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13 Jun 2007 : Column 1084W—continued

Hilary Benn: There is now no income limit for eligibility to allowances provided by the temporary international mechanism (TIM). The TIM provides a monthly allowance of 1500 Israeli Shekels (about £180) to all 71,000 civilian Palestinian authority employees
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and to 6,600 pensioners. It also pays a quarterly allowance of 1500 Israeli Shekels to 75,000 of the poorest and most vulnerable Palestinian families, as defined by the Ministry of Social Affairs and the World Food programme. Excluded from benefiting are individuals appearing on internationally recognised terrorist lists. Only one person has so far been excluded on this basis. With an estimated household size of six, almost one million people have so far benefited from the TIM, about a quarter of the Palestinian population in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Sri Lanka: Overseas Aid

Mr. Love: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what percentage of international aid provided by his Department in 2006 was given to Sri Lanka. [142049]

Mr. Thomas: DFID reports its expenditure in financial rather than calendar years. Therefore figures used are provisional bilateral outturn figures for the 2006-07 financial year. Final statistics will be published in Statistics on International Development 2007 in October.

£ million

Total DFID bilateral aid


Total Asia


Sri Lanka


The percentage of aid for Sri Lanka is 0.2 per cent. of the total DFID Bilateral outturn.

Figures were published on 12 June and further details are available on the DFID website

Sudan: Overseas Aid

Anne Moffat: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what contribution the UK has made to emergency relief to Darfur. [142309]

Hilary Benn: The UK is heavily engaged in Darfur on a number of levels. DFID has spent over £142 million supporting emergency relief operations in the region since October 2003. The UK is also prominent in efforts to make the humanitarian response in Sudan more effective. This includes advocacy and support for humanitarian agencies operating on the ground and through our £40 million contribution in 2007 to the pioneering Common Humanitarian Fund, allowing the UN Humanitarian Coordinator to direct resources at the areas of greatest need across the country.

The UK is working at the highest level to secure a lasting peace in Darfur, regularly raising the need to resolve the Darfur conflict with the parties and with international partners. The UK has also contributed £73 million to the African Union Mission in Sudan to help support the protection of civilians in Darfur.

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Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Aral Sea: Environment Protection

Mark Williams: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports she has received of the environmental effects of the drainage of the Aral Sea; and if she will make a statement. [142120]

Mr. Hoon: The Aral Sea has been recognised as the world’s worst artificial ecological disaster. From 1960 to 2000 it lost 75 per cent. of its volume and 50 per cent. of its surface area. Its degradation has been ruinous to the people, plant and animal life in the region. None of the twenty species of fish once found in the Aral have survived. However, a dam has now been placed between the northern and southern part of the Aral Sea, built with international assistance from the World Bank. Since completion in 2005, the World Bank reports that the water-level in the northern part of the sea has gradually risen and, between 2003 and 2006, increased by 13 per cent. in surface area (from 2,850 km sq to 3,250 km sq).

A spillway passing excess water from the northern to the southern part of the Aral Sea has been operational since February 2006 and the water level in the southern part is also now likely to increase in the future, though probably only marginally. Salinity levels of both parts of the sea have been reduced over the last two years and several freshwater fish have been returned to the sea. As such, fish harvests have considerably increased during the past two years.

According to the World Bank, the next step is to improve the irrigation efficiency of the land in the Kazakh part of the Aral Sea basin. Additional waterworks are also planned to restore wetlands and fishing lakes in the delta region. A World Bank project to this end began in 2007 and a project monitoring mission to the Aral Sea is currently underway.

Details of the World Bank project can be found at:

Baker-Hamilton Commission

Mark Pritchard: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions she has had with her US counterpart on new talks based on the Baker-Hamilton Commission. [140682]

Dr. Howells: Following publication of the Baker-Hamilton report, the Government of Iraq made clear that it would lead any discussion on Iraq by the international community. At its invitation, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and the US Secretary of State both attended the Iraq Neighbours Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh on 4 May. Both the US and we look forward to continuing discussion with Iraq, its neighbours and the wider international community through this format.

Bangladesh: Political Prisoners

Mr. Morley: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether she has
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made representations on the detention without trial of the former prime minister of Bangladesh, Mondud Ahmed, to the military government of Bangladesh. [142447]

Dr. Howells: We understand that a court hearing on this case is due to take place on 17 June. It is the right of the caretaker government of Bangladesh to take legitimate measures against corruption and the abuse of public office. We have made clear to them the need to resolve the cases of those in detention promptly and through due process. We continue to urge the caretaker government, the armed forces and the law enforcement agencies to act impartially and with respect for human rights and the rule of law.

Burma: Refugees

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (1) what representations she has made to the government of (a) Burma and (b) Thailand on employment and education for refugees that live in camps on the border; [140993]

(2) what representations she has made to the government of (a) Thailand and (b) Malaysia on extending refugee status to parents and children of Burmese residents in camps within their borders. [140994]

Mr. McCartney: Our Embassy in Bangkok has regular discussions, both bilaterally and together with EU counterparts, with the Government of Thailand and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) about the welfare of refugees in Thailand. These discussions include the question of the refugees’ status and access to education and employment. Officials from our Embassy in Bangkok regularly visit the refugee camps to monitor conditions, most recently in May this year.

We have made no representations to the Burmese government about employment and education opportunities for refugees in Thailand.

