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Sierra Leone

8. Helen Jones (Warrington, North): If he will make a statement on the United Nations Security Council expert panel report on the link between diamonds and the arms trade in Sierra Leone. [145040]

11. Mr. Roger Berry (Kingswood): What assessment the Government have made of the United Nations Security Council expert panel report on the link between diamonds and the arms trade in Sierra Leone. [145045]

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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Peter Hain): We welcome the hard-hitting report by the UN Sierra Leone expert panel, which exposes sanctions busters such as Victor Bout. The UN Angola monitoring mechanism also detailed his sinister and destructive activities. As a large part of his operations are run from the United Arab Emirates, we have urged the UAE authorities to take all possible action to close down his companies in Sharjah and Dubai. We are delivering the same message to other Governments in countries where Bout is active.

Helen Jones: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Will he confirm that he believes that action should also be taken against another of the key sanctions busters named in the report, Sanjivan Ruprah? As Ruprah and his friends are supplying arms to be used against British troops in Sierra Leone, what are we going to do to stop him?

Mr. Hain: The actions of Sanjivan Ruprah are equally as odious as those of Victor Bout. He supplies diamonds and brings in arms with Victor Bout's assistance. We have barred him from entering Britain, as he sought to do last summer with his family, and we are working with the United Nations to obtain a Security Council resolution that will clamp down on his activities. He is based in Monrovia and we want smart sanctions to be taken against Liberia, which is perpetuating that mutilating war by orchestrating the rebel forces, the Revolutionary United Front.

Mr. Berry: Does my hon. Friend have any evidence of links between sanctions busters in Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where diamonds and minerals help to sustain Africa's worst war? Will the Government continue to exert pressure on those involved to abide by the Lusaka agreement and to end this awful conflict?

Mr. Hain: In the murky world of African arms dealers and illicit diamond traders, there is a considerable overlap between those involved in Sierra Leone, Angola and the Congo, which has vast mineral resources. We must clamp down on all of them.

On the second part of my hon. Friend's question, I am glad to have the opportunity to say that the British Government are urging all of those who are involved in this dreadful African war in the Congo to respect the Lusaka agreement, to which they signed up. Following President Kabila's assassination, we want to move forward beyond the deadlock to which he was unfortunately a party and to get the United Nations peacekeepers deployed. That can occur only after all the belligerent forces in the region, including African armies and rebel forces, draw back as they agreed to do in Lusaka almost two years ago. We can then end the war and allow prosperity and peace for the Congolese people.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): Is not there very little point in referring to the activities of the people who supply the arms that fuel the conflicts in Africa as odious if we are not prepared to take action to do something about them? Why will not this Parliament introduce on to the statute book a provision to control the activities of arms brokers and mercenaries?

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Mr. Hain: On the latter point, a draft Bill, on which we are consulting, will shortly be considered in the House. It deals with precisely the sort of arms traffickers and brokers about whom the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) is concerned. Our domestic legislation would not catch people such a Victor Bout, who is not a British citizen, and Sanjivan Ruprah, who occasionally uses a British passport, among others, and is not a British citizen.

No one can criticise the Government for not taking the most vigorous action that has been suggested internationally to clamp down on the arms and diamond traders who perpetuate the awful wars in Africa. We have led the way in the United Nations and elsewhere in bringing pressure to bear in discussions with Russia, other European countries and African countries where people such as Victor Bout and Sanjivan Ruprah are active.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): The Minister's answer would be more convincing if he was not part of a Government who connived at putting Corporal Sankoh in charge of the diamond-producing areas of Sierra Leone. When does he expect the forces of the Sierra Leone Government to take control of the diamond-producing areas so that they can produce a royalty for the democratically elected Government, not the bandits that run Liberia?

Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman's reference to Corporal Sankoh constitutes a prostitution of history and the Lome agreement--[Interruption.] Yes it does, and he should withdraw that remark.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's comments on the importance of the Sierra Leone army's deployment into the diamond-producing areas of that country. That holds the key to a long-term solution to the conflict. British forces are helping to train the Sierra Leone army so that it is capable of deploying with the support of the United Nations. I ask the hon. Gentleman and Conservative Front-Bench Members to start backing British forces and the British Government's activities in Sierra Leone. They are seeking to bring peace and stability to a people who have been ravaged by a mutilating war. Conservative Members should stop carping and criticising and start backing the resolute action that we have taken.

Iran (Jewish Population)

9. Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): If he will make a statement on the treatment of Jews in Iran. [145042]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Peter Hain): The Jewish community in Iran is represented, as are other minorities, by a member in the Majlis. Judaism is among the religions recognised by the Iranian constitution. Jewish Iranians are free to run businesses and enjoy their culture, although the right to hold public office is circumscribed. However, we remain very concerned at the sentencing of 10 Jews and two Muslims on espionage charges.

Mrs. Dunwoody: I strongly commend my hon. Friend on the clear line that he has taken. Did he make it clear to the Iranian ambassador when he met him yesterday that those who choose to hold the most obnoxious show trials

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of people whose only crime is being Jewish not only undermine any pretence to decent government in their country, but make it impossible for any nation outside Iran to support its future inclusion in international agreements?

Mr. Hain: I am pleased to assure my hon. Friend that I raised the matter with the ambassador when I saw him yesterday. I expressed the Government's--and, I am sure, the whole House's--deep anxiety about the trial. My hon. Friend's description of it is accurate. Although there is a reforming regime in Iran, led by President Khatami, reactionary forces seek to hold back those reforms. They continue to control the judiciary. They have used the trial reprehensibly, and the victims are there for all to see. We must continue to engage with Iran, support President Khatami's reform process and encourage his resistance to the reactionary forces by providing the international engagement and support for reform that Iran so desperately needs.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): While we all want reform in Iran, is not the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) right to say that the trial fell far short of international standards of justice? While the 10 members of the Jewish community and two Muslims languish in jail in Iran, there is a serious blemish on Iran's human rights record. As the hon. Lady rightly said, it is a serious impediment to relations between this country and Iran. Will the Minister take every opportunity to impress that on the Iranian Government for as long as those unfortunate individuals continue to suffer injustice?

Mr. Hain: I am happy to give that assurance. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) has raised that matter often in the House, for which I applaud him. The sentences have been reduced--that is a welcome development--and we continue to press for the Iranian authorities to show clemency. However, we must recognise that the way in which we do that is important because we could play into the hands of reactionary forces. They do not want western engagement or to make friends with the international community; they want to return to the belligerent isolationism of the 1980s and early 1990s.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): Does my hon. Friend agree that Iran's role in arming Hezbollah to provoke terrorism along Israel's northern border intensifies concern about Iran's treatment of its Jews?

Mr. Hain: Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. That is precisely why my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have raised the issue specifically with the Iranian Government at the highest possible level, whenever we have had the opportunity. Hezbollah does not operate on its own--it has supporters in Syria and Iran, and the sooner that support is cut off, the better.

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): This week, in particular, when we remember the holocaust and what has, at times, been the terrible historic persecution of Jewish minorities, is the hon. Gentleman aware that nothing further has been heard about a possible annulment

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of the verdicts against the 10 Iranian Jews since 25 October? Will he press for progress to be made on that specific point?

Mr. Hain: I am happy to agree with the hon. Gentleman, and to say yes, we are pressing for specific progress on that issue: I did so yesterday. May I remind him that this Government introduced the national holocaust day, on which we remember the dreadful genocide committed by the Nazis against the Jews during and before the second world war? We shall continue to ensure that no one in Britain ever forgets that awful legacy.

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