HL Deb 06 December 1961 vol 236 cc83-5

2.37 p.m.


My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, I beg to ask the following Question of which he has given Private Notice, namely:

Whether Her Majesty's Government have any information from our Consul at Elisabethville about the fighting in Katanga, and whether they have received any information about the safety of United Kingdom citizens in Katanga.


My Lords, I am giving the noble Lord and the House the information that I have at my disposal. Her Majesty's Consul at Elisabethville has described the events which led up to the fighting which broke out yesterday. In the light of the Katangan undertaking, which was repeated to Her Majesty's Consul by Mr. Kimba, to withdraw road blocks between the United Nations Headquarters and the airfield, the United Nations commenced withdrawal of their troops from the neighbourhood of these road blocks. The road blocks had not, however, been removed by the morning of December 5. When Her Majesty's Consul and his United States colleague saw Mr. Kimba at 9.30 a.m. yesterday, Mr. Kimba said that they had not been able to withdraw their troops, because he alleged that United Nations troops had opened fire on them and had established road blocks of their own.

An immediate attempt was made to establish personal contact between Mr. Kimba and the United Nations, but this was unsuccessful. Mr. Urquhart did, however, speak to Mr. Kimba by telephone, but about mid-day the United Nations decided that they could no longer delay taking military action to restore their communications. United Nations troops then infiltrated round the road blocks. Small arms and mortar fire then broke out. This appears to have been the first substantial action which took place. A suggestion by the United States Consul that the area of the main road in the neighbourhood of the road blocks should be demilitarised was overtaken by United Nations action to secure control. Subsequently Her Majesty's Consul reports that the Katangan forces opened fire on United Nations Headquarters.

This morning Her Majesty's Consul has reported that all was quiet until about 11.30 when fighting again broke out in the area of United Nations Headquarters. Since then I have received no further details from our representatives in the Congo. I have had no reports of injury to British subjects. Her Majesty's Consul has been given discretion to arrange their departure from Elisabethville if he thinks this necessary.

I greatly hope that it may be possible for the United Nations to re-establish direct contact with the Provincial Government of the Katanga in order that the fighting may be brought to an end and that the Acting Secretary-General of the United Nations will use all his efforts to achieve a solution by conciliation.


My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Earl for that statement. Obviously, the position is so confused and fluid at the moment that no useful purpose could be served by pursuing the matter at this stage, but I hope we may be able to put down a similar Question to-morrow. The noble Earl may be able to make a statement then, and the position may have been clarified. I would only express the hope that we are wholeheartedly behind the United Nations in endeavouring to bring about peaceful conditions in that area.


My Lords, I should like to support what the noble Lord has said. May I ask the Foreign Secretary whether he could possibly elucidate a little more one sentence which is not quite clear to me? He said, about half way through, A suggestion by the United States Consul that the area of the main road in the neighbourhood of the road blocks should be demilitarised was overtaken by United Nations action to secure control. I do not ask the question in any spirit of criticism. Perhaps he could explain it a little.


My Lords, I think it means really what it says—that the United States Consul made a suggestion that all troops should be taken away from that area, but that before that suggestion could be really considered or put into effect, fighting broke out; therefore this kind of solution could not be adopted. Certainly I will respond to the request of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that I should make a statement. I will do so any day this week when I have information to convey, or when the Opposition would like to ask a Question. I must make it clear that if the United Nations are attacked, of course they must defend themselves; and under the Resolution of February 21 of course the United Nations are entitled both to prevent civil war and to maintain order. In that they would have the full support of Her Majesty's Government. But what we want to emphasise is that this general difficulty in the Congo can be stopped, in the long run, only by conciliation and pacification.