HC Deb 23 June 1969 vol 785 cc987-9
18. Mr. Tilney

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what further action he has taken to help the Federal Government of Nigeria to end the civil strife in the former Eastern Region; and what plans he has for further aid to the distressed war areas.

40. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if, in view of the changed situation in Biafra, he will now make a fresh initiative to end the war.

Mr. Foley

I would refer the hon. Members to the reply which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes) on 16th June. —[Vol. 785, c. 2.] I described our current plans for relief aid in the debate on 13th March.—[Vol. 779, c. 1579–81.]

Mr. Fisher

Considering the large number of unnecessarily fatal casualties to Nigerian forces in the field, has any request yet come from the Nigerian Government for the supply of field hospitals or any medical aid from this country?

Mr. Foley

No request has come.

Mr. Allaun

Will Her Majesty's Government use their influence in Lagos to prevent a repetition of the shooting-down of a Red Cross plane in daylight and ask Lagos to accept the offer by Biafra to open Uli airport to daylight flights for food and relief purposes?

Mr. Foley

On the first part, we regret, of course, as anyone would, the tragic events in the shooting-down of this Red Cross plane. I understand that the Federal Government themselves have said that it was a disaster, that this was a dreadful mistake. I want to make it absolutely clear about relief routes that this matter has been the plaything of both sides in the argument over many months and it is very hard to differentiate between a propaganda initiative and a genuine desire. So far as I know, the present position is that the so-called Biafran authorities have offered day and night flights, coupled with the construction of another airfield, and have also accepted in principle the use of a river scheme for getting supplies out. The Federal authorities have started daylight flights and have now given their support to the river route. This last one is under way, we hope, at this very moment, and this is probably the way out of the present dilemma.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

How will all this end? Since the "quick kill" is becoming slower and slower, how do the Government think that the war will be brought to an end? Will they explain what is in their mind?

Mr. Foley

The Government have never subscribed to the theory of a quick kill. The war will come to an end when both sides agree to sit down to discuss their differences and come up with a formula acceptable to both sides. The Federal Government have insisted on one Nigeria and adequate safeguards for the safety of the Ibos. At this moment, the Biafran side is still insisting on a separate entity.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

Is it not a fact that Colonel Ojukwu recently offered again discussions without any conditions? Since that is so, will the Government now try at last the only way of bringing this war to an end—namely, an organised attempt through the United Nations to get the machinery of all the Governments to stop both Government and private marketeering supplies of arms to both sides?

Mr. Foley

I accept and fully understand my right hon. Friend's humanitarian motives. I would point out, however, that in the last round of discussions of the O.A.U. at Monrovia the Nigerian side accepted discussions without preconditions. The so-called Biafran side wanted a cease-fire first and then discussions—in other words, the cease-fire was a pre-condition, and it was on these grounds that the talks broke down.

As for the United Nations, I should point out that U Thant, taking note of the initiatives of the O.A.U. and regarding this as an internal problem, recently said categorically that if any member State were to propose that this item—Nigeria—be inscribed on the agenda of the Security Council or the General Assembly, it would not receive the assent of the members.