HC Deb 29 July 1957 vol 574 cc870-7
58. Captain Corfield

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on what date the Sultan of Oman and Muscat first intimated to the resident British representative a desire for British military assistance in dealing with the present insurrection.

65. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will make a statement on the present situation in Central Oman.

66. Mr. Emrys Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will give a summary of the text of the leaflets dropped at Oman.

69. Mr. Walter Elliot

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has any further statement to make on developments in Oman.

73. Mr. Grimond

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what are the reasons given by the rebels for the revolt in Muscat and Oman.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will now answer Questions Nos. 58, 65, 66, 69 and 73 together.

It may be useful if I first give the House some more particulars of the background to the present situation in Muscat and Oman.

The Sultanate of Muscat and Oman is an independent sovereign State. In 1913, a religious dignitary known as the Imam led a revolt of some of the tribes in the interior, but in 1920 an agreement was reached at a place called Sib, under which the tribes were given some autonomy, but the sovereignty of the Sultan was recognised throughout the Sultanate.

This agreement was broken by the tribes in the year or two prior to December, 1955, when the new Imam, with foreign help, sought to establish a separate principality. In December, 1955, the Sultan took steps to reassert his authority and forces under his control entered the main inhabited centres of Oman, meeting no resistance. The former Imam was allowed by the Sultan to live in his village against a guarantee of his good behaviour from a local sheikh. His brother Talib escaped to Saudi Arabia and thence to Cairo.

Since that time an "Oman Imamate" office has been established in Cairo while Cairo Radio disseminates pro-Imam propaganda.

A month or two ago there was trouble with one tribal leader. The Sultan dealt with this successfully and the leader concerned surrendered on 14th June. On that same date, however, Talib, the brother of the ex-Imam, is believed to have landed again in Muscat.

About the same time, a quantity of arms, including light machine guns and anti-tank mines, was also landed. Talib set himself up in the mountain area north-west of Nizwa and attracted to himself about 200 followers. He then occupied certain villages, some of which had fortifications.

Loyal tribes sent to deal with Talib were unable to cope with the automatic weapons and the land mines, and Talib's followers were able to inflict a reverse on the Sultan's forces backing the loyal tribes. This enabled Talib to persuade other local tribesmen to defect. In the primitive tribal society of the region, without some active reaction from the Sultan or his friends, there was always the possibility that disaffection might spread from tribe to tribe.

It was in these circumstances that on the evening of 16th July the Sultan sent an appeal to Her Majesty's Government in the form of a letter to Her Majesty's Consul-General in Muscat.

The terms of the Sultan's letter were as follow: You have full knowledge of the situation which has now developed at Nizwa and I feel the time has now come when I must request the maximum military and air support which our friend Her Britannic Majesty's Government can give in these circumstances, as on those past occasions which have so cemented our friendship and for which I bear lasting gratitude. I shall be most deeply grateful if such assistance can be given again to restore the position and to prevent further loss of ground and loss of confidence. Events are now moving so fast that I need hardly add that the speed with which support can be given will be vital to its value, and I shall be very grateful if you will take up the matter with Her Britannic Majesty's Government accordingly. The decision of Her Majesty's Government to give help to the Sultan was made for two reasons. First, it was at the request of a friendly ruler who had always relied on us to help him resist aggression or subversion. Secondly, there is the direct British interest involved and I have no need to stress to the House the importance of the Persian Gulf.

In the Gulf, we have certain formal and implicit obligations to the rulers of shaikhdoms under our protection to protect them against attack. This is generally understood throughout the area and it has always been assumed that Her Majesty's Government would honour her obligations.

The difference between a formal obligation and the obligations of a longstanding relationship of friendship is not readily apparent to the local Rulers and people. If we were to fail in one area it would begin to be assumed elsewhere that perhaps the anti-British propaganda of our enemies had some basis to it and that Her Majesty's Government were no longer willing or able to help their friends.

