HL Deb 22 January 1992 vol 534 cc839-41
Baroness Faithfull

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will send a letter of congratulation to Aung San Suu Kyi on the award of the Nobel peace prize.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, the Prime Minister sent a personal message of congratulations to Aung San Suu Kyi after the announcement of the award of the Nobel peace prize, but the Burmese authorities prevented its delivery.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that reply. I am delighted to hear that the Prime Minister sent a telegram to Aung San Suu Kyi. What steps are being taken to seek information from the military regime about the release of that splendid lady who richly deserved the Nobel peace prize? Further, are steps being taken to see whether her colleagues, who are also in custody, could be released bearing in mind that Burma is an interesting country and many of its people are kindly?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, considerable representations have been made to the Burmese authorities by various means. I have spoken to the Burmese ambassador on a number of occasions. He has now left London. The EC took action on 21st September 1990 and on 4th January, 27th March, 31st March, 9th July and 31st December last year. We shall continue with our efforts.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that on this side of the House we warmly support the condemnation by the Foreign Secretary of the repressive and illegal regime in Burma? Can the noble Earl be rather more specific as regards the action that he believes Her Majesty's Government are taking to secure the removal of that illegal regime and the release of the lady whom the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, described as splendid? Aung San Suu Kyi has been elected democratically to be Prime Minister of that country. Can any action be taken through the United Nations, the European Community or ASEAN to get rid of that wicked government?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, we believe that the best way to take action against the Government of Burma, which as the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, reminded us is not the elected government, is to work through the European Community. That is why we continue to make thedémarches which we do. Also, we shall continue to work within the United Nations to see what can be done.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, will the noble Earl make fresh representations to the People's Republic of China to ask it not to continue selling weapons to Burma? The republic is the principal arms supplier to Burma. Will he consider the suggestion I made to his right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary that a challenge should be made in the United Nations to the credentials of the illegal regime so that it can be unseated, as was done in the case of Cambodia?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, there is a distinction to be drawn between Cambodia and Burma. I assure the noble Lord that I have made representations to China about arms sales.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, in view of the great anxiety shown in this country on that subject, will the Minister advise the House of any information he has about the wellbeing of Aung San Suu Kyi —and, indeed, the other political prisoners who were imprisoned at the same time—and about the general situation regarding human rights in Burma?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I cannot give the House an up-to-date assessment of the health of Aung San Suu Kyi because we cannot get the information from the Burmese authorities. We understand that they deny that she is unwell, but I cannot give an accurate or up-to-date report.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that no communication has been received from this lady in the past year? The family write but receive no answer. Is the noble Earl further aware that it is not even known whether she suffered any reprisals on the occasion of the riots which occurred on the day her two sons received the Nobel peace prize on her behalf?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am aware of those facts mentioned by my noble friend. It is a disgrace that the Burmese Government behave in that way.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is outrageous behaviour for the Burmese Government, for more than a year, to totally disregard the will of the people? Is there any form of aid or relationship with Burma which would enable us to indicate, more than simply by diplomatic representation, the strength of feeling which exists in this country?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to say that it is more than a year. In fact, Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest in July 1989. It is difficult to make progress with the Burmese authorities because of the lack of aid and trade with them. However, the EC démarches include the termination of defence attaché ties.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that what has been done in Europe on this matter is well supported? Does he also agree that ultimately it is a matter for the United Nations? Can he perhaps be a little more explicit regarding the precise action being taken in the United Nations to secure the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and to bring into power the democratically elected government?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, on 30th November last year the UN General Assembly passed a resolution on Burma. We were co-sponsors of that resolution. It called for an improvement on the human rights situation and progress towards democratic government in Burma. We shall continue to work within the UN.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, I too am unhappy about Burma. I have made my views known to U Ne Win, whom I know personally. I cannot support the views expressed today because they are an overwhelming indictment against many other people in Burma who are serving their country well—perhaps in the armed forces. I suggest that we should balance this a little more to make sure that future British/Burma relations are strengthened.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, our disagreement is certainly not with the Burmese people. It is with the illegal government of Burma that held an election which was won by Aung San Suu Kyi's party, at a time when she was already under house arrest, to which no recognition has been given.

Lord Judd

My Lords, will the noble Earl accept that the Prime Minister would have widespread support in this House and the country as a whole if he specifically raised this issue as a matter of priority during his visit to the United Nations later this month?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, it. was Britain which pressed hard for the resolution at the UN General Assembly. I shall pass on the noble Lord's comments.

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