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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Denis MacShane): My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to his French and Belgian counterparts about the peace process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on 23 April and visited the region earlier this year.
Mr. Joyce: Will my hon. Friend join me in commending the work of the Association of Western European Parliamentarians for Africa, of which my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) was a founder member? The AWEPA works towards the development of parliamentary democracies in parts of Africa that do not have themnotably, at the moment, the DRC and the surrounding countries. The association receives limited funding from some European countries, but none from the United Kingdom. Would the Government consider extending modest financial support to its efforts?
Mr. MacShane: I shall pass on that request to my noble Friend Baroness Amos, the Minister with responsibility for Africa. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the need to build democratic and parliamentary links, but we should also note that sub-Saharan Africa now has largely democratic Governmentswith the notable exception of Zimbabweand that is a step in the right direction.
Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): Does the Minister agree that the role of Zimbabwe in the DRC is simply helping to extend the conflict? Does he also agree that, unless President Mugabe withdraws his logistical and military influence, there is little chance of peace? What work are the British Government doing with the UN special representative to the DRC and with our friends in southern Africa to bring pressure to bear to stop this damaging involvement?
Mr. MacShane: The simple answers to those questions are yes, yes and a lot. The work is exemplified by the visit of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to the region, and his constant contact with our European and other partners. Our commitment to NEPADthe New Partnership for Africa's Developmentmeans that, possibly for the first time in a generation, this Government are focusing on Africa in its totality. Restoring democracy to Zimbabwe is undoubtedly one of the big challenges that we all face.
Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow): What is my hon. Friend's assessment of the UN Security Council's recent decision to deploy troops from Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda along the eastern border of the Congo? May I draw to his attention the fact that, if we had that same troops-to-land ratio in the Congowhere 2.5 million people have died in the last three years alonewe would
Mr. MacShane: My hon. Friend's personal commitment to and knowledge of the region are second to none in the Houseand, I suspect, in the rest of SW1. She will know that the Congo is gripped by three major conflicting parties, all willing to commit themselves to using arms. What we are working for is a peace agreement. President Mbeki is in London today; he is one of those acting as facilitators in an attempt to bring the parties together.
The peace agreement must be followed by effective deployment of troops, and, much more important, by economic investment enabling this tragic region to devote its heart and energies to a better material future for its people.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): The British Government have taken a number of measures to help Indonesia address the threat of terrorism and intercommunal violence. They include high-level information-sharing and visits to Jakarta by a counter-terrorism expert, representatives of the Ministry of Defence and representatives of the police. We continue to urge the Indonesian Government to take firm action to limit the activities of extremists.
Rev. Martin Smyth: The Minister will know of the latest upsurge, which happened at the end of last month. Is it possible that the Indonesian Government will need further help from other countries dealing with international terrorism? Can he say whether Laskar Jihad has any links with al-Qaeda, and can he say what steps are being taken to help a Government in charge of a tremendous expanse of land but with few resources to deal with a problem that affects both Christians and moderate Muslims?
Mr. Bradshaw: We have no evidence of links between Laskar Jihad and al-Qaeda. It is difficult to see some of the intercommunal problems in Indonesia in the context of the campaign against terrorism. I know that many hon. Members are very interested in this subject, as I receive many letters from them. I must tell them that there is not a monopoly of virtue on either side in places such as Sulawesi.
There have been improvements recently: the signing of the Molino agreement has been helpful, and we believe that the Indonesian Government are serious about clamping down on intercommunal violence. There are signs that refugees are returning home. Nevertheless, we will of course consider what more the British Government can do to help reconciliation.
Mr. Bradshaw: Indeed, and the British Government's role in securing Gusmao's safety when he was in exile in Jakarta should never be underestimated. This Sunday, God willing, I shall have the privilege of passing on my hon. Friend's congratulations to Gusmao in person when representing the British Government at the celebration of East Timorese independence.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): As the Minister knows, Indonesia is not the only country facing terrorist threats. Has he discovered any alliances, or any connection, between the terrorists in Indonesia and the Maoist guerrillas in Nepal, who now control 45 per cent. of that country? Representatives of the Nepalese Government were here recently, asking Her Majesty's Government for assistance. What assistance will the Government give?
Mr. Bradshaw: We are already giving Nepal a great deal of assistance. The hon. Gentleman is right: the situation in Nepal is extremely grave. The Maoist terrorists, as I prefer to call them, have been exhibiting a savagery that is almost unprecedented.
