Overseas Development

Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 12:34 pm on 14th December 1990.

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Photo of Mr David Atkinson Mr David Atkinson , Bournemouth East 12:34 pm, 14th December 1990

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he says. I shall pursue this matter further in the opportunity which is provided on Tuesday 29 January, when the Council of Europe is to debate a report and will inquire into precisely what has happened to the Kurdish refugees in Turkey and to the international aid which has been given to them.

We are talking about the Kurdish refugees from Iraq who are fleeing from the poison gas attacks of Saddam Hussein's air force in 1988, when 3,000 to 5,000 of them were killed. I have a moving account by a 19-year-old boy who saw what happened when those gas bombs were dropped. I shall quote it, because it should be on the record: The bombs dropped and a green smoke arose. The people scratched their eyes, and then shook. They screamed out and then fell to the ground and shook again. Then they were still. We went down into the gorge and found a slime over their eyes and also running from their nose and mouth. The next day, men with goggles and gloves came and piled up the bodies. Some were still alive, but were piled on anyway, and then set on fire. There were screams coming from the burning bodies. They will be with me for the rest of my life. That is Saddam Hussein. How right we are to show that man up for what he is.

The Kurdish people populate five countries—Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and the Soviet Union. Their right to self-determination deserves recognition by the rest of the world, now and certainly when the Gulf crisis is over, or they will continue to be persecuted, continue to be refugees and continue to be tempted into terrorism—some are members of the PKK in Turkey.

Another outstanding problem in the region to be resolved, I hope, after the Gulf dispute is over is that of restoring sovereignty to Lebanon, with the withdrawal of all occupying forces from that country. But the principal outstanding issue to be resolved is the Palestinian problem.

I was encouraged during my discussions with both the Israelis and the Palestinians to find that there is a far narrower gulf between their views than I expected. Their views are defined in the Shamir peace plan produced 18 months ago and the Palestinian National Council declaration of November 1988. Each recognises the rights of the other, in the case of the PLO for the first time. Israel has always maintained that it does not want or need an international conference at which bilateral negotiations can take place such as those which succeeded in the case of Egypt at Camp David. But Israel stands condemned for the current stalemate.

I suggest to my right hon. Friend the Minister and to her colleagues in the Foreign Office that there is no reason why, now or following the resolution of the Gulf crisis, two simultaneous initiatives could not be urged on Israel and the Palestinians. Such initiatives could transform the climate and allow negotiations to commence. The first should be a requirement on Israel to commit itself to negotiate when the intifada has come to an end. The second should be a requirement on the Palestinians to bring the intifada to an end if Israel has made a commitment to negotiate. I have no doubt, that that strategy will be regarded as too simple by half, but I commend it to my right hon. Friend in the hope that it will resolve 42 years of displacement of 2·25 million Palestinian refugees.