HC Deb 27 November 1996 vol 286 cc325-6
9. Dr. Twinn

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when a Foreign Office Minister last visited Sri Lanka to discuss the situation there. [4594]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Dr. Liam Fox)

My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary visited Sri Lanka from 30 to 31 August and I visited Sri Lanka from 25 to 29 September.

Dr. Twinn

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply and his visit to Sri Lanka. Is he aware that grave concern persists about conditions in the Jaffna area and that Tamils living in the United Kingdom are very concerned about the health and welfare of their relatives and friends in that area? Will my hon. Friend make urgent representations to the Sri Lankan Government to take immediate action to sort out the problems in the Jaffna area, restore people to their homes and reinstate peace in the area? Will the British Government take an active role in trying to bring the two sides together and restore peace to the island so that the communities may live in harmony?

Dr. Fox

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's many representations on behalf of his constituents on this subject. Sri Lanka is a beautiful country being ripped apart by an unnecessary and unwinnable war. The conflict there cannot be resolved by military means—it can be resolved only by political means. During my trip to Sri Lanka, we offered to play a facilitating role in talks if both sides were to agree to them. We hope that they will take advantage of our offer and that a political solution will be forthcoming sooner rather than later, before further unnecessary loss of life.

Mr. Gerrard

Has the Minister seen the report produced in August by Amnesty International regarding the situation in Sri Lanka? Although it criticises the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam for some of the human rights abuses, it produces clear evidence of extra-judicial executions, disappearances, torture and arbitrary arrests perpetrated by members of the Sri Lankan security forces. Did the Minister raise those concerns with the Government of Sri Lanka? While we want to see a political solution, such an outcome requires that the Government take action to stop those clear abuses of human rights.

Dr. Fox

I did indeed—and in very clear terms—raise human rights issues while in Sri Lanka, not least some of the reported abuses in Jaffna. It is only fair, however, to say that we have been impressed by the Sri Lankan Government's attempts to try to reduce such activities. I have been worried in recent days by an increasing number of reports of human rights abuses. I had the opportunity this morning to raise the issue again with another senior Sri Lankan politician. It is also necessary to say that the situation cannot be resolved unless a more bipartisan approach is adopted by politicians in Sri Lanka. Nothing is more likely to encourage terrorists than a division between democratic politicians, and the Government are urging politicians in Sri Lanka to work together for a common approach to a political settlement.

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