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Côte d'Ivoire

Lord Astor of Hever asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: We had the consent of the Ivoirian authorities to send British Armed Forces into Côte d'Ivoire to assist in the evacuation of British nationals. We informed the Security Council on 9 November that a team of military experts was being deployed to Abidjan to assist with contingency planning on, and subsequently proposed an exemption to the United Nations arms embargo to allow the temporary supply of military equipment to the forces of a country facilitating the evacuation from Côte d'Ivoire of its nationals and those for whom it has consular responsibility. This exemption was agreed, but in the event the UK did not need recourse to it as the evacuation of British nationals took place prior to the adoption of resolution 1572, which imposed the arms embargo.

Somalia

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister for Africa (Chris Mullin) met the Somali Transitional Federal President in Nairobi on 20 October and had discussions on the future of the Transitional Federal Government and their relations with the authorities in Somaliland.

He urged them to engage in early dialogue with Somaliland, reject military solutions to the resolution of differences and to demonstrate a commitment to mutual respect, reconciliation and peace.

No date has been fixed for the return of the Government to Mogadishu. Dates in mid-December now seem unlikely. Recent statements by Somali politicians have mentioned January 2005.

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: We continue to urge restraint on all sides involved in the recent clashes. We urge the parties to resolve their differences through peaceful negotiation without preconditions. We also welcome the recent initiative by traditional leaders in the disputed region to help resolve the conflict.

British Council: Russian Operations

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: We have been discussing the British Council's operation in Russia with the Russian authorities for some time with a view to resolving a number of tax and status issues. The unresolved issues have so far not prevented the British Council from continuing with its valuable work, but we continue to work for an early resolution nevertheless.

We attach great importance to the development of civil society in Russia—a point we regularly make to interlocutors from the Russian Government and those from official human rights structures in Russia. We also maintain close contact and co-operation with the non-governmental organisation (NGO) community in Russia. This includes funding a range of human rights projects through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's (FCO) global opportunities fund. In March this year the FCO organised a successful networking event in London for Russian and international NGOs. We will continue to support efforts towards the
 
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development of an independent and strengthened civil society in Russia through our contacts with NGOs operating there.

Russia: Human Rights

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: During the UK/Russia bilateral human rights talks in March 2003 we asked the Russian delegation whether the Russian Government intended to publish the latest report of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT).

For the first time, on 30 June 2003, the Russian authorities requested that the CPT partially publish a report on the Russian Federation.

The matter was raised again at the bilateral human rights talks held in September 2004 during which we encouraged the Russian delegation to share all reports produced by the CPT, as we have done, in the spirit of transparency. We will continue to raise this with them at suitable opportunities in the future.

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Our annual human rights bilateral dialogue with Russia is specifically aimed at holding each other to account across a range of human rights issues against the background of our international obligations.

Freedom of expression is recognised as a key human right in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. Russia and the UK have international obligations under each of these treaties.

Although we acknowledge the plurality of views in Russia's national print media, we have concerns about the state's control over the national broadcast media and reports of attacks and harassment of journalists in Russia.

We raised these concerns during our bilateral human rights discussions with the Russian Government in September 2004. In addition, staff at our embassy in Moscow continue to raise concerns about media freedoms in Russia at every suitable opportunity.
 
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Russian Labour Code

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The UK delegation to the annual International Labour Organisation (ILO) conference participates fully in the various conference committees, including the Committee on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations, which discusses cases of compliance with ILO instruments; and has regularly joined the European Union in expressing criticism in cases of serious violations of workers' rights. The cases endorsed for discussion by the applications committee are traditionally selected by workers and employers' organisations, rather than member states. To date the 2002 Russian Labour Code has not been discussed. Neither are we aware that the issue of trade union leaders in Russia has been discussed at the ILO.

Turkey: Minefield Clearance

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: We welcome the fact that the Republic of Cyprus began de-mining activities in the buffer zone on 18 November this year and that, on the same day, Mr Talat, elected leader of the Turkish Cypriot Community, said that the Turkish Cypriots would soon sign an agreement with the United Nations to allow them to begin mine clearing operations.

The UK Government welcome any action by both communities that will aid in the normalisation of the situation on the island. De-mining is an important step towards this.


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