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Turkish Visit

3. Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): If he will ask the hon. Member for Colchester to accompany him when he next makes an official visit to Kurdish communities in Turkey. [12880]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Douglas Alexander): Neither my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary nor I have specific plans to visit the Kurdish communities in Turkey in the near future.

Bob Russell: I look forward to such an invitation. I hope that it will be forthcoming, because the Foreign Secretary well knows that, in the previous Parliament, the issue was dear to my heart and the former Minister for Europe suggested that, if I visited the area, I would perhaps be better informed. In the spirit of the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), will his successor maintain the invitation, which was given by default?

Mr. Alexander: Of course I shall consider any invitation that is extended to me. However, I respectfully point out that information is not always the same as wisdom.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): I am sure that the Minister knows that the person killed in the Turkish bombing came from my constituency. I am most grateful to the Foreign Office for all its support for Helen Bennett's family in the past few days. I want to express the sincerest sympathy and sadness that we all feel at a such tragic loss of life. It is especially devastating for one family to suffer a death and five injuries. I appreciate that we do not know who perpetrated the atrocity, but will the Minister undertake to keep hon. Members and the family informed when progress is made?

Mr. Alexander: On behalf of the Government and, I am sure, the House, I extend my sympathy to the affected family in my hon. Friend's constituency. I pay tribute to the sterling efforts of our ambassador, Peter Westmacott, and his staff for their response to the terrible incident. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said on Saturday, the explosion was a repugnant attack which targeted innocent tourists. We stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Turkey in sympathy and in refusing to allow terrorists to destroy our values and liberty. On that basis, I am happy to give an undertaking that we will keep the House informed of the progress of what we hope will be an expeditious investigation.

Mrs. Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con): Will the Minister and his colleagues use the EU presidency to press Turkey to recognise the Government of Cyprus before opening accession negotiations with Turkey? In the light of the approaching anniversary of the invasion of Cyprus, will the Minister outline the Government's plans to drive forward new talks and negotiations between the two sides, with a view to establishing a lasting, functional and peaceful solution to reunite Cyprus?
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Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady is a new Member, but she must confine her supplementary question to the subject of the question before us. I cannot invite the Minister to answer her supplementary question. However, she should not worry—senior Members do the same thing.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): When my right hon. Friend visits Turkey with the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell)—a visit that I fully support, as I am sure, do the constituents of Colchester—he will obviously discuss enlargement of the Union with the Kurdish communities, as well as with the hon. Member for Colchester. He doubtless noted the article in yesterday's newspapers and the comments of Karl-Heinz Grasser, the Austrian Finance Minister, who asked for the negotiations to be shelved. Will my right hon. Friend confirm the Government's commitment to enlargement as regards Turkey? As part of those discussions, will he ensure that the wishes of the Kurdish communities—and, of course, those of the hon. Member for Colchester—are taken into account?

Mr. Alexander: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. Even during the past couple of days, which I have spent in Brussels, I have been pressing our case, notwithstanding the fact that agreement could not be reached on the future financial perspective at the European Council last month, and I am glad to announce that the Council reiterated the position of the previous Council in December, in regard to the intention to open accession talks with Turkey on 3 October, during the British presidency. Of course, significant progress has still to be made by the Turks in relation to the Copenhagen protocols, but many would agree that the Kurds and other minority groups in Turkey have a great deal to gain from the process of reform and democratisation that has being taken forward apace by the Turkish authorities to date. Of course this will be a long process—we are talking about at least a decade—but now would be precisely the wrong time to send a signal that there are arbitrary barriers facing any individual country. There are, of course, objective criteria, but we want to ensure that we do not close the door to further enlargement of the European Union.

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): May I encourage the Minister to take my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) to the Kurdish areas of Turkey—[Laughter.] The right hon. Gentleman has said that he has no intention of going there in the near future, but may I urge him and others on the Treasury Bench to do so when they have an opportunity, as I am sure that they will in relation to Turkey's application to join the European Union? I urge them in particular to consider the human rights of the Kurds, because there is concern that human rights abuses are continuing. While he is there, the Minister might also have an opportunity to consider the situation of the Kurdish communities in Syria and Iran, where there are also large numbers of human rights abuses.

