HL Deb 22 May 1978 vol 392 cc725-30

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my honourable friend Mr. Rowlands. The Statement is as follows:

"My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs made a Statement in another place on 16th May about the situation of British citizens in Zaire. I now have to tell noble Lords, with very deep regret, that five British subjects must now be presumed to have been killed in the appalling atrocities which have taken place in Kolwezi in the past few days.

"An RAF officer, who was sent there yesterday, as soon as the first information about British loss of life was received, has reported that he has firmly established the deaths of three of those concerned. We shall make every effort to confirm the position over the remaining two reported British victims as quickly as possible.

"The remaining 19 United Kingdom citizens who were known to have been in Kolwezi are now safely accounted for. Some have already been evacuated to Europe and others are still in Zaire. The British Embassy at Kinshasa are doing everything they can to help them. Fortunately it has not, in the event, been necessary to use the two British Army medical teams which were sent to Lusaka.

"I am sure noble Lords will wish to join me in expressing deep sympathy to the families of those who have been so wantonly killed in these tragic events, as well as to all of those, of every nationality, who have suffered this terrible ordeal".

3.49 p.m.


My Lords, everybody on this side of the House would join the noble Baroness in sending our sympathy to the families of those who have been killed—and not just the British families but all those who have been killed in this appalling incident.

I wonder whether the noble Baroness can say whether the Government feel that the international arrangements which exist for evacuation of families in these circumstances are really adequate, and whether or not there might be something to be said for having some kind of standing machinery in the EEC, or perhaps in NATO, whereby it would be possible very quickly to arrange for an evacuation of this kind. I also wonder whether the noble Baroness would suggest to her right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary that perhaps one of the lessons of this particular episode is that there should be a greater effort to concert European foreign policy in matters concerning Southern Africa, which have a very great effect on the Western economy and which, even now, seem to be altogether too haphazard.


My Lords, I also join with the expressions of sympathy that have been paid to relatives of the victims—including those many citizens of Zaire who have been killed by the rebels—by the noble Baroness, Lady Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, and by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. Is there any indication so far from where the rebels obtained their arms and of who trained them? If it turns out to be fact that these rebels were aided and abetted by Angola, will Her Majesty's Government seek to obtain redress from the Angolan Government for the dreadful atrocities committed against our own citizens? Although our own citizens may not require the assistance of the Army medical teams which were sent to Lusaka, could not the Government in this emergency offer them to the Zairean authorities for assistance to their own citizens?


My Lords, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, these things blow up overnight. This has shown that at short notice the Western countries can act decisively. However, I think that his suggestion of special machinery is a very interesting one and I shall, of course, bring it to the attention of my right honourable friend, as I shall also the question of concerting European foreign policy in Southern Africa. As the House well knows, it is not all that easy to concert European policy on a great many things, but I shall certainly bring that to my right honourable friend's attention.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised the whole question of the training of the rebels and from where they obtained their arms. Obviously they were in Angola; they must have obtained the arms there. As for the training, they received their training there. I do not think that there has been any time at all to consider the question of redress for the damage which the rebels caused to human life and property. The main effort has been to rescue the expatriates and to restore order so that the Zaireans themselves can live in security.


My Lords, I also asked whether the medical teams which we sent to help our citizens could be used to help the Zaireans.


My Lords, the Zaireans know that any sort of help that we can give we shall give. On the other hand, all the arrangements were made in connection with the evacuation of expatriates and all countries have said that they will return home those who are sent as soon as there is no need for them.


My Lords, may we also be allowed to express our sympathy to our Belgian friends?


My Lords, yes, indeed; their suffering has been very great.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there have been reports that Cuban, Russian and East German troops have been involved in this operation and that now there are fairly authoritative reports that much of the shooting and pillaging was carried out by Mobutu's Zairean army? Is my noble friend in a position to give any authoritative indication of the truth of these stories?


My Lords, I am afraid that I am not in a position to give any confirmation of the behaviour of the Zairean troops. As I am sure the House will realise, the situation is extremely confused. Reports of direct Cuban involvement have not been confirmed and the Cuban Government have specifically denied involvement in this operation. The rebel force may have received training in Angola, where there is a large Cuban force, but I have no evidence of direct Soviet or East German involvement in the operation.


My Lords, can my noble friend say anything about East German involvement? What evidence is there for her to say that the rebels received training in and were supplied with arms from Angola?


My Lords, I mentioned that there was no evidence of direct East German involvement. As my right honourable friend has said, it is a very serious matter indeed for outside Powers to exploit these difficult situations for their own ends.


My Lords, will the noble Baroness accept that the situation in Kolwezi is the predictable result of decisions made in the early 1960s with regard to the Katanga conflict? Will she accept that those decisions were largely dictated by the United States Government of the day and that, therefore, the present United States Government have a moral responsibility to help the situation which exists in that part of Africa; and that those of us who were concerned with this find it rather sad that the United States Government have so far appeared to wash their hands of the whole situation there?


My Lords, the immediate necessity is to save lives, both black and white, and not to indulge in historical recriminations. We have throughout been in close touch with the Belgian, French and United States Governments.


My Lords, although, of course, one is in full sympathy with her view that there are immediate problems and that we should not indulge in historical recriminations, and although I am sure that noble Lords would agree that her answers both to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and to her noble friend Lord Wigg have been restrained and statesmanlike, will the noble Baroness not agree that the fact which is now established, that the rebels involved in the Shaba incident came from Angola, were clearly trained in Angola and came with arms that had been furnished for them in Angola—which is now a republic totally dominated by the Soviet Union—has considerable implications for the strategic future of the whole of Africa?


My Lords, I should like to repeat that this is a tragic moment. It has come after a very sudden and dreadful happening. The situation is totally confused. We cannot confirm particular rumours of any kind. I am sure that the whole House has noted what the noble Lord, with his great experience in these matters, has said. I should not like to go further than that.


My Lords, I should like to join with other noble Lords in expressing sympathy to those who have been killed, injured and otherwise damaged in this horrible occurrence. With reference to the question just asked by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, would my noble friend be prepared to go as far as to say that the Government are taking into consideration that we may be in the presence of something like a rather major effort of imperialism in Africa?


My Lords, unfortunately Africa has been subject to imperialism of very different kinds over many centuries.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness whether we have consular representation in Zaire, and if not, why not? If we have representation there, why do Her Majesty's Government appear to know so very little about what is going on there at the present time?


My Lords, I must say I think that that is a rather unfair suggestion. We have a High Commission in Zaire. We are constantly in touch with it and it is in touch with the High Commissions of all the other countries involved. It is in touch with the Zambians, who have given us a great deal of help. The fact that the situation is confused is surely understandable in itself.


My Lords, would it not be to the credit of this House and this nation if there went out from it at this time a solid acceptance of that work which has been done on behalf of this House and this nation by the people resident in Zaire, showing that they have the support of this House? And have not the answers given by my noble friend gone as far as anyone can be expected to go in this complicated moment of world history?


My Lords, I think that we should proceed.