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Cyprus

Volume 120: debated on Friday 23 October 1987

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Maclean.]

3.8 pm

It is a pleasure to have rather more hon. Members listening to me introduce this Adjournment debate on Cyprus than there were present on the previous three occasions when I raised the matter. I first raised the Cyprus tragedy in August 1975, a few months after first entering the House, and again in 1981 and 1983. The passing years have brought little joy and little hope and all too much suffering and misfortune for this remarkably beautiful Mediterranean island which is becoming increasingly well known to our constituents.

Britain's close ties with Cyprus go back to 1879. Cyprus is a fellow member of the Commonwealth and of the Council of Europe. More Cypriots live in London than in Nicosia. A large and growing number of British tourists visit Cyprus. Our two sovereign bases, which in international law are as much a part of the United Kingdom as Devon and Cornwall, cover 98 square miles of the island. We play the main role within the United Nations force in Cyprus, we administer that force and we have the largest single national element.

Cyprus matters to Britain. No country in the United Nations has a greater responsibility for Cyprus. In a debate on Cyprus in another place on 23 June 1983 Lord Caradon, the last colonial governor of Cyprus — I guarded him at Government House in Nicosia for a short time—said:
"We see that lovely island now cut in two, when we the British undertook—I do not forget that I signed the treaty myself on behalf of Her Majesty's Government—that the island would never be divided. We have failed to live up to a clear responsibility and, month by month, year by year, we see discussions going on and leading nowhere. We have a responsibility; we gave our undertaking, and we have utterly failed to cary it out."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 23 June 1983; Vol. 443 c.66.]
Most of those who have followed what has taken place in Cyprus since independence in August 1960 and who are aware of the political errors, cruel mistakes, suffering and misfortune that have come to the island, will agree with Lord Caradon's words. Our country has failed in its special commitment. We have left undone certain things that ought to have been done. The arrival of Nicos Sampson as President of Cyprus in July 1974—he was a EOKA terrorist whom I spent some time looking for—was an outrage. However, we decided to take no action in the United Nations. That was the fault from which other disasters flowed.

We shall not on this occasion give ourselves to recriminations, and repetitions of actions with which hon. Members on both sides of the House are only too familiar. It is sufficient to recall that following the Turkish invasion of Cyprus some 38 per cent. of the total territory of the Republic of Cyprus still remains under Turkish military occuption, although back in 1974 Turkish Cypriots represented only 18 per cent. of the population. The area occupied happened to contain 60 per cent. of the agricultural land, 90 per cent. of the tourist accommodation, 83 per cent. of the cargo handling capacity and 55 per cent. of the mines. The area under Turkish control is bordered by the so-called Attila Line known to the United Nations as the Green Line which runs from Lefka in the west to Famagusta in the east. In view of most international observers, the occuption is the first and most obvious barrier to a free and independent Cyprus.

The plight of the refugees was well described at the time of the invasion. The 200,000 Greek Cypriot refugees, including 50,000 children, represented 40 per cent. of the Greek Cypriot population. The Government and people of Cyprus did a wonderful job in looking after such large numbers.

I am currently chairman of the British Cyprus Parliamentary Group and I have been a regular visitor to Cyprus. I have spoken to many refugees and I visited them in their tented camps in 1976 before proper housing had been built for them. They have never failed to remind me that they are still prevented by force from returning to their homes, businesses and farms. Many elderly refugees fear that they will never see again the villages where they were born, brought up and where they in turn brought up their children. It begins to look as if that is so.

Looking north from the hot, dry plains of Nicosia there is a fine view of the Kyrenia hills. However, for many thousands of Cypriots, although those hills are the hills of home, they are forbidden territory and that jewel of a harbour at Kyrenia is but a poignant memory.

The Turkish authorities have settled 60,000 settlers from Anatolia and former soldiers on land seized from Greek Cypriots. I welcome my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the Chamber. She has kindly come along to reply to this short debate. I hope that I have not deprived her constituents of her presence. I would welcome from her an up-to-date assessment of the number of settlers in the north. I hope that she will condemn without reservation the shameful altering of the demographic structure of Cyprus.

