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Written Answers. - Foreign Conflicts.

Wednesday, 27 March 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 551 No. 3

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 107. Mr. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan  asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen  the position in the former Yugoslavia with particular reference to Albania, Montenegro, Kosovo and Macedonia; if he has satisfied himself that peace and democracy is being restored; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10613/02]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen I refer the Deputy to my replies to his questions of 7 February 2002, in which I outlined my general position, and that of the EU, regarding the development and maintenance of stability in the western Balkans. Since 7 February several encouraging moves towards peace and the establishment of democracy in the region have taken place.

The agreement, brokered on 14 March by Javier Solana, between Serbian and Montenegrin leaders on a new joint state of Serbia and Montenegro, was welcomed by the European Council. Once ratified by all parties, this new state will replace the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and, coming after ten years of conflict and instability, marks an important contribution to the stability and development of the western Balkans. A key factor in the successful conclusion of negotiations was the acknowledgement by both the Serbian and Montenegrin sides that engagement, in particular economic engagement, with the European Union was vital to their shared future. Much work remains to be done on both sides in order to ensure the viability of the new state, particularly from an economic perspective. The EU has [825] declared its support in the context of the stabilisation and association process (SAP) and has also offered its advice and assistance to the new state.

Political consultations between officials from my Department and Foreign Minister Svilanovic and his officials took place in Belgrade last week. During discussions with Mr. Svilanovic, my officials stressed, inter alia, the need for better co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, and the issue of the release or relocation to Kosovo of the remaining Kosovar Albanian prisoners in Serbia. In this regard I was very pleased to learn that all of the prisoners were released to the custody of UNMIK on Tuesday, 26 March. Discussions also took place on economic development and the deepening of bilateral relations between our two countries.

Ireland, along with our EU partners, has welcomed the recent positive developments in Kosovo, namely the election by the new Assembly of the President of Kosovo, Mr. Ibrahim Rugova, and the establishment of a government led by Prime Minister Rexhepi, which mark an important step forward in the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999).

On 22 February the Albanian Parliament approved the appointment of the new Prime Minister Pandeli Majko. This is an important step forward for the country following months of political instability and Mr. Majko and his cabinet have stated that their top priorities are to fight against corruption and illegal trafficking and to work towards Albania's integration into Europe. It is hoped that this will give a new impetus to the reform process and lead to the opening of real dialogue between the EU and Albania on a stabilisation and association agreement, SAA.

Progress has been made in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, FYROM, on the implementation of the Framework Agreement, which enabled a donors' conference for the country to go ahead on 12 March. The conference drew pledges of €307 million for the reconstruction of war damaged infrastructure, implementation of economic reforms and support for the Framework Agreement. Ireland pledged €315,000 at the conference, a 20% increase on our funding for FYROM in 2001.

Ireland continues to support the policy of the EU that concentrating the energies of the region on economic development, institutional reform and European integration is the best way to bring about stability and overcome conflict. The EU is committed to continuing economic assistance under the SAP, which represents the best way forward in terms of the integration of the western Balkans countries into European structures while building regional structures.

[826]

 108. Mr. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan  asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen  the position Ireland is taking at the UN in the matter of the Chechen conflict; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10614/02]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen The issue of human rights in Chechnya will be discussed at the 58th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR), which began in Geneva on 18 March and will continue until the end of April.

The Russian Federation has made it clear that it is opposed to the adoption of a resolution on human rights in Chechnya by the Commission on Human Rights, and that it does not wish to see continued discussion of the situation in Chechnya at the UNCHR in future years. The Russian Federation viewed last year's resolution on this issue as “unobjective and unbalanced”.

Ireland, together with our EU partners, takes the view that despite progress since last year, there remains serious cause for concern regarding the protection of the human rights of civilians in Chechnya. We acknowledge the right of the Government of the Russian Federation to defend its territorial integrity, to fight against terrorism and crime and to protect its population, and we welcome recent moves by the Russian Federation to improve the investigation of human rights violations. However, the fight against terrorism must be conducted in accordance with internationally accepted human rights standards. Credible reports of human rights violations perpetrated both by Chechen fighters and by the Russian security forces are still emerging.

Ireland considers that our concerns in this respect must be raised in the context of the Commission on Human Rights. Discussions are under way with our EU partners to enable us to reach an understanding with Russia on an agreed chairman's statement on Chechnya which would highlight our continuing concern.

