Ethiopia/Eritrea Conflict

– in the House of Lords at 3:06 pm on 24th May 2000.

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Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat 3:06 pm, 24th May 2000

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they will take, in the United Nations Security Council and otherwise, to persuade the parties to the current military conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea to resolve their differences about the technical arrangements for implementing the Organisation for African Unity's peace plan.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My Lords, we condemn the return to hostilities between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Fighting can only bring further suffering to the people of both countries. We urge both sides to cease fighting and to re-enter into negotiations with the Organisation for African Unity to achieve a lasting peaceful settlement.

We urge all UN member states to implement fully and to enforce effectively the mandatory arms embargo and the ban on related technical assistance and training imposed by the Security Council in Resolution 1298. We will continue to provide humanitarian aid to the region.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does the noble Baroness agree that the present offensive was initiated by Ethiopia, that in doing so that country was in breach of Article 2.2 of the charter of the United Nations, and that the Security Council should have said so when it considered Resolution 1278? Does she further agree that international pressure has to be concentrated entirely on Ethiopia which is the aggressor state in the present conflict, and that the visit by President Bouteflika, the current chairman of the OAU to Addis Ababa--I understand that it begins this afternoon--is to be warmly welcomed and supported? Pressure has to be exerted on both sides. It is easy at any point in history to put all the blame on one and not the other. That is not helpful. Our main focus must be on getting both sides back to the negotiating table and the cessation of hostilities. We shall commit ourselves entirely to that end.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Conservative

My Lords, would the Minister agree that with the best will in the world it is a little late to think about a peace plan from the OAU or anyone else? The Ethiopians have broken through and are heading for the coast and they are determined to fight while negotiating. We are seeing the unfolding of further major bloodshed in the already blood-soaked Horn of Africa. At this stage, while the Eritreans are in retreat, is not the only hope to persuade the notorious Mr Zenawi and his troops to offer generous peace terms, not to push on with months of killing and fighting, and instead start fighting the famine which is blighting the whole of that area?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My Lords, we have taken every opportunity to highlight to Ethiopia the real tragedy to her people and the Eritreans. The noble Lord is right to concentrate on that. The Ethiopians have pushed forward, but it has been said that it is not their intention to go as far as Asmara. They are concentrating on regaining the land which they say was inappropriately and improperly removed from them. We must do all that we can to encourage them to that end. The OAU is still a useful organ which can and will be employed to the best possible effect. The noble Lord is right in saying that the situation is difficult and that we need to focus on its future resolution.

Photo of Lord Rea Lord Rea Labour

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that if the Ethiopian offensive continues it is likely to trigger another humanitarian disaster in a region that has already had far more than its fair share? Does she also agree that if the offensive continues for long enough there is a danger of restarting the long and bloody guerrilla war which ended only 10 years ago?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My Lords, we are cognisant of that history. One of the tragedies of the development of hostilities between Ethiopia and Eritrea is that these two peoples have fought alongside each other; Eritrean blood runs in Ethiopian veins and vice versa. It is a tragedy. We shall continue to do all we can to encourage them to recognise that that tragedy can be averted and that hostilities should be stopped in order to reach a resolution to the difficulty which will allow both to go forward.

Photo of Lord Thomson of Monifieth Lord Thomson of Monifieth Liberal Democrat

My Lords, on a more mundane level, what might the Government do to persuade the supporters of Ethiopia and Eritrea in London to stop fighting their war in the middle of Whitehall, to allow London to get on with its business and to relieve the over-pressed resources of the Metropolitan Police?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My Lords, I understand the noble Lord's sentiments. For a moment, I thought that he was talking about Members of this House. There has been a deal of disruption and the police are dealing with it cogently and properly. We have seen a peaceful demonstration and are anxious that it should continue that way. We exhort all those who are engaged in it to behave in a more proportionate and reasonable manner.

However, looking at any given point in history one sees almost a competition between Ethiopia and Eritrea as regards which can be more unreasonable than the other.

Photo of Viscount Cranborne Viscount Cranborne Conservative

My Lords, has the Minister seen press reports to the effect that one of the objectives of the Ethiopian army is to destroy the Eritrean armed forces? Can she say whether she believes that that is an objective and, if so, how it might be possible to exert the kind of pressure mentioned by my noble friend Lord Howell?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My Lords, it is impossible to say whether that is their expressed aim because they do not acknowledge it to be so. The Ethiopians have been clear in their view that land was wrongfully removed from them by an act of aggression on the part of the Eritreans and that they want to reclaim that land. They have indicated that once they have done so they may stop.

We do not know whether that is true. The position on the ground is changing rapidly. It has changed dramatically in the past 36 hours. I can say only that we shall continue to assess the situation and try to persuade the Ethiopians that that would be an inappropriate and improper aspiration to fulfil.

Photo of Baroness Trumpington Baroness Trumpington Conservative

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I represented this country in Eritrea at her independence celebrations in 1992? I am concerned about two interests to this country. The first is the British Library in Asmara, which has never closed whatever conflicts have occurred, and the second is the war graves of British and Indian soldiers. Will they be cared for in the present difficult times?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My Lords, I am not able to give the noble Baroness a specific answer. Of course the war graves are a matter of great sentimental attachment to us all, and rightly so. I can undertake to discover what is happening, but I hope that the noble Baroness will appreciate that in these difficult and troubled times it is difficult to obtain an accurate account of what is happening on the ground.

Furthermore, I have no indication that the British Library has been adversely affected. Regrettably, I am not able to confirm that that is the case, but my reply is a negative as opposed to a positive. However, I shall see whether there is specific information about it and write to the noble Baroness if there is any change in what I have said today.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, whatever the professed aims of the Ethiopians may be, would the Minister agree that on the western front their forces have occupied vast tracts of the country which were not in dispute before the war? Would she also agree that yesterday they opened up a fresh offensive on the central front near Zalambessa? Therefore, whatever they may say in public, is it not likely that their aim is to destroy the Eritrean army?

In those circumstances, does not the Minister consider that the Security Council ought to be reconvened in order to pursue the matters raised in its previous two resolutions and to impose fresh sanctions on the Ethiopians, who have flagrantly ignored the two resolutions already passed?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My Lords, the situation is rapidly unfolding. The noble Lord knows that it has changed even in the past 36 hours. It may be that their aspirations will be achieved in the next 24 to 36 hours. A constant reassessment is being made. I can certainly reassure the noble Lord that the Security Council will be capable of acting swiftly, as it acted on 12th May, if those changes merit that.