HC Deb 04 February 1991 vol 185 cc17-8
37. Mr. Allen

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the current position in Cambodia.

Mrs. Chalker

We are providing humanitarian assistance to Combodians by supporting the activities of British non-governmental organisations and United Nations agencies inside Cambodia and in the camps along the Thai border. We are ready to consider with other donors how Cambodia's reconstruction and development needs can be met in the context of a comprehensive political settlement.

Mr. Allen

I thank the Minister for that reply. In the light of today's reports about renewed fighting between the Cambodian Government and the Khmer Rouge, and the comments in the current Jane's Defence Review on the strength of the Khmer Rouge, may I ask the Minister once again to state in the clearest possible terms for the public record that this country has never given assistance to train the military of any description fighting against the Phnom Penh Government?

Mrs. Chalker

I do not know how many times I have said this before, but I shall say it again. We have never given and will never give support of any kind to the Khmer Rouge. I much regret it if fighting has again broken out because, as I think the hon. Gentleman knows, we have repeatedly called on all parties to stop fighting and reach a comprehensive settlement. The formal ceasefire and an end to outside arms supplies are integral parts of the draft comprehensive settlement document. The Cambodians have already shown that a ceasefire isolated from a settlement just will not work. Therefore, it has to be ceasefire and settlement under the terms negotiated by the permanent five.

Mr. Lester

Will my right hon. Friend use her considerable talent to try to persuade her colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to enable the Phnom Penh regime to understand the details of the United Nations plan? There are difficulties in the military and in the supervision concept. It would be helpful if my right hon. Friend were able to make contact through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with the Phnom Penh regime so that it could have a much clearer understanding of the value of the United Nations plan and the fact that it is a real hope for Cambodia.

Mrs. Chalker

I shall be very pleased to talk to my noble Friend who takes the political responsibility for that, but, of course, we are both in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I hope that the co-chairman of the Paris conference, who visited Hanoi last weekend and put pressure on the Vietnamese to accept the draft settlement document, will persuade Hun Sen to do likewise. I know that they had a long conference, but so far we have not had reports of its outcome. I shall be in touch with my hon. Friend when I have anything to tell him about that weekend conference.

Sir Russell Johnston

Does the Minister agree that many of us believe that to be effective there is no point in simply calling on both sides to have a ceasefire, but that we must, in view of the terribly poor condition of Cambodia, reopen direct bilateral aid to Phnom Penh, because failing to do so gives an economic weapon to the Khmer Rouge?

Mrs. Chalker

Unless there is a ceasefire and an end to hostilities, we shall not be able to carry out in practical terms what the hon. Gentleman asks for. As he knows, we already give humanitarian aid. We also give aid through UNICEF, the World Health Organisation and the World Food Programme, but until there is a ceasefire and fighting stops, there is no way in which we can be more active and more helpful to the Cambodian people, however much we might wish to be so.

Mrs. Clwyd

Month after month the Minister comes here and talks about the humanitarian aid that we provide —very little through NGOs. Does not she realise that it is a fleabite compared with the amount of assistance that Cambodia, devastated by war and economic isolation over the past few years, needs? Does not she realise that one in five children dies from waterborne diseases? The water reconstruction project in Phnom Penh has come to a halt because the Soviets have withdrawn their aid. Does not the Minister know about the $49 million in the United Nations Development Programme account that is ready to be spent in Cambodia? Surely it is not beyond the wit even of the present Government and of the Minister to do something about this dreadful situation.

Mrs. Chalker

Sometimes I wonder whether the hon. Lady lives in the real world. I should be happy to see the United Nations money spent—[Interruption.] If the hon. Lady will listen for a moment she will get an answer. The Government are fully ready to consider requests from the United Nations agencies, from the NGOs and from Voluntary Service Overseas in respect of 1991. We are prepared to help, but in the absence of a ceasefire—while hostilities continue—it is not practicable to undertake what the hon. Lady asks for.

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