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More recently the British Council in Russia has experienced a number of legal., administrative and practical difficulties. The British Council has sought to comply with the demands of the authorities, for example in respect of taxation and other regulations, despite difficulties caused by the lack of clear legal status, Most recently a series of tax inspections in
Moscow and across the network was launched and the British Council are providing information requested by the inspectors.
We have pressed the Russians to resolve uncertainties about the legal status of the British Council in Russia by concluding a new Cultural Centres Agreement, taking the place of a 1994 Agreement on Co-operation in the Fields of Education, Science and Culture. The absence of an updated Agreement is causing difficulties for some regional British Council centres established in co-operation with local partners and authorities. A text was agreed at official level with Russia in 2001. In March 2006, Russia submitted a revised text. Productive negotiations with the Russian Foreign Ministry in January brought the text of a new Cultural Centres Agreement very close to conclusion. However, the Russian authorities have been reluctant to guarantee consent, under the terms of the Agreement, for the British Council to establish centres (which already exist as their current network of offices), outside Moscow. We await the Russian authorities reply to our outstanding proposals for finalising the text, which we hope can lead to a quick and satisfactory outcome.
These issues are raised frequently with the Russian authorities at both Ministerial and official levels. Our Embassy in Moscow keeps EU colleagues informed of developments in the course of regular meetings in Moscow.
Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations she has made to the government of Pakistan on the reported views of its Minister of Religious Affairs on Sir Salman Rushdie; and if she will make a statement. 
Dr. Howells: Our high commissioner in Islamabad raised deep concerns about the reported comments made by Pakistan's Minister for Religious Affairs with the Government of Pakistan on 19 June. We would strongly condemn any statement of this nature. It is clear that nothing can justify suicide bomb attacks.
Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations have been made to the Government of Pakistan on action by the Pakistani national assembly in response to the awarding of a knighthood to Salman Rushdie; and if she will make a statement. 
Dr. Howells: Our high commissioner in Islamabad discussed the resolution passed by Pakistans National Assembly, demanding that we withdraw Sir Salman Rushdies knighthood, with the Government of Pakistan on 19 June. He stressed that Sir Salmans knighthood is a reflection of his contribution to literature throughout a long and distinguished career which has seen him receive international recognition for a substantial body of work, and stressed that the knighthood was not intended as an insult to Islam or the Prophet Muhammad.
Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs pursuant to the answer of 8 January 2007, Official Report, columns 9-10W, on Somalia, whether any progress has been made in (a) strengthening and (b) improving the implementation of the UN arms embargo against Somalia; and what proposals the UK has put forward in this respect. 
Margaret Beckett: The Government strongly support the comprehensive UN arms embargo for Somalia. We sponsored UN Security Council Resolution 1744, adopted unanimously by the UN Security Council on 20 February, which reiterates the Council's demand that all states comply with the arms embargo. The resolution also stipulated certain conditions for exemptions to the embargo for the African Union's Mission to Somalia and for support to the Somali Transitional Federal Institutions. We continue to support the UN Monitoring Committee in its work to observe and report on compliance with the embargo. The UK will continue to consider, in consultation with its partners in the UN, what steps might be taken by the Security Council to ensure maximum compliance with the embargo.
Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assistance the UK is providing to the deployment of the African Union Mission to Somalia; and if she will make a statement. 
Margaret Beckett: The Government believe that a successful deployment of an African Union (AU) Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) will make a vital contribution to ensuring lasting stability in Somalia. The UK has offered planning and logistical support for a Somalia planning cell within the AU's Peace and Security Operations Division in Addis Ababa. The UK has also offered planning, logistical and financial assistance direct to troop contributing countries, including up to £1.3 million to Uganda.
Mr. Llwyd: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations she has made to the Government of Sri Lanka on the expulsion from Colombo of 376 ethnic Tamils; and if she will make a statement. 
The evictions and the reports of human rights violations and civilian deaths in Sri Lanka are a reflection of the deteriorating human rights situation in the country. They can only serve to harden attitudes among the affected communities both in Sri Lanka and overseas.
Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs pursuant to the answer of 4 June 2007, Official Report, column 249W, on Sudan: international assistance, what discussions have been held with the representatives of countries that have yet to fulfil their pledges of assistance to the African Union in Sudan; and if she will make a statement. 
Mr. McCartney: We have lobbied the Arab League and several of its key members regularly over the last year on the need to honour fully the commitments previously made to provide funds to the African Union (AU) Mission in the Sudan (AMIS). We have also lobbied other potential donors in the EU, major contributors to the UNs peacekeeping budget and major trading partners of Sudan to contribute towards the costs of AMIS.
We have had extensive discussions with the European Commission over the use of previous and future funds from the Africa Peace Facility for AMIS. We have pressed the European Commission to help the AU to produce the financial reporting required to release additional Commission funds for AMIS.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports she has received on the composition of the peacekeeping troops for the AU-UN force in Darfur; and whether they are to be exclusively or predominantly from African Union member states. 
Mr. McCartney: Troops for the African Union (AU)-UN force in Darfur have not yet been generated. We are pressing both the AU and UN to ensure force generation happens as soon as possible. Troops will be drawn first from African countries and if there are not sufficient African troops available, the UN will source troops from non-African countries. The AU and UN have agreed that
all efforts will be made to ensure that the peacekeeping force will have a predominantly African character.
Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what date has been agreed with the Sudanese Government for the (a) initial and (b) full deployment of the AU-UN hybrid force. 
Mr. McCartney: The Sudanese Government agreed to deployment of the African Union (AU)-UN hybrid force for Darfur on 12 June. The AU and UN have not yet set a date for deployment and we do not expect them to do so until the UN Security Council has passed a resolution mandating the force. We are pressing both the AU and UN to deploy the hybrid mission as soon as possible. At the enlarged international conference on Sudan in Paris today, attended by my noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Lord Triesman of Tottenham,, the UN Secretary-General's team anticipated deployment of the heavy support package for the AU during the autumn, and that it would form the basis of the hybrid force shortly thereafter.
Mr. McCartney: The hybrid force will be funded by the UN. The UN will also fully fund the light and heavy support packages for the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS). Until the hybrid force deploys, AMIS funding will continue to come through voluntary contributions from donors,
Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what timescale is envisaged for the deployment of the AU-UN hybrid force recently accepted by the Sudanese Government; and what agreements have been reached on (a) the composition of its troops and (b) the chain of command. 
Mr. McCartney: The UN and African Union (AU) are still negotiating the timetable for the deployment of the joint AU-UN hybrid force for Darfur accepted by the Sudanese Government on 12 June. We are pressing both parties to agree on the earliest possible date. The heavy support package to be deployed this autumn will form the initial core of the hybrid force.
Troops will be drawn first from African countries and if there are not sufficient African troops available, the UN will source troops from non-African countries. The AU and UN have agreed that all efforts will be made to ensure that the peacekeeping force will have a predominantly African character.
The new AU Mission in the Sudan Force Commander, Nigerian General Agwai, will take over as force commander of the hybrid mission when it deploys. He will report to the newly appointed Joint Special Representative, Rodolphe Adada, who reports to both the UN and AU.
Mr. McCartney: It was with great shock and sadness that we learned of the death of Sudanese first Vice President Dr. John Garang in a helicopter crash on 30 July 2005. Dr. Garang was returning from an official visit to Uganda when the helicopter he was travelling in crashed south of New Kush in bad weather. Seven crew and six other passengers were also killed.
In April 2006 the joint Ugandan/Sudanese panel sent a final report into the cause of the crash to Sudanese President Bashir. This report said that pilot error had been to blame. The report was accepted both by the National Congress Party and the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement.
Mr. McCartney: During protests on 13 June against the building of a new dam in the Kajbar area of Northern State, the Sudanese police appear to have used excessive force against demonstrators, killing four people and leaving at least ten injured. Following the incident, the Deputy Governor of Northern State and the local Commissioner of Kajbar tendered their resignations.
