Kampuchea

– in the House of Commons at 12:16 am on 21st January 1988.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Lennox-Boyd.]

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd , Cynon Valley 12:17 am, 21st January 1988

I am grateful for the opportunity of this Adjournment debate.

It is now nine years since Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge regime were ousted from Kampuchea by the invading Vietnamese army. Some weeks ago, while we were in the country visiting Oxfam-supported projects and meeting senior Government officials, the first peace talks to try to resolve the conflict were taking place in Paris, between Kampuchea's Prime Minister, Hun Sen, and Prince Sihanouk, former ruler of Cambodia and until recently the president of the so-called Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea, which is dominated by Khmer Rouge and receives cash and recognition from Western Governments. At this moment, the second round of talks is going on in Paris.

People in Kampuchea are very excited and optimistic about the talks, because they are desperate for peace. That is not surprising in a country where over 1 million people were killed, tortured, starved and persecuted between 1975 and 1978.

The Vietnamese invasion at that time saved many other Kampucheans from being killed by Pol Pot. The major reason that they stay there, and the Kampucheans need their presence, is that the Khmer Rouge continues to launch guerrilla attacks within the country from the Thai border.

Incredibly, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge are given international recognition at the United Nations, as one of the components of the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea. Britain was one of the Governments who, incredibly, support the group.

On our first day in Phnom Penh we were taken by our guide to see a school in which the Khmer Rouge had imprisoned, tortured and killed about 16,000 of its victims. Only five were known to have escaped alive as the Vietnamese liberated the city from Pol Pot. I asked our guide, in a shocking reminder of the three years, eight months and 20 days of Pol Pot terror, what he had done before the Pol Pot regime. "A student of literature," he said, "hoping to become a teacher." "And now?" "All our dreams have been changed," he said quietly.

We were taken to see the mass graves just outside one of the villages. The remains are now to be seen in a grisly exhibition. Hundreds of skulls were stacked together and other human bones were in a separate pile. Anyone who saw the film "The Killing Fields" will realise the horror of those scenes.

In Phnom Penh itself, the capital, once an elegant and civilised city, now almost no house has water above ground floor level and there are few indoor toilets. Pigs, cattle and hens wander around the main streets. The water supply is erratic. There is little street lighting. There is a curfew at 9 o'clock every night because of continuing guerrilla attacks by the Khmer Rouge.

The city's waterworks is one of the projects that Oxfam assists. It would cost millions of pounds to modernise. Without bilateral aid, that would be impossible. Oxfam currently has a £1·5 million programme in the country, supporting such infrastructure work normally funded by the United Nations or by bilateral aid. The British Government do not recognise the Kampuchean Government. They consider them to be a puppet of Vietnam and therefore give no aid. Oxfam is assisting in the rehabilitation of an essential ferry link and workshop, and also with the important jute industry. These have all been the object of guerrilla attacks by forces morally backed by Western Governments.

Since 1979, Kampuchea has made progress in education, health and industry, but it is still a long way behind the standards of other developing countries. At the rate it is going, it will be many years before it can restore the damage done by wars to the country and especially to the people. The lack of educated and technically skilled people is a major problem for a country attempting to rebuild. Thousands were deliberately exterminated by Pol Pot.

There are only five vets in the entire country, and of 20,000 teachers only 5,000 remain. By 1979 Pol Pot had destroyed education, money, industry and culture. There was no public transport, no telephones or postal system and hardly any clean water, electricity or sanitation. Now only 1 per cent. of the population has access to a clean water supply.

In the main paediatric hospital in Phnom Penh the doctor in charge told us that only six doctors out of 500 of his generation had survived. Now one in six children under five dies from fever, typhoid, dysentry and diseases related to malnutrition.

Compared with several African countries, Kampuchea clearly has many resources. It has the potential to be self-sufficient in food and even to export. Today it cannot even produce enough to feed itself. The quantity of aid received by the country means that it can only stay at that level of development. Other countries are generous in emergencies, supplying food and seed, but they will not provide the tools that would help Kampuchea to rehabilitate, for example, the irrigation sector to enable it to improve control of the water or the equipment to increase the catch of fish. The absurdity of the present position is that everything is there to make the country self-sufficient.

There is a feeling of great insecurity. People do not know what is going to happen tomorrow, let alone next week or next year. They are afraid and discouraged. They cannot get the kind of aid they want. The backing they had hoped for from from the West is not there, and they are being dragged into a strong alliance and debt with the Eastern bloc, especially Vietnam.

