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Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:40 pm on 16th April 1986.

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Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party 3:40 pm, 16th April 1986

My statement yesterday explained the Government's decision to support the United States military action, taken in self-defence, against terrorist targets in Libya.

Of course, when we took our decison we were aware of the wider issues and of people's fears. Terrorism attacks free societies and plays on those fears. If those tactics succeed, terrorism saps the will of free peoples to resist.

We have heard some of those arguments in this country: "Don't associate ourselves with the United States," some say; "Don't support them in fighting back; we may expose ourselves to more attacks," say others.

Terrorism has to be defeated; it cannot be tolerated or side-stepped. When other ways and other methods have failed—I am the first to wish that they had succeeded—it is right that the terrorist should know that firm steps will be taken to deter him from attacking either other peoples or his own people who have taken refuge in countries that are free.

Before dealing with that central issue, and the evidence that we have of Libyan involvement, I wish to report to the House on the present position, as far as we know it. There have been reports of gunfire in Tripoli this lunchtime, but we have no further firm information.

The United States' action was conducted against five specific targets directly connected with terrorism. It will, of course, he for the United States Government to publish their assessment of the results. However, we now know that there were a number of civilian casualties, some of them children. It is reported that they included members of Colonel Gaddafi's own family.

The casualties are, of course, a matter of great sorrow. We also remember with sadness all those men, women and children who have lost their lives as a result of terrorist acts over the years—so many of them performed at the Libyan Government's behest.

We have no reports of British casualties as a result of the American action or of any subsequent incidents involving British citizens in Libya. I understand that telephone lines to Libya are open and that people in the United Kingdom have been able to contact their relatives there.

As I told the House yesterday, since May 1984 we have had to advise British citizens choosing to live and work in Libya that they do so on their own responsibility and at their own risk. Our consul in the British interests section of the Italian embassy has been and will remain in close touch with representatives of the British community to advise them on the best course of action.