We, and EU partners, expressed our concern about this incident to the Government of Sudan during the meeting of the EU-Sudan dialogue on Human Rights on 21 June. The Government said that they had sent a team to Kajbar to investigate the event. We urged them to conduct this investigation quickly and hold those responsible for these tragic events to account.
Four journalists attempting to cover the protests were also arrested and detained by security forces. We welcome their release on 19 June but continue to press the Government of Sudan, including through the EU-Sudan dialogue, to respect freedom of the media as enshrined in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions she has had with her French counterpart on that Government's proposal for an international peace conference for Darfur; and if she will make a statement. 
Mr. McCartney: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has discussed Darfur with the French Foreign Minister, including the international conference on Darfur held in Paris today at which my noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Lord Triesman of Tottenham, represented the UK. The French Foreign Minister then wrote to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to explain the objective for the meeting was to strengthen the international focus and activity on Darfur and give the African Union/UN strong international support We welcome this initiative. My noble Friend Lord Triesman visited Paris on 18 June to discuss with the French Government how to revitalise the political process in Darfur and keep pressure on the Government of Sudan and rebels to honour their commitments.
Andrew Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions she has had with her counterpart in Saudi Arabia on tackling the expansion of Islamic (a) extremism and (b) terrorist activity in the Gulf region. 
Mr. McCartney: Saudi Arabia is one of the UKs key counter-terrorism partners. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary last met her Saudi opposite number, Prince Saud, in May, and we continue to enjoy a high level of bilateral co-operation, including on issues relating to counter-terrorism, at both ministerial and senior official level. Saudi Arabia plays a vital role, both regionally and internationally, in the global response to the terrorist threat, including countering extremism and the disruption of terrorist networks on its own territory.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports she has received of fundamentalist Islamist forces setting schools on fire in Southern Thailand. 
Mr. McCartney: Since the outbreak of serious violence in January 2004 there have been regular attacks on teachers and schools in the three southern Thai border provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat. According to recent Thai Education Ministry statistics nearly 200 schools have been burnt down, 75 teachers, administrators and staff killed and 91 injured in this period. Schools in the three provinces are frequently closed for security reasons. The authorities have blamed a number of separatist and terrorist groups for the majority of the attacks.
Mr. McCartney: At the last round of the UK-China Human Rights Dialogue on 5 February, the Chinese Government confirmed that the new regulations for foreign correspondents, implemented on 1 January, applied to Tibet. However, as with all visitors to Tibet, journalists must still seek permission to enter the region from the local authorities. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister encouraged greater media freedom with the head of the Chinese Information Office for the State Council in April. We continue to urge China to lift its restrictions on freedom of expression both before and after the Olympics and to protect the rights of its domestic media.
Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent reports she has received on the implications for the Tibetan people of the opening of the railway to Lhasa. 
Mr. McCartney: The Chinese Government maintain the Qinghai-Lhasa railway is helping to boost the local economy, particularly through its contribution to a growth in tourism in Tibet. We welcome Tibet's economic development, but are concerned that it should take account of the wishes of the local Tibetan population and that they should benefit from it. We regularly raise Tibet-related concerns with the Chinese Government and did so most recently at the UK-China Human Rights Dialogue on 5 February.
Mr. Llwyd: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what contingency plans she has to evacuate British nationals from Uganda should the situation in the country deteriorate (a) before and (b) during the Commonwealth meeting; and if she will make a statement. 
Mr. McCartney: Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Missions overseas where appropriate routinely prepare civil contingency plans if there is a risk in their host countries (e.g. from civil disorder or a natural disaster) that could lead to an evacuation of British nationals. In compiling civil contingency plans, the FCO's objective is to protect British nationals in a situation that poses a serious threat to their safety, and in a worst case scenario, to assist their departure to a place of safety.
The FCO Travel Advice provides information on the risks faced by British nationals when travelling overseas, and is updated on a regular basis. British nationals intending to travel to Uganda should regularly check the Travel Advice up to their date of departure. An easy way to do this is to subscribe at www.fco.gov.uk/travel to receive free Travel Advice updates through email alerts.
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