We have made no representations to the Malaysian government on the status of Burmese refugees. However, our High Commission in Kuala Lumpur remains in close contact with UNHCR about issues concerning refugees in Malaysia.

Burma: Tourism

John Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent steps have been taken to reduce the number of British tourists visiting Burma. [142037]

Mr. McCartney: My right. hon. Friend the Prime Minister stated in January 2005 that anyone who may be thinking of visiting Burma on holiday should consider carefully whether by their actions they are helping to support the regime.

The country profile for Burma on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's (FCO) website draws attention to our position and the views of Aung San Suu Kyi on tourism. The FCO Travel Advice on Burma includes a link to the country profile so that those thinking of travelling to Burma will be aware of this.

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The FCO's country profile on Burma can be found at:

The FCO's Travel Advice on Burma can be found at:

John Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment she has made of the security risks to (a) British tourists and (b) Burmese citizens if such tourists engage local people in political discussions in Burma; and what advice her Department gives to British citizens on this issue. [142038]

Mr. McCartney: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office's (FCO) Travel Advice for Burma advises that

The FCO's Travel Advice on Burma can be found at:

Burma: Trade

John Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether Burma will be taking part in negotiations regarding a free trade area between the EU and ASEAN. [142035]

Mr. McCartney: The European Commission, on behalf of the EU, and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries as a bloc agreed to enter into negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) on 4 May. It is for the ASEAN states to decide how they are to be represented at the negotiations. The mandate to negotiate the FTA was agreed by the EU at the 23 April General Affairs and External Relations Council. The UK and like-minded member states were instrumental in securing language within the council conclusions and the mandate, which will have the effect of excluding Burma from the EU/ASEAN FTA. Burma will not benefit from the proposed EU-ASEAN FTA under its current regime.

Iran: Nuclear Fuels

Mr. Keith Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress has been made in the talks between the EU High Representative Javier Solana and Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani; and if she will make a statement. [141742]

Dr. Howells [holding answer 11 June 2007]: Dr. Solana met Dr. Larijani on 31 May for talks in Madrid. Iran continues to give no indication that it is willing to comply with its international obligations and suspend all enrichment-related, reprocessing and heavy-water related activities, as the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Dr ElBaradei,
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reported on 23 May. The matter will therefore return to the UN Security Council who will consider further measures on Iran.

Iran: Occupied Palestinian Territories

Mr. Keith Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent assessment has been made of the role of Iran in the Occupied Palestinian Territories; and if she will make a statement. [141661]

Dr. Howells: We have longstanding concerns that groups seeking to undermine the Middle East peace process through violence draw support from inside Iran. In the occupied Palestinian territories, Iran continues to support Palestinian rejectionist groups including Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which continues to undermine the peace process. Iran also provides ideological and financial support to Hamas. Iran also opposes a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

We support the EU presidency statement of 5 June, which condemned the anti-Israeli comments made by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. We have called on Iran to renounce all links to groups using terror and violence, to distance itself clearly from all threats made towards Israel, to support a solution to the Palestinian question based on the principle of two states living side by side in peace and security, and to act responsibly in the region.

Nigeria: Elections

Hugh Bayley: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent representations she has made to the Government of Nigeria on the conduct of the Nigerian presidential election in April 2007; if she will press for fresh elections to be held; and if she will make a statement. [140915]

Mr. McCartney: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary expressed deep concern about serious flaws in the conduct of the Nigerian elections in her public statement of 23 April.

Our High Commissioner in Abuja raised these concerns in meetings with President Obasanjo and the then President-elect, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, shortly after the elections in April. My noble Friend the Leader of the House of Lords, right hon. Baroness Amos, also made our disappointment clear to President Obasanjo when she saw him in Nigeria on 28 April. The elections were among the issues that my noble Friend Baroness Royall of Blaisdon discussed with President Yar’Adua when she represented the Government at the President’s inauguration on 29 May.

In his inaugural address President Yar’Adua acknowledged there had been shortcomings in the elections and urged anyone aggrieved to pursue the established legal avenues of redress. He also announced that he would set up a panel to examine the electoral process to ensure that standards were raised.

We have not called for the presidential elections to be re-run. We have urged aggrieved parties who wish to
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challenge the results to do so peacefully, through the appropriate electoral tribunals.

We will continue to watch closely how the Independent National Electoral Commission and the Nigerian Government respond to the concerns and issues raised by Nigerian citizens and international observers.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary’s statement of 23 April is available on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website at:

North Korea: Asylum

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if she will press China to meet its obligations relating to the refugee status of those North Koreans seeking asylum. [140995]

Mr. McCartney: We take every opportunity to urge China to respect international norms in their treatment of North Koreans who escape into China. We continue to have concerns about repatriation of refugees to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and reports of their subsequent ill-treatment by the North Korean authorities.

Saudi Arabia: Religious Buildings

Mr. Clappison: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations she has made to Saudi Arabia on the funding of new and existing mosques in the UK; and what reports she has received on the levels of such funding received (a) from Saudi Arabia and (b) other countries in each of the last three years. [142048]

Dr. Howells: I have made no representations to the Government of Saudi Arabia regarding funding of new or existing mosques in the UK.

A comprehensive response to the second part of the question would necessitate our conducting an investigation, drawing information from a wide range of diplomatic posts. This would take a long time and incur disproportionate cost. However, initial inquiries with our main diplomatic posts in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Bangladesh have shown that over the period in question no information on this subject has been received.

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