There have been disturbing reports of the damage done to certain antiquities in the north, and the deeply distressing question of the missing people has never been cleared up. The wives, lovers, mothers and fathers of the many missing young soldiers from both sides have a right to know whether those soldiers are alive or dead. In its resolution dated 8 December 1982 the third committee of the United Nations General Assembly stressed the need for
"a speedy resolution of this humanitarian problem."
That resolution was supported by all members of the European Community except Britain, which abstained. Almost certainly, all those missing people are now dead, but it is a failure on the part of the Foreign Ministers and Foreign Office officials of the Western world that it has never been possible to establish the true facts. What action has the Foreign Secretary taken to try to stop the Turkish Government from increasing their occupying forces? It is thought that those forces now number 35,000 and that the number of tanks has increased by some 50 per cent. to 300. It takes little imagination to appreciate the concern in the south when there are 300 modern tanks situated in the north. I believe that the Turkish occupying forces serve no conceivable military purpose. Turkey's main airfields are only four minutes flying time away. The array of troops and tanks adds to the problem and damages Turkey's image abroad.

All recent British Governments have recognised that the Turkish contribution to NATO is vital. Turkey has the largest army in NATO after the United States and It has a 1,000 mile border with the Soviet Union. However, those factors have led the present Government to play down Britain's clear obligations to Cyprus and to overemphasise the diplomatic difficulties. For example, the Cyprus problem was mentioned in the Gracious Speech between 1975 and 1978 but it was left out between 1979 and 1984. When did a British Prime Minister last visit Cyprus, as opposed to visiting our two sovereign bases? Since 1979, Foreign Office Ministers have a poor record in terms of visiting Cyprus to become acquainted with the places, politics and personalities. They have been changed round too quickly to become well informed.

In order to secure NATO's south-east flank and to prevent a further deterioration in the relations between Greece and Turkey, it is necessary to have a settlement in Cyprus. My purpose this afternoon is not to cheer on one side or another but to cheer on the people of Cyprus in their determined struggle for a just, honourable and lasting settlement. My purpose is also to give our re-elected Government an opportunity to tell the House how they intend to discharge the commitment to Cyprus that Britain so rightly undertook under a Conservative Government. That is what many supporters of Cyprus, at home and abroad, will want to know when they read the Hansard report and the press reports. It is unthinkable that we should do nothing. That would be unworthy of the Government and the British people who do not intend to allow a fellow Commonwealth country to fall by the wayside.

I recognise that a settlement cannot be imposed, but propositions which neither side would oppose and which both sides could accept could be put forward. Of course, the weight of world opinion must be brought to bear. The Cyprus question represents a grave challenge to the authority of the United Nations, the decisions of which are being treated with armed contempt. There is a rule of law in the world and, although the Government are sometimes slow fully to recognise the point, at this moment in history the guarantee of that is the United Nations.

However great the provocations, the Turkish invasion of the republic of Cyprus was an open breach of the United Nations charter. Since July 1974, the Security Council has passed a series of resolutions laying down the requirements of justice. The resolutions call on all states to respect the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Cyprus, and demand the immediate withdrawal of foreign troops. There is no doubt that that last demand is fully within the competence of the Security Council. If its wishes continue to be ignored, be it over Cyprus or the Gulf, the House should have no doubt of the serious implications for every member country. The clock of international order is being turned back.

In the past, we all put our faith in the seemingly endless intercommunal talks. It is now obvious that no progress is possible in that way, as there is no real dialogue between north and south. We have put our faith in the Secretary-General, who has had first-hand practical experience of Cyprus over many years. He came close to success in January 1985, but today we are well over the top of the hill and descending deeper into the valley.

If some of my hon. Friends feel that I am exaggerating a little, let me remind them of the words of the Secretary-General in his recent report to the General Assembly:
"The state of affairs in Cyprus gives increasing cause for concern. And as I have reported to the Security Council, a potentially dangerous military build-up is taking place in the island. The possibility of serious confrontations cannot be excluded in the months ahead, if present trends continue. Troop-contributing Governments, without whose generosity the Peace-keeping Force could not be maintained on Cyprus, are increasingly dissatisfied both with the lack of progress towards a settlement and the growing financial burden they bear. It is particularly disturbing that in these circumstances, efforts to reactivate productive negotiations are deadlocked."
I wonder whether my right hon. Friend would at least hint at what might happen if the Secretary-General's mission should fail during the course of this year. We would like to know that some sort of contingency planning is taking place. Perhaps three statesmen of world repute could be dispatched to Cyprus to meet both sides, and to put forward in private proposals for bringing the two communities together.

