HL Deb 02 November 1995 vol 566 cc1499-501

3.16 p.m.

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

What reports they have received about the work of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe mission in Grozny.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, we have been kept fully informed of the work of the OSCE assistance group in Chechnya by the OSCE Chairman in Office and by the leaders of the assistance group who report to the Permanent Council in Vienna.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, what information do the Government have about the circumstances in which the Russian appointed mayor of Grozny incited 150 people to attack the OSCE mission and the mysterious car accident in which a truck rammed the vehicle in which the chairman of the OSCE mission was travelling? Does the Minister know whether those attacks on the OSCE mission have caused us to downgrade our presence in Grozny? In those circumstances, are we able properly to view the mounting violence which is taking place on both sides? How do we judge that in the light of the Russian decision to denounce the treaty that they signed only in July on force reductions and demilitarisation?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I believe that I counted five questions from the noble Lord. However, I shall do my best to give him the feel of the answers, and to answer the most important two. The decision by Mr. Gantimirov, the mayor of Grozny, to surround the OSCE mission and prevent staff leaving caused the federal authorities great embarrassment, as we know. The Russians have apologised and the Chechen Provisional Government annulled Gantimirov's order to suspend the work of the mission. It is quite clear that the Russians want to get the OSCE mission going again.

There have been various incidents, including the grenade attack in Grozny on 7th October on the Chairman in Office. That is why the Chairman in Office and the EU presidency reminded the Russians of their responsibility for the safety and welfare of all members of the assistance group. Three members of the group were removed as a precautionary action. We are reviewing whether OSCE has done enough on security to allow our member of the group to go back. When we come to a proper decision—and we have sufficient information, I can assure the noble Lord—we shall see whether it is possible to participate again, as we wish, in this mission.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, are the Government satisfied that free and fair elections can be held in Chechnya next month, given the deteriorating situation there? What position will the Government take should the outcome of that election be a vote for independence? That was one question in two halves.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the noble Baroness is getting canny! Obviously we cannot be satisfied yet that there will be free and fair elections. However, further work is being done on that at present. We have to look very carefully at what is going on there. There is no way in which the kind of attacks on civilian life which have become commonplace can be allowed to continue with free and fair elections being held at the same time. We continue to support every effort to secure a negotiated settlement. I hope that we shall soon see a greater degree of abiding by the ceasefire by all parties.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton

My Lords, in the interests of negotiating a settlement, will my noble friend and Her Majesty's Government be prepared to suggest to the Russian Government that a complete withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya would be the best way of restoring peace and tranquillity to the area?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I do not believe that we are in a position to judge the matter. We have said that there is, of course, a role for the Russian Government because there is a role for keeping peace. But the way in which actions are continuing there at the moment give us great cause for concern. We all wish to see the formal negotiations on the implementation of the military agreement start as soon as possible.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, does the Minister think that, in the light of the serious developments and the continuing violence in Chechnya, the Council of Ministers of the OSCE should take notice of the situation? It should ascertain whether there are any further actions which it should take, either generally or specifically under the Budapest Declaration issued by the OSCE last December.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I understand that that is exactly what they are doing.