We will certainly consider extra ways of helping the fledgling democracy in Nepal to resist the insurgents. Immediately after Question Time I shall have a meeting with Nepal's Prime Minister, who has already met other leading figures in this country. As far as we are aware, there is no contact between any organisations in Indonesia and the Maoist insurgents in Nepal.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Denis MacShane): At every meeting with Chinese Ministers and officials, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary or I raise human rights issues, in which China's record leaves muchvery muchto be desired.
Ian Lucas: Although trade with China is an important issue, will the Minister continue to impress on the Chinese authorities that China will never be fully accepted into the international community until it fully respects human rights and the UN's role in enforcing them? In particular, will he point out that the Chinese people will not be accepted as people with whom we wish to do business until they respect the rights of the people of Tibet?
Mr. Carmichael: Is the Minister aware that Amnesty International estimates that some 240 Falun Gong practitioners have died in custody in China since January last year? Is he also aware that, according to a recent report, the Chinese Government have set up a special taskforce, known as the "610 Office", which is tasked with running a systematic and apparently officially sanctioned campaign against Falun Gong practitioners? Will the Government take advantage of increased world attention on China in the run-up to the 2008 Olympic games, in Beijing, to bring increased pressure to bear? Will they also make it clear that they will take a lead by encouraging athletes and sportsmen and women not to attend those games unless the situation improves markedly?
Mr. MacShane: The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the brutal treatment inflicted on Falun Gong practitioners, and such issues are raised regularly with Chinese officials. He is wrong, however, to start demanding now a boycott of the Beijing Olympic games. Other Olympic games and World cups that have taken place in Asia in the past 40 years have without exception contributed to an opening up of, and a relaxation of, previously authoritarian or closed regimes. I am confidentalthough it is a hope rather than a guaranteethat the same movement will take place in China in the next few years.
Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): When the Minister is next able to raise the question of Falun Gong with the Chinese authorities, will he make particular mention of their refusal to renew the passports of Chinese citizens temporarily resident in this country? That is not only a denial of human rights but restricts the ability to travel of, for example, scientists on temporary assignments in such countries.
Mr. MacShane: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Like the right to speak and to organise, the right to travel is a fundamental human freedom that should be available to every Chinese citizen, just as we insist that such freedoms be available to every citizen throughout the world.
Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): One important issue discussed during yesterday's No. 10 summit with the Nepalese Prime Minister will have been the threat to human rights in Nepal, particularly from the Maoist guerrillas to whom reference was made a moment ago. Cherie Booth, QC, was recently appointed by the Nepalese to fight a human rights action against the British Government. Will the Minister undertake that she did not meet
Michael Fabricant: The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) is right to raise the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners, but as the Minister will know, the small Christian community, the even smaller Jewish community and the gay community in China are also persecuted.
Mr. MacShane: Again, Chinese treatment of minorities and gay Chinese is to be deplored, but I am not sure that the World Trade Organisation is the right place to bring those issues to the world's attention. The hon. Gentleman said that he has a Chinese one. I am not sure what the one is, but perhaps one day he will wear pigtails in the Chamber. I am sure that he himself can raise those matters as he wishes to.
Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East): Does my hon. Friend accept that we all want to see China integrated into the practices of the western and civilised world in its trade and its behaviour towards its citizens? As a member of the all-party China group, I want to see China take on board more strongly the admonitions of my hon. Friend and his colleagues. Has he attempted to raise with the Chinese the fear that they are going backwards and that some of the behaviour of which they have been accused on mainland China has now spread to Hong Kong, which was a British protectorate for 100 years? It is not acceptable to this Government or to the rest of the world that the Chinese should deny people in Hong Kong the right to peaceful demonstration as they have previously denied it to their citizens on the mainland. Will my hon. Friend raise that point with the Chinese Government in the near future?
Mr. MacShane: My hon. Friend and other right hon. and hon. Members contribute to the understanding between Britain and China through the all-party China group, which does excellent work. I recently met Miss Emily Lau, the Hong Kong legislative council member, to discuss those issues and the British position is clear. The basic lawthe joint declaration that protects human and civic rights in Hong Kongmust be respected. I have also appreciated the talks that I have had with human rights non-governmental organisations, activists and campaigners, and journalists, who are able to maintain a