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8. Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): What representations he has made to the Indonesian Government on forced conversions to Islam. [149708]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. John Battle): Our embassy in Indonesia has made representations to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jakarta on a number of occasions over the situation in the Moluccas. Recent evidence of forced conversions adds a worrying new dimension to the conflicts there and we shall continue to monitor events closely and make representations.

Rev. Martin Smyth: I understand the Minister's concerns as two letters from constituents, who, like many people throughout the kingdom, are concerned about what is happening in Indonesia, arrived on my desk today. Is he aware that forced conversions include forced circumcision and female genital mutilation, often with blunt instruments and without anaesthetic, and has he drawn the matter to the attention of the Indonesian Government? I understand that such practices are against the laws of Indonesia, so surely the perpetrators should be brought to justice.

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Mr. Battle: Yes. I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a keen and persistent interest in the conflicts in the Moluccas and has made regular representations as a result of his excellent Church contacts there. We also receive information from Christian Solidarity and the Barnabas Fund, which have continued to alert the world to those atrocities.

The situation in the Moluccas has calmed down. The reasons for the conflict there are long standing, although communities had lived at peace for hundreds of years until 1999. We have raised those matters with the Indonesian authorities and, most recently, between 20 and 22 February, our ambassador participated in a European Union mission.

We were encouraged by the fact that the situation in north Maluku and in Ambon had calmed down over Christmas and over the Idul Fitri holidays and we can draw encouragement from the action taken by Ambon's governor, who has initiated three inter-faith missions to Kesui and Tioor islands, offering to evacuate Christians who are in fear of forced conversion. That is not an answer, however, so we shall continue to press the Indonesians, as I myself have done.

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim): The House will be grateful to the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) for raising this terrible matter. Has not the time come to point out to Governments who engage in such activities that, as they expect their people to have complete civil and religious liberty when they come to the United Kingdom, so we expect those Governments to practise that on their own citizens?

Mr. Battle: The hon. Gentleman should read the laws of the new Indonesia, which has moved to democracy only in the past 18 months. The laws are in position, but sometimes we fail to understand the largeness and complexity of Indonesia, which has 218 million people, some 700 ethnic minorities and about 500 different languages scattered across 3,000 islands.

I think that the Indonesians are trying their best to get to grips with the situation. Obviously, it is up to their authorities to implement law and order; we shall exhort them to do so and assist them as best we can, but in the meantime we can contribute, and have contributed in small ways, to conflict resolution by negotiating to bring Christians and Muslims together at local level.


10. Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton): What progress has been made in the accession negotiations of Cyprus to the European Union; and if he will make a statement. [149711]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Keith Vaz): Cyprus is making good progress in its accession negotiations with the European Union. It has provisionally closed 17 of the 31 chapters in the negotiations--more than any other candidate. I trust that Cyprus's current good performance on adoption and

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implementation of EU legislation will continue. I look forward to discussing this and other matters during my visit to Cyprus in 10 days' time.

Mr. Love: I thank my hon. Friend, and congratulate him on his forthcoming visit, which is indeed the only way in which he can find out about the problem of Cyprus.

In the light of the recent statement by the EU enlargement commissioner reaffirming that there will be no separate negotiations for the Turkish-Cypriot community and that it is an absolute fiction that it will ever be able to join with Turkey, will my hon. Friend take the opportunity provided by his visit to urge Turkish- Cypriot community leaders to enter into negotiations, so that both communities can be satisfied with the outcome when Cyprus joins the European community?

Mr. Vaz: My hon. Friend is right: we shall secure a just and lasting settlement of this agonisingly difficult problem only if all sides come together in the talks. That is why we support what has been done by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and give wholehearted backing to Sir David Hannay as he tries to deal with the difficulties.

Our message to the Cypriot community in this country is that the Government will continue to take their responsibilities seriously, and will support the on-going process. As for EU membership, we look forward to Cyprus joining as quickly as possible. I know from the work that my hon. Friend and others on both sides of the House have done over the past few years that the community here would welcome an early accession for Cyprus. We hope that this will act as a spur to the solving of what is, as I have said, an agonisingly difficult problem.

Middle East

12. Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): If he will make a statement on the prospects for peace in the middle east, following the Israeli prime ministerial election. [149713]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Brian Wilson): The cycle of violence is undermining the confidence of both sides in the peace process. I am encouraged by Prime Minister-designate Sharon's statement that he plans to continue with the peace process, and to ease the conditions for Palestinians.

Sir Sydney Chapman: Will the Minister confirm that his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary gave his support to financial help for the Palestinian Authority at yesterday's EU General Affairs Council? Given the historic ties that exist between the United Kingdom and

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both Arab countries and Israel, may we have the Government's continuing assurance that they will be even-handed in their initiatives to try to bring peace to the middle east--especially given that only a fortnight ago, in a democratic election, an overwhelming 62 per cent. gave power to Prime Minister-elect Sharon?

Mr. Wilson: I think that even-handedness--along with transparency--is the key to building and maintaining credibility. I am delighted that yesterday the EU approved the provision of £38 million for the Palestinian Authority: money that had been held in reserve is now being made available. Obviously, the economic health of the authority is very much part of the key, and I am pleased to note Prime Minister-designate Sharon's recognition of that since his election.

Mr. Jim Murphy (Eastwood): My hon. Friend will share our sadness at the apparent unravelling of the peace process over recent weeks, and the sadness felt by Labour Members, at least, at the defeat of Ehud Barak. As he is doubtless aware, there are some conciliatory signs, not least the fact that the Labour party in Israel has joined the national unity Government.

May I urge my hon. Friend to ensure, in his discussions with the partners in the middle east, that they put pressure on Chairman Arafat to be tough on some of the extremists, particularly those in Hamas? Will he also urge the Prime Minister-elect to honour and respect the wishes of the vast majority of Israeli and Palestinian people, so that we can have a lasting peace based on "land for peace"?

Mr. Wilson: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that the vast majority of the Palestine and Israeli people want peace. That is usually the case in such conflicts. At present, every effort of everyone who has a contribution to make should be to ensure that the dialogue on peace is maintained and takes up where it left off, and that every door is kept open to dialogue.

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): May I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his new appointment?

Given our historic links, is the hon. Gentleman aware of the disappointment that is widely felt in the middle east about Britain's lack of influence in the peace process? Does he realise that that is borne out by the embarrassing unwillingness of political leaders in the area to see the Prime Minister's personal envoy, Lord Levy?

Mr. Wilson: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. There our accord ends. I find it sad that such a serious matter should be reduced to such a trivial level on the basis of some ridiculous inaccuracy, on a personalised basis. If that is all the Tory party has to offer a serious question such as the middle east peace process, heaven help the Tory party, never mind the rest of us.

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