Question No. 109 answered with Question No. 35.

 110. Mr. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan  asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen  if he has satisfied himself that adequate aid is reaching those in need following the conflict in Afghanistan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10616/02]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen The significant humanitarian support being provided by the Government to Afghanistan points to the enormity of the task which we and other members of the international donor community face in helping the vulnerable people of that country.

At the International Conference on Reconstruction Assistance to Afghanistan which I attended in Tokyo on 21 January, Ireland and other international donors made combined pledges of $1.8 billion to Afghanistan for 2002 and in excess of $4.5 billion to cover the next five years. This year marks the first phase of the [827] Government's Tokyo pledge to provide €12 million in reconstruction support over a three-year period. At the same time, we are continuing to respond to the humanitarian crisis. So far this year, a total of over €1 million has been provided between humanitarian assistance and reconstruction support. This dual approach by the Government is intended to assist progress in terms of both the survival and recovery of the Afghan people. It means that our combined support for Afghanistan this year will equal, if not exceed, the €5.08 million provided during 2001.

The real challenge facing the international donor community is to deliver on their reconstruction pledges while continuing to respond effectively to the humanitarian crisis. Millions of Afghans remain at risk and face the prospect of a fourth successive year of drought on top of ongoing food shortages, displacement, sporadic conflict and the severities of winter. The situation on the ground remains both complex and volatile. While thousands of refugees are now returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan and Iran, an estimated 47,000 new refugees have fled Afghanistan since the start of this year due to drought, insecurity and ethnic tensions. Aid agencies are having to be extremely flexible in responding to these developments.

In many remote areas, insecurity, poor infrastructure and a lack of communications are continuing to hamper the international relief effort. The World Food Programme is implementing helicopter-assisted responses in severely affected areas. Irish and other non-governmental organisations are arranging special animal convoys to deliver food to areas made inaccessible to trucks by the winter snows. It is recognised by the aid community in Afghanistan that the humanitarian emergency is set to continue in that country for at least the next 18 months.

In his report on the situation in Afghanistan of 18 March 2002, the UN Secretary General has reiterated that Afghanistan will require massive amounts of international assistance for the foreseeable future in order to meet current humanitarian needs, initiate recovery and work towards the long-term reconstruction of the country. The challenges of responding adequately to the needs of the Afghan people are, therefore, set to continue for some time and leave no room for complacency. The Government will continue to reflect the spirit of the Secretary General's report by responding substantially to both the ongoing humanitarian emergency and the longer-term needs of reconstruction in Afghanistan.

Question No. 111 answered with Question No. 28.

 112. Mr. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan  asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen  the position regarding the situation in Somalia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10618/02]

[828]Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen Since my reply to the Deputy on this matter last month, Ireland has continued to give prominence to Somalia at the UN Security Council. We have reiterated our support for the Arta peace process, which continues to be the most viable basis for peace and national reconciliation in Somalia, and reaffirmed our commitment to a comprehensive and lasting settlement of the situation in Somalia.

Ireland strongly supports the forthcoming National Reconciliation Conference, due to be held in Kenya in April 2002. We urge all parties in Somalia to participate constructively in the conference and we welcome the efforts of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to co-ordinate their efforts for national reconciliation in Somalia.

We call on all states in the region to use their influence to bring on board Somali groups that have not yet joined the peace process. Ireland is a member of the International Partners' Forum – IPF – which seeks to support the work of the IGAD.

Ireland continues to closely monitor the humanitarian situation in Somalia. As the Deputy will be aware, the recent UN Inter-Agency Mission to Somalia concluded that the security situation in the country was not yet conducive to establishing a peace building programme at this time. We will continue to use our position on the Security Council to press for further UN engagement in Somalia when conditions permit.

 113. Mr. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan  asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen  the position regarding the monitoring of the situation in Rwanda; if he has satisfied himself that adequate procedures exist to protect democracy and freedom; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10619/02]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen Ireland continues to closely monitor the situation in Rwanda. Since my reply to the Deputy on this matter last month there have been no major political developments to report.

The Government of Rwanda is currently participating in the inter-Congolese dialogue which got under way in Sun City, South Africa, on 25 February. We view the inter-Congolese dialogue as a crucial element of the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement as it is intended to lead to representative governance and democratic elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Following a violation of the ceasefire in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) by the rebel group Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) on 15 March, the UN Security Council called on Rwanda to exert its influence on the RCD to withdraw from the areas it had occupied in contravention of the Lusaka Agreement. The RCD subsequently complied with the demand of the Security Council.

