Sri Lanka

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 1:45 pm on 12th March 1997.

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Photo of John Battle John Battle , Leeds West 1:45 pm, 12th March 1997

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the current political situation in Sri Lanka. [18294]

Photo of Neil Gerrard Neil Gerrard , Walthamstow

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the current situation in Sri Lanka; and if he will make a statement. [18303]

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

We believe that the tragic ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka can be resolved only through peaceful negotiation. We continue to support the Sri Lankan Government's efforts to find a solution and we have called on the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to reach a negotiated settlement.

Photo of John Battle John Battle , Leeds West

In view of the continuing and escalating oppression of the Tamil people, particularly in the Jaffna province, may I urge the Minister to suggest to the United Nations that, in seeking a peaceful resolution to the conflict, it involves the world solidarity forum for justice and peace in Sri Lanka, which seeks to give a hearing to, among others, the more moderate Tamil voice in Sri Lanka. The forum is a well-respected body with international support. It is supported in my constituency by the Bishop and diocese of Ripon, who have had a long-standing relationship with Sri Lanka and are anxious that urgent action be taken to resolve this conflict and to achieve a peaceful resolution.

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The situation in Sri Lanka is complex, but the political parties there, which already cover a wide spectrum of Sri Lankan society, are increasingly aware of the need for a negotiated settlement. To that end, it is important that they achieve in the first instance a negotiated devolution package, which they are working on at present. The House will no doubt wish all politicians in Sri Lanka well on that matter.

Photo of Neil Gerrard Neil Gerrard , Walthamstow

I welcome what the Minister has said, but he obviously appreciates that there is still a civil war in Sri Lanka and that Tamils from the north of the country particularly are trapped, effectively, between two warring armies and have no internal route of escape. He has said that the British Government are calling on both sides in the conflict to negotiate a settlement. Does he agree that there may potentially be a role for the British Government to do more than simply call for a settlement, and that, if the opportunity arose, the Government would be prepared to facilitate—and, if necessary, even mediate in—reaching a settlement, while accepting that, obviously, we cannot possibly impose a settlement from outside the country?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

It is self-evident that the UK would neither be able nor would wish to impose any settlement on another democratic Commonwealth member. There are two parts to the hon. Gentleman's question. The first relates to the civilians and, of course, we remain concerned about the impact of the fighting on the civilian population in the north, particularly displaced persons in the Vani. We have impressed on the Sri Lankan Government the need to get humanitarian supplies through to those people. We are extremely impressed by the willingness of the Sri Lankan Government to do so.

On mediation and facilitation, we have always made it clear that our good offices are there should two parties in any dispute seek to use them, but both parties would need to do so and, at present. there is no sign that that will happen.