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Iran: Political Prisoners

Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations she has made to the government of Iran on the recent imprisonment of women campaigners; and if she will make a statement. [127692]

Margaret Beckett: 33 women's rights activists were arrested on 4 March outside a court building in Tehran, a few days before International Women's Day. They were demonstrating in support of five other women who are on trial for organising a women's rights demonstration in June 2006.

The EU Presidency, with UK support, issued a statement on 9 March, which expressed strong concern at these arrests, which are in breach of Iran's commitments to international human rights treaties that ensure the right to freedom of assembly and expression, and respect for all human rights without discrimination. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also made a statement on 6 March. Earlier on 4 March, in a meeting with the Iranian Foreign Ministry, the EU Presidency had raised concerns about the trial of the women's rights activists and the harassment of women's rights activists who have been involved in a campaign to protest against Iran's discriminatory laws against women.

We believe that most of the arrested women have since been released, but we continue to have serious concerns about Iran's treatment of those who exercise their right to peacefully express their opinions.

Iraq: Peace Keeping Operations

Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment her Department has made of the effect of transfer of security responsibility to Iraqi forces on the security situation in (a) Muthanna and (b) Dhi Qar; and if she will make a statement. [127148]

Margaret Beckett: Both Muthanna and Dhi Qar provinces have remained relatively stable following the transfer of security responsibility to the Iraqi authorities. Under the terms of the agreement reached between the Coalition and the Iraqi authorities for the transfer of provinces to Provincial Iraqi Control, the Iraqi authorities can request Coalition assistance if a
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security situation arises that they are unable to resolve themselves. To date, this has not proved necessary in either province.

Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what criteria are required to be fulfilled in order to proceed with the transfer of (a) Maysan and (b) Basra provinces to full Iraqi control; and if she will make a statement. [127149]

Margaret Beckett: The decision on when to transfer responsibility for security in each of Iraq's 18 provinces, including Maysan and Basra, is taken jointly by the Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I) and the government of Iraq on the basis of provincial security transition assessments, compiled by divisional commanders of MNF-I.

The criteria used in these assessments are: the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces; the threat level; the Iraqi governance capacity; and the capabilities of MNF-I to re-intervene at the request of the Iraqis.

One of the main objectives of our work with the Iraqi security forces and provincial councils in the south is to build their capacity and capabilities in order to create the conditions for the transfer of security responsibility. We hope that this will happen in Maysan in the next few months and in Basra in the second half of this year.

Malaysia: Military Decorations

Sandra Gidley: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what the conclusions were of the consideration in 2006 by the Committee on the Grant of Honours, Decorations and Medals of the points made by those seeking to wear the Pingat Jasa Malaysia medal. [127034]

Margaret Beckett: On 31 January 2006 the Government announced that Her Majesty the Queen had graciously approved the recommendation by the Committee on the Grant of Honours, Decorations and Medals that veterans and others eligible should exceptionally be allowed to accept the Pingat Jasa Malaysia (PJM), offered by the King and Government of Malaysia, but that in accordance with normal policy and practice official permission to wear the medal should not be granted. Since then, a number of people have said they believe that this decision was wrong; and that those entitled to accept the medal should also be permitted formally to wear the PJM.

Given the strength of feeling of some individuals, the committee considered the matter again very carefully. After examination of the issues involved, the policies underpinning the operation of the UK honours system and particular application of these policies in the case of the PJM, it concluded that the original decision to allow exceptions to two of the major principles of the British Honours System— the double medalling rule and the five year rule—should be upheld. Entitled individuals will continue to be allowed to accept the PJM, but there is no official permission to wear it.

In re-affirming the decision of 31 January 2006, the committee was aware that it would disappoint those who wish to wear the PJM, but they hoped that all who
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had been involved would understand that the decision reflected a major exception to the normal rules on acceptance of foreign medals. Exceptions to the rules are made only in exceptional circumstances, and in reaching its decision, the committee considered the importance of British involvement in the Malaysian campaign in the histories both of Malaysia and the UK in the years 1957-66, the generous gesture by the King and Government of Malaysia, as well the principles on which the British Honours System is based. Similar exceptions were made for medals from the Saudi and Kuwaiti Governments after the First Gulf War.

Pakistan: Afghanistan

Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (1) when the Pakistan-Afghanistan cross-border Jirga is expected to take place; what aims have been agreed for the Jirga; and if she will make a statement; [127164]

(2) whether the UK has a role in the planning and coordination of the agreed Pakistan-Afghanistan joint Jirgas to address issues pertaining to the border areas, as agreed in trilateral meetings between the presidents of the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan in September 2006; and if she will make a statement. [127165]

Margaret Beckett: The governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan have not yet announced when the cross border Jirga will take place.

We support the joint Jirga proposal put forward by Presidents Karzai and Musharraf as a useful vehicle to bring peace and stability to the region, and are encouraging both governments to work together to prepare an agreed Jirga process and structure. We understand the Afghan Jirga Commission visited Islamabad on 10-13 March to hold formal talks with the Pakistan Jirga Commission.

Constructive dialogue between the governments, tribal elders and representatives of other interested groups on both sides of and across the border could play an important part in bringing peace and security to the border area, and help counter the shared terrorist/extremist threat.

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The UK does not have a formal role, but we stand ready to consider requests for

assistance from the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Poland: Energy

Daniel Kawczynski: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions she (a) has had and (b) plans to have with her Polish counterpart on a common EU energy policy. [128564]

Mr. Hoon: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and Polish Foreign Minister regularly meet to discuss a wide range of European issues including the EU's energy policy. This was a major theme of the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 5-6 March and the European Council on 8-9 March, attended by both, where EU governments agreed an ambitious package of measures on climate change and energy security, including further steps towards establishing a coherent EU external energy policy.


James Duddridge: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if she will seek to extend the travel ban on Robert Mugabe to members of his family. [129437]

Mr. McCartney: As well as Robert Mugabe and his wife, Grace, the EU travel ban list also includes his sister (Sabina) and nephew (Patrick Zhuwao). Both are included because of their positions in Government, respectively, a Politburo member and a Minister. Should other family members take up such positions or become identified with acts of violence and abuse, we will propose that they be immediately added to the EU travel ban list. In addition, we will seek to ensure that those identified as either directing others or participating themselves in torture and beatings will be added to the EU travel ban list.

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