Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th May 1988.

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Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell , Gedling 12:00 am, 4th May 1988

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent ministerial contact there has been with the Ethiopian Government.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

The most recent occasions were when I visited Ethiopia in April 1987 and when my hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development did so in January this year. At the request of the Ethiopian Government, his return visit this month has been postponed.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell , Gedling

When my right hon. Friend next meets representatives of the Ethiopian Government, will she make clear the widespread concern in the House and country about the escalation of the civil war in Ethiopia? In particular, will she express our deep concern about the way in which aid and relief agencies are being treated, particularly the United Nations and the Red Cross, the latter of which has been banned from doing the valuable work that it was previously undertaking in that country?

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

We greatly regret the escalation in fighting. It is truly a tragic situation. As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, there are serious implications for the famine relief operations. We have urged the Ethiopian Government to reconsider their decision. Other donors have made similar representations, and, following the visit to Ethiopia last week of the United Nations Secretary General's envoy, Mr. Ahtisaari, we understand that some expatriate staff of the United Nations world trucking operation in Ethiopia are to be permitted to return to Eritrea to restart operations. We hope that the Ethiopian Government will soon permit a full resumption of relief activities, including those by Red Cross officials. We must remember that half the 7 million people who are at risk from famine are in Eritrea and Tigré.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence)

Will the Minister confirm that the Ethiopian Government are in possession of the nerve gas Tabun and that Her Majesty's Government will make representations to the Ethiopian Government that it should not be used or deployed against the Eritrean People's Liberation Front in any circumstances?

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

I am interested to hear what the hon. and learned Gentleman says, and I shall look into it further, but we have no evidence that the Ethiopian Government have used or intend to use the weapons. The United Kingdom would unreservedly condemn the use of chemical weapons. I am pleased to say that my hon. and learned Friend was assured by the Soviet ambassador last week that his Government will not supply chemical weapons to Ethiopia, or, we hope, other similar weapons.

Photo of Bernard Braine Bernard Braine , Castle Point

My right hon. Friend will be aware that, for 13 long years, 10 members of the former imperial family of Ethiopia—seven of them women and most of them in bad health—have been held without trial. So far the military regime has been deaf to pleas from Heads of State and Governments, including our own. Will my right hon. Friend give the House an assurance that every step will be taken, in conjunction with other Governments, to bring home to the military regime the iniquity and cruelty of what is being done and not hesitate to bring every pressure to bear to end this gross injustice?

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on all his efforts to secure the release of the royal prisoners in Ethiopia. He has made many humanitarian efforts, now with the Addis relief campaign, to focus attention on the prisoners. We have made, and we continue to make, repeated representations. That has been going on throughout the years. We very much regret that, in spite of official Ethiopian indications that the royal prisoners would be released last year, they still remain in prison. I can give my right hon. Friend a full assurance that we shall continue to take up the plight of these unfortunate royal prisoners at every suitable opportunity and in conjunction with other Governments.