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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, for her support. If I may say so, it is all the more welcome because of her well recognised expertise and knowledge of this part of Africa. I thank her warmly for what she has said. The noble Baroness is right; it is wrong to rush into a judgment at the moment as regards what exactly has happened. For the sake of those who are personally involved and others who are connected with this appalling incident we must discover the truth of what has happened. That is difficult as it is an area where communications are problematic. It is some way from Kampala. The terrain is difficult, as I am sure the noble Baroness knows better than most. Two of our diplomats have travelled there as quickly as they can. I very much hope that they are in the area now. It will, of course, be their primary concern to establish exactly what has happened and to obtain for us the advice that we need to enable us to bring some certainty to those families who are suffering such an agony of uncertainty at the moment.
Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, I associate myself entirely with all the sentiments that have been expressed. Does the Minister agree that both diplomatic posts abroad and the consular department in London have a very difficult balance to draw between alarmism and complacency? In these situations it is extremely difficult to avoid retrospective criticism for having just got it wrong. Is the Minister aware that I recently had reason to visit Indonesia from Singapore the day after the United States Government had issued blanket advice not to visit Indonesia to all their citizens? I therefore asked the High Commission in Singapore for our travel
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for what he said. I do not want to concentrate too much on travel advice because a human tragedy is being acted out here. While it is important to discuss the role played by the Foreign Office in giving advice, it is of paramount importance at the moment to find out what has happened and to bring certainty to the situation. Of course, there is always a balance to be struck over travel advice--that came out very strongly in our seminar last week. Deaths of British tourists travelling abroad can occur in the safest countries. Sadly, as is well known, there was a death of a British subject on the Champs-Elysees only last year. Our advice is used as a model by many other countries, including France, which send officials to the Foreign Office to see the way in which we draw up our advice. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Wright, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, that the advice has to be based on facts. It is no good saying afterwards that people should have known things when there was not factual evidence to adduce. Anything else would undermine the value of that advice and people would just dismiss it as too alarmist. We shall continue to work on it and we shall continue to look at the way in which we draw it up, whichever country is concerned. And, of course, at the moment, we shall continue to look at the advice on Uganda very carefully indeed.
Viscount Waverley: My Lords, does the Minister agree that Uganda is generally peaceful and that tourism should not be unduly discouraged in other parts of the country? Uganda is in need of radio communications for outlying areas, and a programme of disarmament and a round table to discuss regional difficulties is an imperative.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we have had to advise against all travel to Uganda's border areas with Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. There is evidence--we stated this in our advice before the appalling incidents of yesterday--of rebel attacks and road ambushes in the northern districts of Gulu, Kitgrum and the western Nile. Within the past few weeks we have seen some awful bomb attacks in Kampala. Anyone who is thinking of travelling to Uganda would be well advised not only to read the travel advice but to look at the further advice contact points which are mentioned in the travel advice. They should seek advice from the British High Commission if they are going to any of the difficult areas. Establishing proper contact within the country in some of the outlying areas is very important, but I would not wish anything I say at the moment to detract from the importance that we attach to people who are thinking of travelling to this part of the world to think very carefully indeed.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his support. He is quite right. This is not a peaceful part of the world, which is why my right honourable friend the Prime Minister asked my honourable friend Mr. Lloyd to go to the area and travel through the key countries involved in the conflict. Mr. Lloyd has just returned from an extensive tour of the region. He saw not only the key leaders of the countries concerned but also the secretary-general of the Organisation of African Unity. Mr. Lloyd underlined our commitment to a peaceful solution and our readiness to use whatever support we can through the UN, the OAU and the EU to help secure a negotiated settlement to this difficult conflict.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, is not the presence of these rebels in that part of Zambia a product of the disorder in the Democratic Republic of Congo? Does the Minister agree that her honourable friend Mr. Tony Lloyd is to be congratulated on the arduous shuttle he has undertaken to the regional capitals in order to see what can be done to sort out the problem so that peace can be extended not only to the DRC but to the neighbouring countries affected by the conflict? Can she say whether her honourable friend achieved a result in terms of persuading neighbouring powers such as Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia not to participate in the fighting in the DRC, and whether during the short stop-over he had in Addis he spoke to the secretary general of the OAU and whether that organisation has any measures of conflict resolution which it could apply in this case?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, there are two threads to the noble Lord's points. I join with him in congratulating my honourable friend Mr. Lloyd on his tour through the area in order to do everything he can to help find a solution. The noble Lord asked what results my honourable friend has managed to secure. I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me for a degree of ignorance about this issue. I have spent the morning concentrating on the consular aspects and the difficulties which have been thrown up for the British families involved. My honourable friend has offered the good offices of Her Majesty's Government to both the OAU and, bilaterally, to the countries concerned. He has also offered to see what can be done through the EU to help resolve this appalling
The noble Lord said that these appalling incidents are the direct product of what has happened in the DRC. I feel a certain diffidence about confirming that there are any direct linkages. It is important that we establish why this has happened, who are the criminals who took these hostages and what were their motives. Speculating on this at the moment will not help the really dreadful position that the families, who need some certainty, are in.
The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, some of us on the Cross-Benches would like to be associated with the sympathies being extended to the families. As some one who was in Uganda in October, I should like also to commend the Foreign Office for the advice it gives. I should like particularly to commend the diplomats who went directly to the area. It does not always happen, but it did on this occasion. The noble Baroness said that she does not think she can answer the wider questions, and yet we are not confined to the question of tourism. Does she not agree that the aggression in this case was not directed against foreign tourists but against Uganda? It is only one of many events which have occurred--as the BBC is now reporting--arising from the terrorism of the Interahamwe Hutu guerrillas all along the Zaire border. Ugandans are facing this situation all the time. Will the noble Baroness also extend sympathy to President Museveni and his government who are doing their utmost to contain this threat without breaching international law?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his comments and particularly those concerning the British diplomats involved. I am sure that they will leave no stone unturned in trying to discover exactly what happened. I agree with the noble Earl that this appalling business throws up the wider question of the roots of the conflict in that part of the world. I hope to give more detail to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. If I am able to do so I shall put a copy of my letter to him in the Library of the House.
The noble Earl made the assumption that this is action directed against Uganda. I merely remind him that there are reports, to which the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, referred, that some nationals were singled out in particular. That would seem to imply that there may be other forces at work here. We have a highly complex situation. We know that it has lasted for a number of years. There are many different countries involved and within them there are different groupings. I do not suppose that there is a single line of argument that can be drawn from all this. We shall certainly do our best to find out exactly what happened, and why, in order to bring certainties to the families. As the noble Earl indicated, we of course extend our sympathy to the Ugandans who, I am sure, are doing everything they can to help us find out why our tourists in the area were treated in such an abominable way.
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