HC Deb 03 March 1982 vol 19 cc255-6
1. Mr. Russell Johnston

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he will make a statement on the situation in Eritrea.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Richard Luce)

Her Majesty's Government are concerned at reports of renewed fighting in Eritrea. The Ethiopian Government are aware of our belief that regional disputes should be settled not by violence but by conciliation and negotiation.

Mr. Johnston

Does the Minister have any evidence that nerve gas has been used? Can he confirm that Russia supplied nerve gas in 1980? Can he say anything about the substantial number of refugees in Eritrea on the Sudanese border?

Mr. Luce

We noted that in a recent BBC external services broadcast the Ethiopian ambassador in London denied the use of any nerve gas, but if any evidence of its use becomes available we shall regard the matter very seriously.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we give assistance to refugees in Somalia and in the Sudan.

Mr. Wilkinson

I note what my hon. Friend said about conciliation and negotiation being the basis of the settlement, but is self-determination for the people of Eritrea a concept that Her Majesty's Government will support?

Mr. Luce

Since 1962 Eritrea has been regarded by the international community as an integral part of Ethopia. We have not changed our position on that aspect.

Mr. George Robertson

The House will be comforted by the Government's concern about the increasing rumours on the use of nerve gas. May we be assured that the Government are taking steps urgently to consider this matter? The anxiety, which exists in much wider areas than the British community, needs to be investigated in great depth. Will the Government take steps to bring the matter to the attention of those who may be responsible?

Mr. Luce

Yes. We have told the British ambassador in Ethiopia of the public anxiety about this issue and asked all those who have expressed concern to give their evidence, which we shall consider seriously.

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