From conversations with senior Government Ministers, officials and others in Kampuchea I am certain that they do not want that. They would like a more open system and relationship with the West. Under the present climate of hostility and repeated warfare, the Hun Sen Government in Kampuchea have never been given a chance to establish good relations with the West. Certainly no one would dispute that in foreign affairs and security matters there is a strong Vietnamese influence because they see Kampuchea as a legitimate security interest for them. They do not want a country backed by China on their southern as well as their northern border. So it is important for them that Kampuchea remains friendly.

There seems no reason to doubt Vietnam's repeated assertions that it is prepared to withdraw completely from Kampuchea by 1990, and before then, if a political settlement can be reached. A few miles from the border of Kampuchea in Thailand, about 275,000 Kampucheans are living in eight closed camps. They are controlled by three political groupings that make up the United Nations-recognised Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea. The strongest military group is the Khmer Rouge, still led by the same people who were responsible for killing the Kampucheans between 1975 and 1978.

Although ostensibly civilian, the camps serve the prime function of supporting the anti-Vietnamese resistance movement. According to the International Council of Voluntary Agencies and the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, the camps are all used as rest and relaxation centres for soldiers returning from the front. Four of the camps run by the Khmer Rouge are closed to UN monitoring, which is ironic, as one of the arguments used by the West for not giving aid to Kampuchea is that it cannot be monitored. That does not seem to matter when it comes to giving aid on the border.

Surely the greatest need is to get people out of the camps because they are virtually prisoners there. We do not want another Palestinian camp on the borders of south-east Asia. How long are the West and the world prepared to leave those people rotting on the border?

Meanwhile the people of Kampuchea continue to suffer. Trapped between super-power and regional rivalries, they are still isolated by the majority of Governments as though they were personally to blame for the presence of the Vietnamese.

I urge the Government, who could play such an important role in this matter, to reconvene the 1954 Geneva conference on Indochina, which was co-chaired by the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, and to promote a negotiated settlement that would isolate Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. In the meantime, I ask the Government, as a matter of the greatest urgency, to provide reconstruction and development aid as soon as possible to Kampuchea, a country that has suffered so much for so long.

Photo of Mr James Lester Mr James Lester , Broxtowe 12:28 am, 21st January 1988

I am pleased to be able to join the debate briefly. It deserves more time on a major occasion.

I agree very much with the description by the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) of our visit to Kampuchea, Phnom Penh and the other regions. I am pleased that, since we returned and spoke to my hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development, the Government have changed their policy and are prepared to consider humanitarian schemes in Kampuchea, which is a step forward that we welcome.

Kampuchea is a victim of international circumstance, trapped between the two major nations of Thailand and Vietnam. Historically, it has always been a ground between them, either for security or for envy of its potential for agricultural development. There is no question but that the talks yesterday and the next four rounds of talks give hope for the peace that is so desperately desired by the people living in Kampuchea, and for an end to the uncertainty and nightmare that has occurred there since I entered the House in 1974—since when Pol Pot arrived and was defeated.

Then there must be progress, as the hon. Lady said, towards self-sufficiency. Kampuchea is a country of great potential. It is beautiful, and could not only be self-sufficient but could play a part under a reconstructed Government in ASEAN. It would be helpful if the Government, with their traditional diplomatic skills, were asked by ASEAN and other countries to reconvene the international conference, which, it is to be hoped, would follow an agreement between Prince Sihanouk and Hun Sen that would restore that part of the world.

I have also travelled to Thailand and have visited the camps on the border. There is no way in which those people have a future in the present situation. There is no opportunity for third country development. There has been an agreement since we went to Kampuchea before Christmas, with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, I think, that those refugees can now, should they be allowed to leave the camps, return to their homes and to the acres of potential agricultural development. One million hectares are currently lying idle.

I support the suggestion that we play as active and as diplomatic a role as possible to bring an end to the suffering of that country and that region.

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin , Sunderland South 12:31 am, 21st January 1988

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) and the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) on raising this issue. I think that the British public will be very surprised that Her Majesty's Government are supporting, and have supported for some years, the dreaded Khmer Rouge. It is in my view a wicked and cynical state of affairs, the purpose of which is to bleed Vietnam. I know that many British diplomats in the area who have dealt with this in one capacity or another are deeply ashamed of what has quietly been going on.

