Zaire (British Subjects)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th May 1978.

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Photo of Mr Richard Luce Mr Richard Luce , Shoreham 12:00 am, 16th May 1978

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the position and safety of British subjects in Zaire following the reported invasion across the southern borders.

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport

The Government are making every effort, through the British Embassy in Kinshasa and other Western countries with communities in Shaba province to ensure the safety of the British community in the area of the fighting. The total number of British and Commonwealth citizens in the Shaba province—the area affected—is believed to be 171. We are in close touch with the mining companies, who employ a number of British subjects. The town of Kolwezi, where there are 24 British and Commonwealth citizens, is reported to have been taken by the invading force. We have, so far, had no reports of harm to British subjects. The mining town of Tenke-Fungurume, east of Kolwezi, could be affected. Of the 19 British subjects there, six dependants were flown by their company to Kinshasa yesterday and other dependants are being flown today to Zambia.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I discussed this question in detail with President Kaunda yesterday. The President has assured us that Zambia will give every facility to British subjects evacuated from Shaba province.

This is a serious and threatening development to the stability of this part of Africa. I will keep the House closely informed and make all possible information available to the relatives of those concerned.

Photo of Mr Richard Luce Mr Richard Luce , Shoreham

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that statement. May I put three questions to him? First, since it is a primary duty of any British Government to safeguard the interests of British subjects in any part of the world, may I tell him that the Opposition will support any positive action that he decides to take, preferably in concert with other Western Powers, to protect the interests or British subjects? May we also welcome the fact that President Kaunda has offered to help in this connection?

Secondly, can the Foreign Secretary tell the House a little about the nature of this invasion? What information is available to him? Is there evidence of any military support—whether by means of equipment of personnel—from outside powers, particularly Cuba or the Soviet Union?

Thirdly, in view of the historic European links with Zaire and with other African nations, and in view of the Western interest to see stability in the African continent, can the Foreign Secretary tell the House what action he will seek to take in concert with European and other African Powers to help maintain stability in Zaire?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport

As to the first question, we shall act in concert with Western Powers. We are in close touch with Belgium and France and, of course, the United States. As for the hon. Gentleman's last question, there will be a private meeting in Denmark of Foreign Ministers of the European Community on Saturday and Sunday. That will provide a very good opportunity to discuss this situation.

As to the nature of the attack, an attacking force—which appears to be similar in nature to that which mounted an incursion into Shaba from across the border with Angola in March 1977—attacked the region of Kolwezi. There is no evidence of involvement of Cuban forces, but, of course, there are about 20,000 Cuban troops in Angola.

Photo of Mr John Mendelson Mr John Mendelson , Penistone

While the Foreign Secretary will, of course, receive support from everyone in this House and in the country in protecting the interests and, above all, the safety of British workers and managers out there, may I ask that he should not be carried beyond that into co-operation with, say, France or other Powers immediately to take action of a military nature that might be based upon the assumption, not proven, that this is an operation coming from any particular outside Power? Has my right hon. Friend seen the reports in Brussels that there is a genuine inside movement against the Government in that country at the moment? We have no business to take sides if that is the case.

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport

As my hon. Friend knows, the root of this problem goes way back to the whole question of Katanga. There are, and have been for a number of years, Katangese who have been allowed to stay in Angola. There is no evidence that the movement is backed by anyone other than them at present, but it would be idle to pretend that there is not the possible danger of their being supported by other forces. This is something we want to watch very closely to make sure that it does not escalate into a very serious arms struggle—which it could do.

Several Hon. Members:


Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. I propose to call those hon. Members who have been seeking to catch my eye.

Photo of Mr Julian Amery Mr Julian Amery , Brighton, Pavilion

If, as appears to be the case, the insurgents came from Angola, would the Foreign Secretary agree that they could not have come without Soviet and Cuban authorisation? Secondly, as it is alleged that they came through Zambian territory, did President Kaunda make it clear to him that this was against the wishes of the Zambian Government?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport

As to the first question, I do not think that we can make the assumption that the insurgents came with such authority. I should be very surprised however if they came without the Soviets and Cubans knowing about it.

As to the second question, it is not exactly clear what was the line of attack. It could have been to cross that small part of Zambian territory. But when we discussed that with President Kaunda, he knew nothing about it and was having inquiries made. We have no evidence that people, armed and in uniform, or in any military sense, crossed through Zambia, but that is a possibility.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

As delicate and emotive issues of recent history are involved, would it not be better to do the work on an EEC rather than on a Belgian basis, and can it wait even until the weekend conference?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport

We are in close touch with our European colleagues, and I agree that it would be unfair to Belgium to expect a response entirely from that country. Its traditions and historical links are well known. If it is necessary, I shall be speaking to people well before the weekend. The situation is moving very fast, and it is difficult to know at this stage exactly what is happening.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Fairbairn Sir Nicholas Fairbairn , Kinross and West Perthshire

Can the Foreign Secretary give us some more detailed information? How many rebels are involved, who armed them, who trains them, who leads them and what is their political objective? Do they have the backing of Soviet Russia, and do they have the approval or disapproval of the British Government?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport

The answer to the last question is perfectly clear and has been made known to everyone. We do not believe that the way to solve these problems is through armed conflict. We are, therefore, opposed to any threat to the territorial integrity of the country. The way to resolve these disputes is through peaceful negotiated means.

As for his other questions, the hon. and learned Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn) is asking for a degree of detail that I cannot provide. I have given to the House all the information that I have.

Photo of Mr Tim Rathbone Mr Tim Rathbone , Lewes

In the light of the Foreign Secretary's first answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce), what representations have Her Majesty's Government made to the Governments of Cuba and Soviet Russia?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport

The main question is that the attackers have come from Angola. Then the question is what is the involvement of the Angolan Government. As for Cuban involvement in Africa generally, and Cuban involvement in Angola in particular, the view of the British Government is clear and is well known. I ask the hon. Gentleman to look at the issue in its historic perspective. There is no doubt that there is a danger of adventurism of the kind we have seen by the Soviet Union and by Cuba there. But at root there is a complex dispute over Katanga which goes back deep in history, We need to stand back and to consider it in that context, as well as in that of our genuine concern for other dangers.

Photo of Mr Stephen Hastings Mr Stephen Hastings , Mid Bedfordshire

Referring to the Foreign Secretary's last answer, is it not high time that the Foreign Secretary protested again—if he is interested, as he says he is, in stability in the area—to the Cuban Government and to their Soviet masters about the presence of two or more Cuban divisions in Angola? Why cannot they be told to take them away?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport

The hon. Gentleman asks questions as though he were totally unsophisticated in these matters. The House knows that that is not the case. He holds his views, and that is fair enough. But he knows perfectly well that it is the right of any sovereign Government to invite other troops into their territory. We disapprove of it, particularly when it changes the balance of power—

Photo of Mr Stephen Hastings Mr Stephen Hastings , Mid Bedfordshire

Has the right hon. Gentleman said so?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport

Of course I have said so. I made a speech at the Mansion House —of which I shall send the hon. Gentleman a copy—which made my view on Cuban involvement in Africa very clear.

Photo of Mr Tim Rathbone Mr Tim Rathbone , Lewes

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Since the Foreign Secretary refused to answer my question, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.