HL Deb 12 October 1994 vol 557 cc896-8

3.22 p.m.

Baroness Cox asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will try to persuade Turkey and Azerbaijan to lift their blockades of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh before the onset of winter.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, a peace settlement in Nagorno Karabakh is the best way of persuading all the countries in the region to lift the economic blockades of Armenia and the enclaves of Nagorno Karabakh and Nakhichevan. We are working to that end.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. However, I fear that it may be rather cold comfort to the Armenians. Does my noble friend accept that the peace process is beset by many problems; for example, the conflict between the Russian and the CSCE peace proposals and also the fact that Azerbaijan with thousands of mercenaries may well be preparing its biggest offensive yet against Nagorno Karabakh? Is there nothing further that can be done through the CSCE to end these cruel blockades which will cause incalculable suffering for the Armenians for yet another winter? Further, can my noble friend say why Turkey, as a member of the CSCE, is allowed to get away scot-free with its blockade of Armenia when it is not even recognised as a combatant in the war over Karabakh?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, at least the latest cease-fire has held for some five months, but I understand the point that my noble friend makes. However, I believe that prospects for a settlement are better than they have honestly been for some time. I accept that there are problems in reconciling the CSCE and the Russian proposals, but we are actively engaged in efforts to that end. It will be important to ensure that the settlement is in an international framework so that appropriate monitoring can really be made to happen.

I understand what my noble friend said about the persistent reports of Turkish support to the Azeris. I have to tell her that there is no real evidence, but I am quite certain that the work that has been carried out by the CSCE, especially in respect of the arms embargo in the region, is a situation which Turkey now accepts.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we welcome the Minister's assurance that the Government are taking steps to seek to resolve a very unpleasant situation. However, can the noble Baroness be more precise and tell us exactly what the Government are doing and whether any steps are being taken to raise the matter in the United Nations?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, we have concentrated on our work in the CSCE forum. We have discussed the matter in various committees of the United Nations. We take every opportunity to press those who are involved in the detail to try to make it work on the ground. It is all very well to resolve the matter in some international body. The terrible situation in Nagorno Karabakh, which my noble friend has witnessed so many times, is one where the words of international bodies have to be translated into real action which prevents fighting on the ground.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, does the Minister agree that our influence in the area would be enhanced if we had some form of diplomatic office in Armenia? Does she further agree that it is quite extraordinary that we do not have even a part-time consulate in the area so that the nearest diplomatic office to Armenia is in Moscow? How can we hope to be properly informed and have strong influence in the matter when we have so little first-hand information available to us?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I can assure the noble Baroness that we do not suffer because we do not have an office in Yerevan. Both our ambassador to Moscow (who is accredited to Armenia) and his staff are making regular visits to the area. We have representation in part of the region, but resource constraints mean that we cannot have an embassy in every country, especially where many former large countries now break down into many smaller countries. I can assure the noble Baroness that we shall ensure that our information is always up to date as regards what goes on in Armenia.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, as the Minister appears to agree with the suggestion made by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, that some disadvantage to the peace process arises from the fact that the Minsk group and the CIS processes overlap, can she say what steps the Government are taking to try either to integrate the two processes so that only one is operative or to get one of the two to leave the field, thus leaving it clear for the other?

As regards weapons, the Minister has seen the evidence produced, including photographic evidence, of Turkish and United States weapons which, on the face of it, appear to have reached the Azeris via Nato. What response will the Government make to the suggestion that I put forward during my recent visit to the area that a CSCE inspector be sent to look at such weapons to take note of the serial numbers so as to trace their origin and thereby verify whether or not they reached the Azeris illegally via NATO?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, on the noble Lord's last point, there are many weapons from different sources in the international arms market. I do not believe that the noble Lord's proposal would be feasible, but certainly there is no doubt that in all the international bodies where the matter is being discussed a very careful watch is being kept on the situation.

In response to the noble Lord's question about Russian interests as well as those of the CSCE Minsk group, we have always made it clear that we strongly support what the latter group is doing because it has been seeking to build on the cease-fire to find a peace process which would be acceptable to all parties and that would include an end to the blockades. I am afraid that one cannot say exactly the same about the action taken by others. On the other hand, there is no way in which one can chase one nation with an interest in the region off the map.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, assuming that a settlement of this conflict holds following the peace conference in Moscow last month, and in the light of British interests in this area represented by oil companies, will the UK Government contribute to the multinational force that has been called for to police the cease-fire?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, we do not have a request so to do. It is not yet agreed that there should be such a force and we already have many thousands of British troops supporting other peacekeeping forces so I think it is unlikely.