Colombia

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 10th December 2002.

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Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour/Co-operative, North West Leicestershire 2:30 pm, 10th December 2002

If he will make a statement on the political situation in Colombia.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

The new democratically elected Colombian Government face enormous challenges, particularly in their fight against terrorism and the illegal drugs trade, as well as over human rights and Colombia's humanitarian crisis. We support their efforts to tackle all those issues.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour/Co-operative, North West Leicestershire

The United States of America has earmarked $1.3 billion for Plan Colombia, of which 80 per cent. is destined for the military and the police and a pathetic 1 per cent. for the peace process. Can the Minister reassure the House that the millions of euros pledged by the EU nations will be used for the search for an economic, political and social solution to the complex difficulties in Colombia, which have worsened with the endemic violence in that country and the ambivalent attitude of President Uribe to the trafficking of heroin and cocaine?

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I thank my hon. Friend for his interest in those issues. I should make it clear to him that the British Government and the EU more generally have no involvement in Plan Colombia. The British Government are committed through the EU process to a package of Euro330 million to support humanitarian development, the peace process and, particularly, projects involving the rule of law and the defence of human rights. I heard what he said about President Uribe and his alleged past associations. However, despite exhaustive investigations, no evidence to support those allegations has been produced. Nevertheless, we constantly urge Uribe to tackle paramilitaries, collusion and impunity, and we will continue to do so.

Photo of Mr John Wilkinson Mr John Wilkinson Conservative, Ruislip - Northwood

Will the Minister give the Government of Colombia, who have been democratically elected—there is nothing better than the rule of law throughout the country—the fullest possible support, especially in the war against terrorism? Is he aware that hundreds of distinguished Colombian citizens—bishops, priests, mayors, congressmen, judges, senators and countless others—have been kidnapped or have lost their lives as a consequence of terrorism? Can he therefore assure the House that, on behalf of the Government, he will proscribe FARC and the ELN in both Colombia and the EU? Without the elimination of those organisations, the drugs trade will not be eliminated and peace will not be restored.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

We have already introduced a number of the measures that the hon. Gentleman has called for. I very much share his view that we are dealing with a true humanitarian crisis. The statistics show that 2 million people are displaced, 60 per cent. of whom are under 16. More trade unionists were killed in Colombia than in the rest of the world put together last year. The crisis is appalling, and we must support President Uribe's Government. On the point about democratic legitimacy, we certainly take account of the fact that Uribe got 53 per cent. of the vote and has a 70 per cent. approval rating, so there is clearly support for the measures that he has introduced to tackle the crisis. At the same time, however, he must respond to legitimate concerns, especially from non-governmental organisations engaged in the country.

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Labour, Falkirk East

Is my hon. Friend aware of the proposal from human rights organisations for an exchange of kidnapped people for political prisoners in Colombia? Would the Government consider and support such a proposal?

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I am not aware of that, but if my hon. Friend speaks or writes to me about it, I would be more than happy to discuss it.