The internal security situation in Rwanda remains relatively calm. We welcome the estab[829] lishment of the Gacaca courts which will try people accused of genocide who are not wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. It is hoped that these courts will administer justice in an even-handed way that is fair both to defendants and to their victims.

 114. Mr. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan  asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen  the position in relation to developments in Mozambique; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10620/02]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen Ireland continues to closely monitor the situation in Mozambique. Since my reply to the Deputy on this matter last month, there have been no significant developments in the political situation in Mozambique.

We note the concerns of the Government of Mozambique about regional insecurity, brought about by the deteriorating economic and political situation in Zimbabwe. Indeed, we urge the Government of Mozambique and all members of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) to work towards national reconciliation in Zimbabwe.

The political situation in Mozambique remains stable. On the economic front, Mozambique has experienced significant growth in recent years. Good rains last December mean that the agricultural sector will continue to develop. Despite these positive indications, many people still face food shortages and uncertainty following two consecutive years of flooding. Ireland welcomes the Government's efforts in resettling the population, resuming food production and basic services, and reconstructing basic infrastructures.

Mozambique is a priority country for Ireland Aid, and a total of €29.26 million has been allocated for the country programme for 2002.

 115. Mr. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan  asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen  the extent to which he and his UN and EU colleagues are engaged in the situation in Ethiopia; the degree to which achievements have been made to date, if any, or are likely in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10621/02]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen Ireland continues to closely monitor the situation in Ethiopia. Since my reply to the Deputy on this matter last month there have been no major political developments to report.

Under the Algiers Agreement, the United Nations established a boundary commission to delimit and demarcate the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The Boundary Commission decision has been postponed until early April and its acceptance by both sides will be a crucial test of the peace process. In February 2002, Ireland took part in a Security Council visit to the region, and met with Prime Minister Meles in Addis Ababa. The mission conveyed to Prime Minister [830] Meles the monumental importance attached to the acceptance by both sides of the findings of the boundary commission. The mission commended the Prime Minister on his recent reiterations of Ethiopia's commitment to abide by the determination of the commission and stressed that all steps necessary for implementation should commence as soon as the determination is known.

The European Union will continue to engage the Government of Ethiopia in the consultation process provided for under Article 8 of the Cotonou Agreement with regard to democratic principles, good governance and the rule of law.

 116. Mr. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan  asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen  about the situation in Eritrea; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10622/02]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen It is over a year since Eritrea and Ethiopia signed a comprehensive peace agreement in Algiers bringing an end to their border war. Since the implementation of the agreement, much progress has been achieved. With the exception of some isolated incidents, Ethiopia and Eritrea have complied with their commitments under the Algiers Peace Agreement.

Ireland continues to play an active role in the peace process, bilaterally and at the UN Security Council.

In December 2001, Ireland deployed 220 troops to Asmara to join the United Nations Mission to Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE).

Under the Algiers Agreement, the United Nations established a boundary commission to delimit and demarcate the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The boundary commission decision is due to be released in early April and its acceptance by both sides will be a crucial test of the peace process. In February 2002, Ireland took part in a Security Council visit to the region, and met with President Isayas in Asmara, as well as travelling to the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) to witness the work of UNMEE. The aim of the mission was to encourage confidence building measures and reconciliation between the two countries, as well as relaying to the parties the monumental importance attached to their acceptance of the boundary commission's determination. As such, the mission can be considered successful. The mission welcomed the commitment made by President Isayas to abide by the determination of the Boundary Commission. In March 2002, Minister for Defence, Deputy Smith, visited our troops in Eritrea and took the opportunity to convey once again to President Isayas that the international community expects Eritrea to abide by the terms of the Algiers Agreement. President Isayas confirmed his earlier commitment to abide by the findings of the Boundary Commission.

The internal political situation in Eritrea continues to give cause for concern. The elections [831] which were due to be held in December 2001 have been postponed and no new date has been provided. On 23 November 2001, EU Heads of Mission in Asmara met with President Isayas and conveyed to him our concerns regarding restrictions on press freedoms and the arrest of political figures.

The humanitarian situation in Eritrea still gives cause for concern. To date this year, Ireland has agreed emergency and rehabilitation funding for Eritrea of almost €700,000.