The present position is that Royal Air Force aircraft have taken limited action after due warning against certain military targets, namely, forts in the dissident area. They have also dropped leaflets on behalf of the Sultan and I am arranging for a summary of the contents of these to be circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

No United Kingdom ground forces have been engaged in operations but, as a precaution, our troops in the Persian Gulf area have been reinforced from Kenya and a detachment of the Cameronians is at Buraimi.

The Political Resident has reported that the rebellion has only small active tribal backing. The military operations are on a small scale. Casualties in the conflicts between the Sultan's forces and the rebels have been very small indeed. There have been no casualties to British forces reported.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Will my right hon. and learned Friend take advantage of the presence of Mr. Dulles in this country to make plain, as my right hon. and learned Friend has done to the House in his admirable statement, the vital importance which this country attaches to the rights, interests and security of our friends in the Arabian Peninsula as well as to our own national interests in the area?

Mr. Lloyd

In reply to an Oral Question on the Order Paper which has not been reached, I have dealt with the matter of consultation with the United States Government. I have no doubt that the matter will come up between Mr. Dulles and myself.

Mr. A. Henderson

Has the attention of the right hon. and learned Gentleman been drawn to the report in The Times this morning from that newspaper's correspondent, to the effect that there is no evidence to suggest that the Government of Egypt or the Government of Saudi Arabia have directly inspired this uprising? If so, is that the view of Her Majesty's Government?

Mr. Lloyd

I have been very careful not to make allegations against specific Governments. What is quite evident is that these anti-tank guns and machine guns were not produced in Central Oman itself.

Mr. Walter Elliot

Will my right hon. and learned Friend take note that, according to his statement, a detachment of the Cameronians has moved to the Buraimi Oasis and that action on behalf of a friendly sovereign will receive the vigorous support of the vast majority of hon. Members and, I believe, of the people of this country?

Mr. Grimond

Would not the Foreign Secretary agree that in the position today it is not quite sufficient to have informal arrangements with the sheikhs and that the argument that we have been doing this sort of thing before is not a complete justification for doing it in today's circumstances? Did we not have a little misunderstanding or something of that sort over the Sheikh of Muhammareh, which ended in that gentleman losing his head? Would it not be as well if we tried to formalise our relationships with these sheikhs and so make it clear to the world where we stand?

Mr. Lloyd

That is a point to be borne in mind. If the hon. Gentleman has any question about the particular sheikh he mentioned, I shall be glad to consider it.

Mr. Doughty

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree with the report in The Times this morning, and with the concluding statement from Sir Bernard Burrows, that …one factor he wishes to emphasise is that the scope of the whole affair has been greatly exaggerated"?

Mr. Lloyd

I believe that that is true, except that there is a point of principle here which, I believe, is very important.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to a religious dignitary being involved. Does he mean the Iraq Petroleum Company? Why did he not say something about the Iraq Petroleum Company in his long exposition of affairs? Is he aware that the satisfaction of the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot)that the Cameronians are to be sent to the Burami Oasis will not be shared by a large number of people in Scotland, or by the Cameronians?

Will the Minister consider issuing special leaflets to the Cameronians, telling them why they are there, and have those leaflets illustrated with photographs of the directors of the Iraq Petroleum Company?

Mr. Lloyd

I do not believe the Cameronians would accept the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes)as their spokesman.

Mr. Walter Elliot

Is my right hon. and learned Friend also aware that the Iraq Petroleum Company is exactly the sort of organisation that is supported by hon. Members opposite, since it is an international company in which the Americans have a considerable share?

Mr. Younger

Am I right in recollecting that the Foreign Secretary said that our agreement with the Sultan was to help in the event of either aggression or subversion——

Mr. Lloyd

indicated dissent.

Mr. Younger

I think that those were the words used in the statement.

Mr. Lloyd

indicated dissent.