I recognise that we are a very junior partner in this enterprise and that the main villains are China, which supplies the guns, Thailand, where the guns are transported in Thai army lorries directly to the Khmer Rouge, and the Americans, who have organised the lobby at the United Nations that causes our representative and the representatives of many other Governments to vote each year, first of all for the Khmer Rouge directly, and in the last few years for the coalition which is a thinly disguised front for the Khmer Rouge. As I say, we are only a junior partner in this enterprise, but it is one of the most humiliating examples of our satellite status in relation to the United States.

I have travelled in that region quite a lot in the last 15 years. I was in Kampuchea during the war, before the rise of Pol Pot, and I was there in the immediate aftermath of Pol Pot.

A couple of years ago, in Bangkok, I called at the British embassy and said to a gentleman there that we appeared to be supporting the Khmer Rouge. He said, "Oh, no. It is all going to be different this time. Mr. Reagan has promised that the Khmer Rouge is to have free elections." I said, "Please tell me that I am not hearing this." He repeated what he had said. He said, "I know why you are worried, I have read the books; but it is all going to be different this time." I repeated, "Please tell me that I am not hearing this." He said "Are we talking off the record?" I said that we were and he said, "Quite frankly, I think it is appalling." That was a representative of Her Majesty's Government.

Everybody connected with this shameful enterprise is deeply ashamed of it and I hope that in his speech this evening the Minister will face up to the situation squarely and not try to pretend that we are not supporting the coalition with Mr. Son Sann and Sihanouk and making it look respectable. The people who are doing the fighting are the Khmer Rouge. The guns are coming from China. The food is coming from the West, and we make a contribution to that food. We know exactly where it is going, and the only way we have got away with it all these years is by not talking about it, and I am glad to see that the days when we do not talk about it are coming to an end.

Photo of Mr Timothy Eggar Mr Timothy Eggar , Enfield North 12:34 am, 21st January 1988

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) and the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) in congratulating the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) on raising this subject and on giving us such a graphic account of her recent visit to Cambodia.

During this debate I will refer to Cambodia rather than Kampuchea, because, of course, Cambodia is the name which is preferred by the majority of that country's inhabitants to the term Kampuchea, which was first brought into vogue by the Khmer Rouge regime.

Let me say at the outset that the Government fully share the concerns raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House in this debate. We too wish to do all that we can to help the Cambodian people to recover from the terrible hardships that they have suffered and, indeed, continue to suffer.

I very much welcome this opportunity to explain our policy. Our policy is based on the conviction that the peace, stability and long-term prosperity of that unhappy country, and, indeed, of the region, depends on the reestablishment of an independent and non-aligned Cambodia. That means a Cambodia free of all foreign troops. It means a Cambodia with a Government freely chosen by its own people.

Our policy is rooted in the fundamental principles of the United Nations' charter and I am amazed that the hon. Members for Cynon Valley and for Sunderland, South have not referred to that. At last year's General Assembly, proposals based on those principles were endorsed by an overwhelming majority. Indeed, they have been so endorsed for the past nine years.

The tragedy is that that annual endorsement should be necessary, that we should have to say again and again that these basic principles should apply to Cambodia as they apply to the rest of the world. The reason that we have to do that is simple and straightforward and it is Vietnam's completely illegal occupation of Cambodia; indeed, Vietnam's cynical and flagrant disregard for the principles of international law.

Photo of Mr Timothy Eggar Mr Timothy Eggar , Enfield North

The hon. Gentleman has already taken part in the debate. I want to try to make my speech to state the Government's position clearly and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand if I prefer not to give way.

The description given by the hon. Member for Cynon Valley of the relationship of Cambodia with Vietnam might most charitably be described as imaginative.

Vietnam can be in no doubt about the strength of world opinion. Last year 117 countries—more than ever before — supported the United Nations' resolution on Cambodia. Those 117 countries could hardly be dismissed, as they have been tonight, as "a group". But Vietnam, and its Soviet paymasters, ignore the views of that overwhelming number of countries, just as they ignore Cambodian demands for freedom. We cannot, and will not, accept this unlawful, cruel and oppressive occupation.

Cambodia is governed by a regime which is utterly without legitimacy. [Interruption.] The dependence of the so-called Heng Samrin[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Sunderland, South has not been a Member of the House for long, but he should have learned by now to listen to the contributors to an Adjournment debate. I did him that courtesy, despite the fact that he did not tell me that he wished to take part. I request at least some courtesy in return.

Cambodia is governed by a regime utterly without legitimacy. That regime was hastily cobbled together by the Vietnamese on the eve of their invasion. Without the presence of massive Vietnamese forces, the regime simply would not exist.

