HL Deb 21 June 1999 vol 602 cc648-51

2.53 p.m.

The Earl of Clanwilliam asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps are being taken within the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe to settle the Azerbaijan-Armenia dispute in the context of Me three principles agreed at the 1996 Lisbon Summit.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, Mr Vollebaek, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe Chairman-in-Office, and the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk group continue their efforts to facilitate a resolution to the dispute in line with the Lisbon Summit principles. Their current focus is on urging the parties to resume direct negotiations. However, I regret that I can report no recent progress. Mr Vollebaek plans to visit the region, and the OSCE to open regional offices in Baku and Yerevan, later this year.

The Earl of Clanwilliam

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her encouraging reply. However, can she give the House the Government's present assessment of the "common state" proposals? Does she agree that those proposals are inimical both to the interests and the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan? Further, can the Minister say what Her Majesty's Government will do to improve the position of the 1 million dispersed Azeris to enable them to return to their natural homes in Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding occupied territories?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the Government continue to support the principles laid out at the Lisbon Summit in December 1996. Those principles include the territorial integrity of the Republic of Armenia and Azerbaijan and that those should be preserved; that the legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh should be defined in an agreement on self-determination to the highest degree possible; and that the security of Nagorno-Karabakh and its whole population should be guaranteed, including by mutual obligations, to ensure compliance by all parties with the provision of a settlement. I believe that those three principles are quite explicit. They have been supported not only by this Government but also by the previous government when they were in office.

The noble Earl also asked what more can be done. A great deal of aid—some £10 million—has gone to both countries and is being dispersed for displaced people through reputable agencies. Of course, Her Majesty's Government will go on considering what more it is possible to do.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, does the Minister agree that both Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh have made very serious efforts to be conciliatory in abandoning their demands for sovereignty and in considering and wishing to discuss the transfer of populations? I hope that that might mean that they will be encouraged further in that way. Does the noble Baroness also agree that if Azerbaijan continues to wish to bring the Turkey factor, if I may call it that, into the equation and to encourage the Turks to play a bigger part, we are likely to have considerable instability in a region where we can ill afford it?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I can agree with a great deal of what the noble Baroness has said. As she may know, there have been some more unfortunate outbreaks of skirmishing within the past week or so, and the OSCE has delivered a further statement encouraging both parties to attend some sort of bilateral discussions. We have been enormously encouraged by recent meetings between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Of course, most recently, those were held in Washington around the NATO Summit in April. We urge them to continue that dialogue and we are looking forward tomorrow to a meeting of all three trans-Caucasian presidents, which is due to take place in the margins of the GAC in Luxembourg. So, as the noble Baroness said, there are some encouraging signs; but, equally, we have to watch the situation on the ground very closely, where, unfortunately, we have seen rather more skirmishing during the past week or 10 days than is altogether comfortable.

The Earl of Shannon

My Lords, I declare my interest as chairman of the British-Armenian all-party parliamentary group. Can the Minister say whether Her Majesty's Government fully realise that we are dealing with a situation exactly similar to that in Kosovo? When the Azeri troops first entered and invaded the Karabakh, their president stated that it was his intention they should kill every single Armenian there. That was a first-class statement of ethnic cleansing. The attendant horrors that went with it were exactly the same as those that took place in Kosovo. For all its high-falutin principles, the Lisbon Summit ignored one thing; namely, that you cannot ask people to sign their own death warrant. You cannot expect the Armenians in the Karabakh to submit to any form of suzerainty by Azerbaijan; that is quite out of the question.

Noble Lords


The Earl of Shannon

Certainly, my Lords; I asked Her Majesty's Government whether they appreciated the situation—

Noble Lords


The Earl of Shannon

Indeed, I am sure that they do. However, until there is an absolute guarantee for the people of the Karabakh, it will be very difficult to get any form of Lisbon Summit principles adhered to.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I understand the issues the noble Lord raises and indeed we aired them at some length in your Lordships' House on 17th March when we discussed this matter in a debate. I think then there was a good deal of discussion on self-determination on the one hand and sovereignty, including territorial integrity, on the other. We know that these are complex questions. The noble Earl draws the analogy with Kosovo. I think at the time other examples were adduced of not identical conflicts but ones where the roots of the conflicts could be said to have some similarities in different parts of the world.

It is important that we examine a number of different ways of trying to get the parties to come together. One way that we might look at is to encourage the parliamentary groups—not only the one of which the noble Earl is the chair but also the British Azerbaijan parliamentary group—to consider supporting our efforts and indeed entering into more discussion on confidence-building measures. There is a job of work to be done there among the all-parliamentary groups. I hope that is a challenge that the noble Earl will take up.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I must declare an interest as vice-chairman of the British Azeri group in this House. It seems to me that, in this vexed question where there is intense competition with regard to what may be the truth—I hear what my noble friend says clearly—some other members of the European Union may not have been playing the peace-making role that Britain has tried to play through the Minsk Group and the OSCE. Will the Minister make sure that we consult behind the scenes with our 14 partners and with other members of the OSCE so that all the issues are on the table and that we do not see some of the difficulties that we have seen recently; otherwise there will not be a valid discussion and a valid outcome?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I hope that everything I have said indicates that Her Majesty's Government are absolutely committed to the whole question of ensuring that people discuss this matter as widely as possible, both within Europe, and, if I may say so, within your Lordships' House, because it has been my experience in dealing with this issue in your Lordships' House that there are strongly held views and on occasion some of those who support either side might have some fruitful discussions with each other. There can be no doubt whatever that there can be no military solution to this conflict and that the only way in which it can be resolved is by people of good will—whichever side in the conflict they support—getting together.