Mr. Younger

Whether that is so or not, perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will answer. Am I right in gathering from his statement that the evidence of foreign intervention does not extend to any action by foreign troops, but only to arms coming from an unknown source? If so, will the Foreign Secretary tell us what situation in that area will bring British military intervention to an end, as there seem to be no foreign troops to repulse?

Mr. Lloyd

On the question about subversion, as I have said on a number of occasions, there is no treaty obligation to go to the assistance of the Sultan to resist subversion. There is a treaty of friendship between us, but we have no specific treaty obligation to take the action we have taken and I have not attempted to suggest to the House that there is.

As for the question of conditions which would bring these hostilities to an end, I think that that situation will arise when the tribal loyalties are restored to the position in which they were in 1955. That is at least as much a political as a military operation. It is our wish that the military side of it should be confined within as narrow limits as possible.

Mr. Younger

I am getting a little confused with the Foreign Secretary's explanation. Will he repeat the words, used in his statement, "either aggression or subversion"? I am sure that they occurred in the statement.

Mr. Lloyd

I will certainly have a word with the right hon. Member afterwards. I do not think that I used the words "either subversion or aggression"

Major Legge-Bourke

Will my right hon. and learned Friend make clear that appropriate action, whether naval or otherwise, is being taken to prevent the smuggling in of any more arms?

Mr. Lloyd

Certainly, it is one of our primary purposes to see that the routes in are sealed off.

Mr. Gaitskell

If the achievement of a more satisfactory long-run settlement is a political matter, could the Foreign Secretary say what he means by that phrase in that connection, and whether we ourselves are to play any part in trying to achieve that political settlement?

Mr. Lloyd

What I was trying to make clear to the House was that there is a very complicated pattern of tribal loyalties which changes almost overnight and that in certain tribes the loyalties are divided. In fact, many members of the Imam's own family are loyal to the Sultan. What I meant is that this is not just a military operation, but an attempt to sort out the pattern of tribal loyalties and restore the situation of 1955.

In further reply to the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger), I did say in the statement that it was at the request of a friendly ruler who had always relied on us to help him resist aggression or subversion. just as in 1930 when action was taken with warships to deal with the Shiek of Khassab.

Mr. Beswick

The Foreign Secretary referred to the long-term policy of Her Majesty's Government in that part of the world. Can he say whether he can give an affirmative reply to my Question No. 75?

Mr. Lloyd

I am sure that the hon. Member will receive an appropriate reply to that Question.

Mr. Lipton

Has the Foreign Secretary yet been able to discover where the arms that are being used by the Imam and his followers come from? He seems to be well informed on everything else; is he well informed on that?

Mr. Lloyd

Not yet, Sir.

Following is the summary:

Summary of First Leaflet

Talib, Ghalib and Suleiman bin Hamyar have stirred up trouble to serve their selfish ends. Necessary steps will be taken against them until they obey the Government's orders. As a demonstration aircraft will fire on selected targets after people have been warned to get out. If this is not sufficient further steps will have to be taken to punish the district harbouring the trouble-makers. The remedy is in your own hands: turn the traitors out, send your leaders to us and fly our red flag.

Summary of Second Leaflet

Omanis, you have now seen a demonstration of the fire-power of aircraft. Turn out the traitors to avoid further destruction. Omanis, your trade and prosperity are also in danger. During the last two years I have built you a new road to bring your produce to the sea, you have doctors living among you for the first time, a travelling hospital and the advice of agricultural experts. Above all, you had peace to enable you to go about your lawful business. Now the traitors have come, the road is blocked. Trade is interrupted and every man goes in fear of his neighbour. Turn out the traitors and we will resume together the march towards progress and prosperity in peace and security.

Summary of Warning Leaflet

The Sultan of Muscat and Oman issues a warning that your fortresses will be attacked by aircraft the day after tomorrow. The object of the attack is not to destroy but to demonstrate that we have effective, powerful weapons.