 117. Mr. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan  asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen  the position in Burma; the extent to which he has used his influence in a positive way to improve the situation there; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10623/02]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen As the Deputy is aware, the Burmese people are ruled by a repressive military junta which has refused to recognise the results of the democratic 1990 elections. Under this regime, there has been a systematic abuse of the civil and political rights and fundamental freedoms of the Burmese people. Basic political rights have been curtailed, the offices of the opposition National League for Democracy closed and its members imprisoned, including its leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest in Rangoon since 1989. UN, EU and NGO reports confirm that political prisoners are held in sub-standard jail conditions. Minority ethnic groups, in particular, suffer systematic human rights abuses. The military is engaged in violent conflict with armed groups in many areas of the country and there are reports of serious violations of the rights of innocent civilians, particularly refugees, in these areas of conflict. Moreover, Burma is experiencing a high level of HIV infection.

Ireland, in common with most EU countries and the majority of nations worldwide, does not have diplomatic relations with Burma. Over the past decade, the Government has been closely following developments in Burma, looking, in particular, for some sign of change in the military's attitude towards the restoration of democracy and respect for fundamental human rights.

Over the past year, there have been some positive developments. The military regime has released a number of political prisoners detained since the early 1990s. The offices of the National League for Democracy were re-opened and confidence building contacts were established between the military and Aung San Suu Kyi, under the auspices of the special envoy of the United Nations Secretary General for Burma, Mr. Razali. Contacts with the International Labour Organisation and the UN Commission on Human Rights were also resumed. Ceasefires were agreed with various ethnic armed groups. These developments, while welcome, do not represent concrete or irreversible developments [832] towards the restoration of democracy or national reconciliation. For this reason, pressure will be maintained on Burma on a number of fronts.

On the human rights front, Ireland is co-sponsoring a strongly worded resolution on Burma at the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. The draft resolution strongly urges the Burmese Government to ensure full respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms and goes on to list specific areas for concrete action, notably in relation to political rights, the rights of women and children and minorities, the protection of prisoners and refugees and labour rights. On the issue of forced labour, the ILO is considering further action against Burma following a disappointing visit by its team of monitors last month. During the visit, the military Government refused the ILO's request to establish a permanent presence in the country and refused access to Aung San Suu Kyi, despite a commitment by the military Government to eliminate all forms of forced labour in Burma.

The UN Secretary General's special envoy to Burma, Mr. Razali, has regularly visited the country over the past year and has succeeded in bringing about a number of positive developments, not least the decision by the military Government to initiate contacts with Aung San Suu Kyi. Mr. Razali is currently seeking progress in three main areas, calling on the military to release 30 senior political prisoners, to create an amnesty for all political prisoners and to allow Aung San Suu Kyi to leave her residence and take up leadership of the NLD. Mr Razali's most recent visit, planned earlier this month, failed to go ahead. The Government hopes this visit will be reinstated as soon as possible, and that the Burmese military will continue to engage in meaningful dialogue with Mr. Razali.

The European Union is actively engaged in monitoring the situation in Burma. In October 2001, in response to the first steps of progress taken by the Burmese military, the EU decided to relax some of its restrictions on the Burmese leadership and to contribute to the UN joint plan of action aimed at combating the spread of HIV and AIDS. In doing so, the EU made it clear to Burma that it would consider introducing further positive measures if there was real progress towards the restoration of democracy and national reconciliation. The EU clearly stated, however, that such measures could be reconsidered should there be any negative developments.

A team of high level EU representatives recently visited Burma to assess the situation there. They met senior Burmese military leaders, as well as Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of the NLD, other opposition groups, ethnic minorities, and NGOs. The team will report in the coming days and its recommendations will form the basis for discussion among EU Ministers next month on whether to extend the EU's common position, which currently places restrictions on [833] the Burmese leadership, for a further six months. Ireland will seek to extend the common position.

Ireland is committed to pursuing wherever possible an improvement in the situation in Burma. The Government will continue to encourage the military junta to follow up the initial positive steps it took last year and to engage in further meaningful dialogue, aimed at the restoration of democracy, national reconciliation and an improvement in the human rights situation in Burma.

Question No. 118 answered with Question No. 90.

Question No. 119 answered with Question No. 69.

Question No. 120 answered with Question No. 98.


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