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Mr. Alexander: I understand my hon. Friend's point. I will simply say, having had an opportunity to see the transcript of Condoleezza Rice's comments last night, that she was clear in her condemnation of previous human rights abuses in Uzbekistan, but my responsibility and my brief are to speak on behalf of the British Government.
The British Government's position was set out in the human rights report published in 2004, in which we made categorically clear our objection to some of the
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human rights abuses that were taking place in Uzbekistan at that stage. We now wish to discuss with our other international partners what further action is necessary in relation to what appears to be unfolding in respect of circumstances in Uzbekistan. I can assure my hon. Friend, however, that the British Foreign Office has been absolutely consistent in ensuring that we bring to the Uzbeks' attention our concern about abuse of human rights.
Andrew Mackinlay: The Minister will have been briefed about my mention of the region in yesterday's debate. I pointed out that we have no embassy in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, where refugees are flooding in. Who, on behalf of the United Kingdom Government, is in Kyrgyzstan today? Are we going to open an embassy there, or are this Government and Sir Michael Jay, the head of the Foreign Office, going to persist in the absurdity of not having an embassy in that most critical part of the world, which is affected by events in Uzbekistan? When there was a velvet revolution six weeks ago, we had no British presence there.
Mr. Alexander: My hon. Friend has raised an important point. As I said, the British ambassador, David Moran, travelled to eastern Uzbekistan this morning. I understand that earlier our defence attaché had travelled to the affected areas. The first requirement
Mr. Alexander: I will come to the point that my hon. Friend raised, if he will allow me to answer. The first requirement was to establish the facts in Uzbekistan relating to what may be an emerging problem over what may be an humanitarian crisis affecting Kyrgyzstan. As we have argued in recent days, that makes the case for ensuring that not just the British ambassador but the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees gains immediate access, so that whatever support is needed on the border with Kyrgyzstan can be provided. If it would help, I will certainly take up the matter with the Foreign Secretary and write to my hon. Friend after the debate.
I turn to a more general subject: conflicts outside the area of Uzbekistan. Conflicts are a source of major human suffering and a breeding ground for terrorism, organised crime and illegal immigration. They have a direct impact on all our security.
The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians remains a major obstacle to the stability and prosperity of the whole middle east. For Israelis, the conflict prevents a democratic nation from enjoying the benefits of peace. For Palestinians, it is a block on their aspirations for a viable, contiguous, democratic state, which is their right.
Today, the peace process is at a moment of opportunity, perhaps the best in a generation, with Israel's courageous plan for withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the northern west bank; a Palestinian President with a new, democratic mandate for peace; and strong, unanimous international support for a solution based on two secure, viable states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side. The Government are determined to do all we can to support the two sides' search for peace. We will continue to work closely with the United States and all those committed to making disengagement by Israel a success, and ensure that it is a first step towards implementation of the road map.
Clare Short: I think that we all agree that a just settlement on Israel-Palestine would transform the situation in the middle east and make much easier the securing of international co-operation against terrorism, but it seems that the Sharon plan to withdraw from Gaza but not open up its borders, to have a massive new settlement around east Jerusalem, and for the incorporation of Jerusalem, means that the possibility of two states on the 67 boundaries is evaporating in front of our eyes. Will the Minister give an absolute assurance that whatever the United States does, the British Government will not agree to a breach of international law and are determined that the Palestinian state should be on the 67 boundaries, including east Jerusalem?
Mr. Alexander: The Government have been forthright in their condemnation of the illegal building of settlements by the Israeli Government in recent years and we continue to regard the withdrawal plan from Gaza as a necessary step to get the road map process back on track. We continue to believe that the road map offers the best future for securing the kind of solution that I have just set out, whereby there could be a contiguous, viable, democratic Palestinian state adjacent to the Israeli state. As I say, the Government are determined to do all we can to support the two sides' search for peace. We will continue to work closely with the United States and all those committed to making that disengagement a success, and ensure that it is a step towards implementation of the road map.
Therefore, we will support the Palestinian legislative elections due to be held this summer. Meanwhile, Israel must stop the illegal expansion of settlements, as I have just made clear, which in some places could threaten the viabilityas my right hon. Friend made clearof a future Palestinian state. The Palestinians, however, also need to follow through on the commitments to reform that they made at the London meeting on 1 March, and to deliver especially on security, which is Israel's right. I can also inform the House today that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will visit Israel and the Palestinian territories soon to discuss the situation and to see how we can provide further help.
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The Government will continue our strong support to the African Union peace support mission in Darfur. We have provided £14 million to the mission, largely in logistical support, and stand ready to provide further assistance as the African Union expands its force from 3,300 to about 7,700 troops. We have allocated £75 million for humanitarian assistance for Sudan this financial year, including in Darfur. The United Kingdom fully supports the talks mediated by the African Union in Abuja aimed at finding a political solution to the crisis. We are pressing all sides to work with the International Criminal Court to bring those responsible for committing atrocities to justice.
The Government will also continue to maintain pressure on the Government of Zimbabwe, working with international partners until there are positive and substantive commitments to pursuing a restoration of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Given that rape as a weapon of war, compulsory relocation, forced labour, the use of child soldiers, the use of human mine sweepers, and the bestial destruction of villages all testify daily to the vicious character of the military dictatorship in Burma, and that simultaneously Total oil is propping up that vicious regime with a $400 million investment in the country, what does the right hon. Gentleman, on behalf of the British Government, intend to do in concert with others in the EU and the UN to bring about a culture in which it is recognised that sanctions are required to bring that regime to book and to give the people of Burma the opportunity to enjoy the peace, freedom and justice that we have long enjoyed and they have too long been denied?
Mr. Alexander: I pay tribute to the long-standing commitment that the hon. Gentleman has shown to bringing an end to the suffering of the people of Burma. I noticed with some regret that the word "Burma" never appeared in the foreign policy section of the Conservative manifesto, so clearly his concern is not as widely shared on the Opposition Benches as I believe it is on the Labour Benches.
On the substantive point that the hon. Gentleman raised, first I would like to point out that I have met Association of South East Asian Nations ambassadors in recent months and urged them to take further action in relation to the difficulties being encountered in Burma. It is with some regret, however, that I must tell the House that the fact that we have been unable to make further progress is not the result of a lack of will on the part of the United Kingdom but, I fear, a reticence on the part of many Asian neighbours of Burma. In the European Union, Britain has undoubtedly been at the forefront of efforts to bring pressure to bear on the Burmese regime, and I hope and believe that that will continue to be our policy as we review ways of taking forward our steps against the Burma regime in the months ahead.
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