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21 Feb 2005 : Column 358W—continued

Nepal

Angus Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment his Department has made of the reign of King Gyanendra of Nepal since his coronation in 2001; and if he will make a statement. [214729]

Mr. Alexander: King Gyanendra of Nepal assumed the throne under difficult circumstances, following the massacre of King Birendra and members of the royal family in 2001. During King Gyanendra's reign the conflict with the Maoists has escalated while the security and human rights situations have deteriorated considerably. While we have welcomed the King's stated commitment to multi-party democracy and peace, the shared failure of the King and the political parties to work together to find a common way forward on tackling Nepal's problems has been disappointing. We are deeply concerned by the King's assumption of power on 1 February, which will increase the risk of instability in Nepal and undermine the institutions of democracy and constitutional monarchy in the country.

Angus Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment his Department has made of the investigation
 
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announced by King Gyanendra of Nepal on 4 June 2001 into the massacre at the royal palace on 1 June 2001; and if he will make a statement. [214730]

Mr. Alexander: We welcomed the publication on 14 June 2001 of the investigating commission's report into the massacre of the Nepalese royal family. The terms of reference for the investigating commission were extensive and gave the commission the authority to make a thorough investigation.

Bob Spink: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will change his advice on travel to Nepal to indicate that travel there is unsafe. [215541]

Mr. Alexander: Our Travel Advice has been changed to take account of the situation in Nepal following the King's takeover of power on 1 February. This change reflected our assessment that, given the fairly muted reaction in Nepal to the King's action, it was not necessary at the time to advise against all but essential travel.

The changes are intended to ensure that the public are aware the country is in a volatile state at present and there is the potential for disturbances. The Travel Advice also urges travellers who decide to go to Nepal to exercise extreme caution and vigilance, especially in and around Kathmandu, until the situation becomes clearer.

Officials are keeping the situation in Nepal under regular review and will change this travel advice if and when necessary.

Bob Spink: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he has had with governments of other countries on the safety of travel by their nationals to Nepal. [215542]

Mr. Alexander: Travel Advice Unit of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office discusses travel advice issues regularly with our international partners. But our Travel Advice is written ultimately for the benefit of British nationals; other countries' advisories are for their own nationals. We are keeping a very close eye on events in Nepal, but we continue to believe that British nationals are not being specifically targeted. We aim to include the level of detail necessary to allow British nationals to make their own decisions on whether or not to travel to Nepal. We will continue to keep the advice for Nepal under regular review.

Bob Spink: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what his current assessment is of the (a) safety and (b) desirability of travel by British citizens to Nepal; and if he will make a statement. [215543]

Mr. Alexander: Our Travel Advice for Nepal is based on an objective assessment of the risks to British nationals at any given time. It is designed to help British travellers make informed decisions and to avoid trouble by providing information on threats to personal safety.

As our Travel Advice for Nepal makes clear, the country is in a volatile state at present and there is the potential for disturbances following the King's takeover of power. There is a significant risk that there may be violent demonstrations in the weeks to come, especially
 
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in Kathmandu and the surrounding valley. Such demonstrations may flare up quickly and with little warning. However, the actual response so far to the King's takeover of power in Nepal on 1 February has been fairly muted and business is still operating much as usual. We have therefore judged that it was not necessary at this stage to advise against all but essential travel.

We are keeping the situation under regular review and will change this Travel Advice if and when necessary. In the meantime we continue to advise travellers to Nepal to exercise extreme caution and vigilance, especially in and around Kathmandu, until the situation becomes clearer. If the situation in Nepal deteriorates we would change our Travel Advice to reflect this.

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports he has received on the King of Nepal's recent political actions. [215660]

Mr. Alexander: We have received reporting on recent events in Nepal from our embassy in Kathmandu and through other diplomatic channels as well as from non-governmental organisations and the media. We have also shared assessments with a number of our international partners.

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he has had with the Government of Nepal on progress towards democracy, with particular reference to freedom of the press. [215661]

Mr. Alexander: The UK has consistently upheld the importance of democracy and democratic institutions in Nepal, including freedom of the press. The King's takeover of power on 1 February seriously undermines Nepal's democratic credentials and we have called for the immediate restitution of multi-party democracy. Since the Palace takeover and the introduction of very strict media censorship, our ambassador in Kathmandu has specifically raised the importance we attach to the freedom of the press with both the King and the Foreign Minister.

Angus Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment his Department has made of the call by the Government of Nepal on 7 February for unconditional peace talks with Maoist rebels; and if he will make a statement. [215986]

Mr. Alexander: The UK has consistently held the view that only a negotiated political settlement leading to a democratic outcome will achieve peace, stability and prosperity for Nepal. To that end we welcome calls by the Government of Nepal for unconditional peace talks with the Maoist rebels. However, we have always argued that a successful settlement will require the participation of all interested parties, including the political parties. The King's move to dismiss the min Minister and assume power outside the framework of a multi-party democratic system will increase the risk of instability in Nepal and undermine democracy in the country. We have called for the immediate restitution of multi-party democracy in the country.
 
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Angus Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment his Department has made of the possibilities for resolving the situation created by the Maoist revolt in Nepal; and if he will make a statement. [215987]

Mr. Alexander: The UK has always argued that a negotiated political settlement involving all the constitutional forces offers the best way to resolve the conflict in Nepal and to create a stable democracy with good governance and respect for human rights. We have always maintained that no wholly military solution will produce an acceptable outcome. This remains our judgment. We will continue to press all parties for an early return to negotiations.

Angus Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports his Department has received on Government control over the media in Nepal since 1 February; and if he will make a statement. [215991]

Mr. Alexander: The King of Nepal's takeover of power on 1 February was accompanied by the announcement of a state of emergency, which included a number of draconian measures including strict censorship of the media. The UK has consistently upheld the importance of democracy and democratic institutions in Nepal, including freedom of the press. Since the King's assumption of power our ambassador in Kathmandu has specifically raised the importance we attach to the freedom of the press with both the King and the Foreign Minister.


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