HC Deb 16 November 1967 vol 754 cc635-7
Mr. Buck (by Private Notice)

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement con-concerning involvement of British troops under the U.N. command in yesterday's hostilities between Greek and Turkish elements in Cyprus.

The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. George Thomson)

The British contingent which is under complete U.N. command formed the main part of the U.N. force which was involved yesterday when fighting broke out between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. During the fighting a number of U.N. troops were manhandled by the Cyprus National Guard and there was some damage to U.N. equipment.

I am glad to tell the House that a ceasefire has now been arranged and that the National Guard has withdrawn from the positions it occupied during the fighting. The U.N. Force has taken over its vacated positions. There were no British or other U.N. casualties, but the commander of the U.N. force has protested strongly to General Grivas about the behaviour of the National Guard towards the U.N. troops.

Mr. Buck

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for that answer. It will come as a relief to the House and the relatives of those serving in Cyprus that there have been no British casualties. Some of us have been able to see recently the magnificent work done by our forces there. Does the right hon. Gentleman not think it quite intolerable that our forces should have been subjected to humilation of the kind they suffered yesterday, namely, by being disarmed forcibly, and will he add his voice to the protests? Does he think that we are asking our British forces in Cyprus to do too much with too little?

Mr. Thomson

We made strong and immediate representations in all three capitals with the object of putting an end to the fighting and lowering the tension.

I think that yesterday's incident is a good example of the very important rôle the U.N. peace-keeping force plays in Cyprus and that British troops play within it. The House will be glad, although not surprised, to know that the British forces involved, though often under fire and in constant danger, acquitted themselves very well.

Mr. Hooley

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is very widespread admiration for the excellent job the U.N. force has done in Cyprus? Is he satisfied that it is adequately equipped for the job?

Mr. Thomson

Yes, Sir. I think that the whole House shares our admiration for the job the British forces do as part of the U.N. peace-keeping force. I am satisfied that they are adequately equipped for the task.

Mr. Braine

While the whole House will be glad to hear the tribute paid to the United Nations forces in Cyprus, in view of the unhappy episode can the right hon. Gentleman say what rôle the United Nations peace-keeping force, and the British element in particular, is supposed to be serving? Have strong representations been made not merely to the three capitals, but to the United Nations force? Have any instructions been sent to our commanders locally to ensure that there is no repetition of this unhappy episode?

Mr. Thomson

At the moment, a cease-fire has been obtained and we must be glad about that. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I are, of course, in constant touch about the developments with our delegation at the United Nations.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Is not the disquieting thing that the troops could be disarmed? Should not very strong representations be made to the United Nations command in Cyprus about this?

Mr. Thomson

We are in touch with the United Nations in New York and with the United Nations command in Cyprus about any lessons to be learned from this incident. I think that it underlines the important rôle the United Nations peacekeeping force can play [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] This was a very dangerous incident after a period of relative quiet, and the fact that it has been ended so quickly so far—I do not wish to prophesy about what might yet come—is an indication of the usefulness of the U.N. force in Cyprus.

Dr. David Kerr

Does my right hon. Friend agree that so long as there is a despotic military Government in Athens we can expect a recrudescence of unrest in Cyprus? Is not the hazard to which British troops are exposed as a result another powerful argument for taking every action to restore democracy in Greece?

Mr. Thomson

That question goes rather wider than the original Question. I should not like to apportion blame at this stage for yesterday's incident. I am merely concerned to see the ceasefire maintained.