Vietnam's supporters say that the United Nations' vote is a vote for the odious Khmer Rouge. That is nonsense. The annual vote is a ringing endorsement of the rights of the Cambodian people. But when the Vietnamese seek to join the worldwide protest at the Khmer Rouge record on human rights, let us not forget that for years it was the Vietnamese who tried to block discussion in the United Nations and elsewhere. Is this a conversion on the road to Damascus, or a cynical tactic? Only yesterday the House was hearing of the continuing plight of the boat people. The House yesterday drew a clear conclusion about the regime in Vietnam.

We have no doubt that, given a free choice, the people of Cambodia would resoundingly reject the Khmer Rouge. We withdrew recognition from the appalling Pol Pot regime in 1979. Hearing the words of the hon. Members for Cynon Valley and for Sunderland, South tonight, it is strange to recall that it was a Labour Government who saw fit to establish relations with Pol Pot in 1976.

The resistance to the Heng Samrin regime is broadly based. The resistance, in the shape of the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea, represents not simply the Khmer Rouge but the non-Communist groups of former Head of State Prince Sihanouk and of Mr. Son Sann.

Prince Sihanouk in particular retains widespread loyalty among Cambodians, both within and outside Cambodia. The Vietnamese know this only too well; it is one reason why they retain such massive military forces in Cambodia. They cannot trust Heng Samrin's troops to fight the resistance. Too many of the regime's troops share the aims of the resistance.

The continuing talks between Prince Sihanouk and Hun Sen are a welcome breakthrough in the diplomatic impasse. We hope they may be the first steps towards a negotiated settlement, but we cannot underestimate the obstacles.

Vietnam should withdraw all its troops from Cambodia now and signal its readiness to enter serious negotiations. Sadly, we have seen no evidence of a change of heart in Hanoi. Instead, Vietnam, supported by the Soviet Union, flagrantly and consistently ignores world opinion. It talks grandly of international conferences, but shows no readiness to negotiate. Vietnam's talk of an international conference is nothing but a smokescreen and a propaganda ploy.

Hon. Members have rightly raised the appalling plight of the ordinary people of Cambodia. We already give substantial aid to the most affected Cambodians—those forced by Vietnamese aggression to flee across the border to Thailand. In 1984, there were 230,000 people in the camps. Today there are 275,000. More are arriving every day. They have fled in search of safety. Yet Vietnamese aggression on the Thai-Cambodian border has caused further casualites. Last year saw the cynical shelling by the Vietnamese of the main refugee camp, site 2.

We and most other aid donors agree that it is vital to help these people, and I too have visited the camps. this view was endorsed by the Foreign Affairs Committee of this House only last year. Since 1985, we have channelled £3·7 million through the United Nations border relief operation, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Red Cross and other voluntary agencies, and I pay tribute to the work of those agencies.

We are ready to respond to further appeals by these organisations, within the limits of resources available. I should stress that this aid is solely humanitarian, such as medical and food supplies. We give no military assistance and no aid whatever goes to the Khmer Rouge, either directly or indirectly.

Hon. Members have also called for aid to Cambodia itself. I understand, and share, their desire to alleviate suffering. With other donors, we keep under constant review the possible need for emergency relief. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe that we would look open-mindedly at support for any internationally organised relief effort inside Cambodia.

But we cannot accept that at this time we should give development assistance to a regime which depends for its very existence on Vietnamese occupying forces. We cannot allow Vietnam to bankroll its oppression of Cambodia with western aid. It would be a negation of the very principles of aid itself.

Vietnamese cynicism knows no bounds. Vietnam is bankrupt. Even its Soviet paymaster is grumbling about misuse of aid it has given. But, instead of pulling out of Cambodia and setting its own economy in order, Vietnam holds out a begging bowl to the west. A Government whose policies have led to the forced expulsion of over a million of their own inhabitants plead for "humanitarian" assistance. What an irony.

We watch with interest recent diplomatic moves. We wish them well, but the fundamental requirement is a change of heart in Hanoi and in Moscow. We call again on Vietnam to enter negotiations, and on the Soviet Union to use its influence to promote those negotiations. We look for a will to negotiate and a will to find an end to suffering.

Our condemnation of Vietnamese occupation enjoys the widest international support. Our position is shared by our partners in the European Community, it is shared by our friends in the Association of South East Asian Nations and it is shared widely, as evidenced by the UN vote, among the non-aligned.

The Government believe that we must work to maintain and strengthen this unanimity of international view. It offers the best, and indeed the only, prospect of restoring independence to Cambodia and thereby safeguarding the lives and well-being of its people.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at fifteen minutes to One o'clock.