Mr. Alexander: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his observations. I note that he did not request that I bring his colleague back when I return from that visit. The House will draw its own conclusions from his helpful comment. On the serious substance of the hon.
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Gentleman's question, it is fair to recognise the scale of work that has already been done in Turkey. It has made enormous progress over the past two years, through the adoption of a series of constitutional and legislative reforms such as the abolition of the death penalty, new protections against torture, greater freedoms of expression, greater cultural rights for Kurds and others, and a reduction in the military's role in the Government. As I sought to reflect in my earlier response, we recognise that there is significant progress yet to be made, but the House should none the less be heartened by the pace and scale of the progress already achieved.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): When the Minister does visit Turkey, I would urge him to visit the Kurdish areas in the south and east of the country and to have discussions with the Kurdish people there. While progress has been made on the recognition of linguistic rights, for example, I fear that many of those rights are simply not working on the ground, and meetings and discussions with those groups would be of great benefit to him. Will he also consider the use of the military by the Turkish Government in south-east Turkey, where it has been used to oppress many Kurdish groups? Will he also remind the Turkish Government that the banning of organisations is not necessarily the best way of ensuring that they have free political representation? It is much better to promote an inclusive society in which all communities feel able to be, and are, represented at national level.

Mr. Alexander: On my hon. Friend's point about visits to the south and south-east of Turkey, I can assure him that Peter Westmacott, the British ambassador, and a number of his colleagues representing Britain in Turkey, visit that part of the country on a regular basis. We receive full reports on their view of the situation on the ground. I would note, however, the progress that has been made, not just in terms of the legislative changes that I have mentioned. Broadcasting in non-Turkish languages, including Kurdish, started on national television and radio in June 2004, and I understand that Kurdish music cassettes, CDs and newspapers are now far more freely available, and that Kurdish plays and concerts are taking place.

I would not diminish the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn), however. Of course we want to ensure that those rights are being given practical expression on the ground, and I can assure him that the issue of human rights in Turkey will be at the forefront of many European Union member states' minds over the coming years. I am sure that that will provide an opportunity to scrutinise exactly what is happening in the Kurdish areas and in other parts of Turkey.


4. Anne Milton (Guildford) (Con): If he will make a statement on the political situation in Darfur. [12881]

The Minister for Trade (Ian Pearson): There can be no military solution to the situation in Darfur. Only a political agreement can deliver long-term peace and security. We welcome the signature by the parties to the conflict of a declaration of principles as a basis for a
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lasting settlement, and congratulate the African Union on that achievement. We urge all parties to negotiate in good faith at the next round of talks in Abuja, due to resume on 24 August.

Anne Milton: With 180,000 dead in Darfur, 2 million people displaced and reliant only on humanitarian aid in camps, killing and rapes continuing in those camps, and warnings that hundreds of thousands more might die of starvation and disease, will the Minister assure us that real action will follow his words? The Government talk of passing strong messages to the Sudanese Government, but to many those words have a hollow ring. The public, and many agencies such as Amnesty, need some reassurance.

Ian Pearson: The hon. Lady is right to point to the situation in Darfur. It is much calmer than it was a few months ago, but there are serious humanitarian issues, with approximately 3 million people in need of assistance. I would like her to recognise, however, the work of the Department for International Development in terms of providing humanitarian assistance, and the work of other member states in Europe and internationally. The work of the African Union in brokering discussions between the parties, which we hope will lead to a successful and peaceful Darfur in the future, should also be recognised. Those are real actions undertaken by the African Union, and they deserve the support of the House.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend will know that the peace talks at Abuja are within the framework of the comprehensive peace agreement, and we wish all the parties well. Does he agree, however, that there is a real need for capacity to be given, particularly on the side of the rebels, the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement, as the British Government did an awful lot of good work latterly at Naivasha in relation to the north-south peace talks? Will he assure me that that is already going on, and will continue in the future?

Ian Pearson: My hon. Friend is right to point to the capacity issue. As far as the comprehensive peace agreement is concerned, we very much welcome the signature on 9 July this year of the Government of national unity, and the formation of the new presidency. There is a lot of work to be done in terms of the commissions that are to be established. We have already assisted in providing capacity to enable that to take place, and we will continue to do so in Khartoum in relation to the CPA, and where appropriate in Darfur.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Given that the Sudanese Government in Khartoum orchestrated, funded, practised and then defended the genocide of ethnic Darfurians, what assessment has the Minister made of the prospects for the safety of people fleeing Darfur if they are forced to settle in Khartoum?

Ian Pearson: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the situation in Darfur is more stable than it has been previously. There are still some 3 million displaced people, however. The situation is fragile, and far too many incidents of attacks on civilians and deaths due to
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those attacks still take place. It is important that we strengthen the AU mission, as there is clear evidence that where it has been deployed, it has been effective in calming the situation. It will increase from 2,900 to 7,700 in the coming months. We will keep that figure under review, but we believe that it will make a real difference, as does the AU.

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