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House of Lords

Wednesday, 9th April 2003.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Portsmouth.


Baroness Cox asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their response to recent developments in Indonesia.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos): My Lords, we are concerned at ongoing violence in various parts of Indonesia, including inter-communal conflict in Maluka and Sulawesi. The UK stands ready to help the Indonesian authorities and local communities to promote reconciliation and begin wider reconstruction work. We continue to work closely with Indonesia on a broad range of important issues, including counter-terrorism. We have developed a significant package of counter-terrorism assistance with Indonesia since the devastating attack in Bali last year.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply. Would she agree that the Indonesian Government are to be congratulated on their endeavours to contain the militant extremists such as Laska Jihad and Jemaah Islamiyah, and to promote reconciliation in Maluka and Sulawesi through the Malino agreements? Could she indicate what specific support Her Majesty's Government might give to promote reconciliation and reconstruction in those areas, where both Muslims and Christians have suffered, with thousands killed, hundreds of thousands displaced, and many entire communities completely devastated?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I agree that the Indonesian Government are to be congratulated. I think that the whole House would like to congratulate the noble Baroness herself on the role that she has played in the international Islamic Christian Organisation for Reconciliation and Reconstruction in Indonesia.

With respect to the support and efforts that we might make, the noble Baroness will be aware that the Prime Minister exchanged views with President Megawati's special envoy in London on 13th March and that promoting interfaith dialogue remains one of our key objectives in Indonesia. The Department for International Development has also committed more than £4 million to help to establish the UN Development Programme

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conflict prevention and recovery unit in Jakarta. In the longer term, we think that the Malino process needs to continue with both Muslim and Christian support.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on her excellent work on behalf of interfaith understanding. Although recognising the sheer professionalism of the national police force in promoting the rule of law, does the Minister agree that the trouble is confined to particular localities and that in central Sulawesi the police appear to have an unhealthy relationship with violent extremists? Could our embassy facilitate the attendance of an observer at the trial of the Reverend Damanik whose efforts to bring about reconciliation between Muslims and Christians are obviously not welcome to the authorities?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we have received a number of letters about that case. It is important that the legal process takes its full course. I take the point raised by my noble and learned friend about having someone observe what goes on at the trial. I shall take that request back to my colleagues and write to my noble and learned friend to let him know the outcome.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, has the noble Baroness noted that all 100 peacekeeping monitors have been withdrawn from their base in Acheh as a result of attacks on their offices and the wounding of two peacekeepers? Will she ask her colleague the Secretary of State to make a call similar to that already issued by the State Department in the US calling on the Indonesian Government to protect monitors and safeguard the peace process, and to ask the European Union to do the same?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I had better confess to the House that I was not aware that the monitors had been withdrawn until it was drawn to my attention by the noble Lord. We endorse the statement made by the United States Government with respect to the importance of supporting the peace process. As I understand it, ambassadors from the United States, Japan and the EU are meeting the Government of Indonesia today on those matters. We shall of course continue to support the peace process.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, the Minister is right to congratulate the Indonesian police authorities on the work they have done in bringing to justice many of those who perpetrated the Bali massacre in which more than 200 people, including 24 Britons, died. However, what progress is being made in bringing to justice the operational head of Jemaah Islamiyah, who remains at large? Will the Minister also compare the treatment of Rinaldi Damanik, referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, with the way in which the head of Laska Jihad simply had charges against him dropped and was released from prison earlier this year?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I am aware of what happened in the case of the leader of Laska Jihad. Of

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course it is important that we try to get a degree of consistency, but the Indonesians have an independent legal and judicial system. It is important that that system can operate and operate independently. I am afraid that I am unable to answer the specific question on the Bali massacre about the operational head of the unit. I shall see if we have further information in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. If we have, I shall write to the noble Lord.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend Lady Cox, who does marvellous work in the region, that the Minister's reply was very helpful. However, does the Minister recall that, after Bali, the Government's response to the Intelligence and Security Committee inquiry was to the effect that there would be a new organisation for handling and disseminating terrorist intelligence and that it would have new objectives? Can she tell us anything about the progress with that organisation, whether it is in place and whether it is now operating?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the Government's response to the situation post-Bali was both to look at the security assessments and intelligence reports and at our own consular services. There is now greater co-ordination not only with regard to the information received from our intelligence services but with regard to the subsequent threat assessments and the use made of those assessments. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, may have seen the response of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee when it raised these issues. As for the consular aspect, we have set up rapid deployment teams which are able to go out very quickly—within 24 hours, or even sooner—should an incident similar to Bali occur in another part of the world.

Lord Elton: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the significance of the massacres goes far beyond Indonesia and relates to inter-religious, interfaith tensions which are now very near the surface as the result of recent military activity in the Middle East? Can she say what steps the Government are taking to facilitate interfaith dialogue in a way which encourages faiths to talk to each other in peace rather than fight each other in war?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, is right. There are tensions around the world—the noble Lord may have seen that there was recently a demonstration of 250,000 in Indonesia—and the situation may well worsen. The Government are engaged in a number of interfaith processes around the world, and not only in the Middle East. I shall happily write to him to set those out—and, indeed, to mention some of the work between communities in which we are involved in African countries as well.

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Unauthorised Firearms: Amnesty Arrangements

2.44 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What amnesty arrangements they are making for the handing in of unauthorised firearms held by members of the public.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, from 31st March to 30th April of this year, anyone can hand in to the police any unauthorised firearms or ammunition in the knowledge that they will not be prosecuted for having them. We are also encouraging the handing in of unwanted guns, particularly imitations and airguns that are being held for criminal purposes. The amnesty provides people with an opportunity to get rid of guns that they should not have in advance of tough new gun laws.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for his reply. Will any amnesty such as the one now being planned be followed by severe, previously publicised penalties for possessing unauthorised weapons—for example, at least a five-year prison sentence?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Yes, my Lords, it will. We have already announced that there will be a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for illegal possession of prohibited weapons. That will be introduced by legislation in the middle of this year and will follow the amnesty that is now taking place. We encourage people to hand in illegal weapons as soon as possible.

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