will my hon. Friend tell the House

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what practical steps the British Government are taking to drive through that process, which is a necessary precondition to long-term peace in the region?

Mr. Rammell: My hon. Friend's analysis is absolutely right. We need to push forward the peace process in Liberia, and we are certainly pushing to that effect. The pressure to achieve that will have been enhanced by United Nations Security Council resolution 1478, adopted on 6 May, which renewed the arms embargo and the travel ban aimed at those breaking the arms embargo, and dealt with the issue of rough diamonds. From 7 July, the sanctions will also apply to timber, the revenue from which is used to purchase arms. That pressure, allied with our constant urging of the Liberian authorities to engage in a peace process, represents the right way forward.


2. Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting): If he will make a statement on the present situation in Cyprus. [117939]

10. Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton): If he will make a statement on the current situation in Cyprus. [117948]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): I welcome the partial easing of restrictions on freedom of movement across the green line, and the European Commission's trade and aid package for the Turkish Cypriots. I hope that they will lead to a comprehensive settlement based on the UN plan, which remains vital.

Mr. Cox : I note that reply, but my hon. Friend will be aware of the dramatic changes that have taken place in northern Cyprus in recent weeks. For the first time since the events of 1974, we are hearing the voice of the Turkish Cypriot community, which is clearly saying that it wants to end the isolation and to be part of the Cyprus that goes into the European Union next year. Against that background, what are the Government doing to re-engage the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the President of the Republic of Cyprus, President Papadopoulos, with a view to reconvening the talks in the genuine hope that, at long last, we shall see the people of Cyprus, be they Greek or Turkish, living and working together? Just what are we doing?

Mr. MacShane: Those aspirations are shared by the whole House. Out of the population of 680,000 Greek Cypriots, 270,000 have crossed into the north, and 120,000 of the 180,000 Turkish Cypriots have crossed into the south. Never before have we seen such people power voting with its feet for a united Cyprus. The Government have repeatedly urged the Cypriot Government and the other players in the region—the Turkish and Greek Governments—to take up Kofi Annan's plan, which is on the table and represents the best way forward. We want the authorities on the island and in the relevant countries to help to unite Cyprus and to bring a united Cyprus into the European Union next May.

Mr. Love: I, too, welcome the opening of the green line, but of course this is only the beginning, not the end, in terms of finding a solution. We must keep up the

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momentum of bringing the parties together. What action is my hon. Friend taking to build confidence between the two communities on the island, and, more importantly, what is he doing to engage the Turkish Government to ensure that they play their full part in bringing together the two communities and restarting the negotiations?

Mr. MacShane: I believe that there is confidence between the two communities. Where the breakdown exists is, perhaps, between their political leaders. My hon. Friend is right to focus on Ankara, where the Turkish Government, Parliament and military have an historic responsibility to press Mr. Denktash to reach an agreement within the Annan proposals and then allow a united Cyprus to enter the European Union—and one of its top officials will indeed be a Turkish-speaking representative if the Annan plans are adopted. I think that it is in Turkey's interests for the EU to contain a member state one of whose senior representatives in the European Council of Ministers will be speaking Turkish.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): Further to the points made by the hon. Members for Tooting (Mr. Cox) and for Edmonton (Mr. Love), will the Minister confirm that there are increasing signs that neither the Turkish Cypriots nor the Turkish settlers are prepared to see a divided island remain when Cyprus joins the EU? Will he use his good offices to stress to the Turkish Government that this is the best time to start playing a more positive role in the solving of the problem, especially if Turkey wants to join the EU?

Mr. MacShane: I strongly agree. It has been a great pleasure to see Turkish Cypriots waving the blue and yellow EU flag and, along with those in the rest of Europe—with one political exception, perhaps—voting yes to the EU. The hon. Gentleman is also right to say that it is for the Turkish Government to engage. We think that they have taken positive steps, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I continue to urge them to move further so that a united Cyprus can enter the EU by May next year.

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): Now that Lord Hannay's remit has expired, may I take this opportunity to thank him, on behalf of the Conservatives, for his efforts to resolve the intractable problems of Cyprus? Following the unfortunate recent collapse of the talks, will the Minister join me in welcoming the unilateral proposals of the Republic of Cyprus for moves including freer movement of goods, persons and vehicles and the relaxation of employment restrictions for Turkish Cypriots? Will he applaud the Cypriot Government for continuing to seek a positive resolution of the problem?

Mr. MacShane: I think that the proposals, some 16 of them, advanced by the Cypriot Government, are a move in the right direction. The main stumbling block remains the position of Mr. Denktash, which must be dealt with through direct communication with him. We believe that, again, the Turkish Government, Parliament and military have a key role to play.

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Let me record the House's thanks to Lord Hannay. He has been a remarkable servant of Britain in many ways, and has done a great service in trying to bring the two sides together to secure a final deal allowing a united Cyprus to enter the EU.

Mr. Edward O'Hara (Knowsley, South): Given the announcement of the termination of Lord Hannay's service as special representative, what assurance can my hon. Friend give about specific measures that the British Government will take to recognise their special responsibilities as a senior member of the UN and of the Commonwealth and a guarantor of the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus? What, specifically, will the British Government do about replacing Lord Hannay?

Mr. MacShane: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the triple role that Britain plays as a permanent member of the Security Council. It is under the aegis of the UN that a solution to the Cyprus problem must be found. Britain is obviously also a member of the EU, and is looking forward greatly to Cyprus becoming a partner.

I believe that things must now be done at Government level. We need to engage with our partners, especially, as I have said, the Turkish Government. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will meet the Turkish Foreign Minister here in London shortly, and we will continue to press all parties—particularly the Turkish Government, Parliament and military—to accept their responsibilities. We firmly believe that the signals from Ankara can unblock the path to a solution under the Annan package, which gives a fair deal to both communities on the island.

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