I feel that I should say—although I shall not gain popularity for saying it, and I certainly do not enjoy doing so—that if a settlement is not reached in the next few years, perhaps in the lifetime of this Parliament, it may never be reached. You may agree, Mr. Speaker, that it is a great sin in public life to tell people that matters are not what they really are, that one believes that that is what they want to hear. Since 1974—in reality, since 1960—the two communities have been growing apart. That is why Friends of Cyprus has so sensibly been organising meetings of professional Greek and Turkish Cypriots and politicians. As an independent organisation, Friends of Cyprus is well qualified to call such meetings. However, I ask the Front Bench whether the British Government, through their able diplomats and agencies, cannot play a role as well.

Before concluding, let me invite my right hon. Friend to comment on some other points. Does she agree with the proposal by the President of the republic for the demilitarisation of the republic? Does she support his idea of the UN-sponsored international conference? Does she accept that Varosha should be given to the United Nations to administer? I saw the state of that city a few years ago, and I warmly welcome the proposal. Cannot more be done by the Commonwealth Action Group, set up in 1983 in New Delhi? We have heard remarkably little from it and about it. Will the Government be finding time in the near future to debate the important and controversial Select Committee report on Cyprus? Would not its suggestion that the boycott of the north should end accelerate the pace towards de facto partition? A mountainous island of 3,572 square miles is too small to be divided. In economic, industrial and agricultural terms, it must be seen as a whole.

I remain convinced that the majority of Cypriots want a permanent settlement that will uphold their security and prosperity. They want a settlement that will eliminate both Enosis and Taksim and yet ensure that the Turkish community is given the safeguards that it seeks and that it is entitled to expect.

As with the Palestinian question, security is the fundamental issue. Surely the historic evidence is that both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, although different in religion, character and temperament, share a love of their island and can live and work peacefully together. They are doing so today on the sovereign bases. Perhaps since 1974 they may have a greater readiness to work together in happiness, understanding and mutual respect, for they have witnessed the murders and massacres that were born out the dreadful mistakes that were made by both sides.

With time running out rapidly, with the two sides unable to agree on how the negotiating process can be kept in being, with a national contingent being withdrawn from the United Nations force on the island, with military units in both northern Turkey and in the republic being reinforced and re-equipped, the Government must strain every sinew over the next four years to try to achieve a settlement of one of the world's longest-running disputes.

A Mediterranean island that is blessed with great charm remains tragically and cruelly divided. That division poses one of the great questions of our age: can international support save countries from conflict and chaos? True friends of Cyprus will continue to insist that it must.

3.27 pm

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) on raising this matter in his fourth Adjournment debate on the subject. Like many other right hon. and hon. Members, he has a particular interest in Cyprus. That is natural. Close ties of friendship, a long historical association with the island, the presence of our sovereign bases and both professional and personal ties continue to exist between us, and we hope that they may help in the eventual solution of this terrible problem.

In the time available I shall try to answer as many of my hon. Friend's questions as I can. I shall write to him about any that I am unable to cover today. The extent of many hon. Members' interest in Cyprus is shown by the recent report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. We are studying the report very carefully, and the Government's reply to its conclusions and recommendations will shortly be laid before the House as a Command Paper.

My hon. Friend asked about the Government's aims for Cyprus. Our policy has a clearly defined objective. We wish, as he does, to see a peaceful, just and lasting settlement in Cyprus. We believe that such a settlement is in the interests of all the people of Cyprus. It is also in our interests.

The reasons why we want a solution are clear. My hon. Friend pointed out that the Cyprus problem is, above all, a human problem. Thousands of people have been displaced from their homes — homes which, in some cases, had belonged to their families for generations. Others have relatives who are missing and unaccounted for—in some cases for as long as 23 years.

Apart from the human dimension, the continued division of Cyprus is a source of dispute between two of our friends and allies. That, of course, is bad, a point to which my hon. Friend specifically referred. The division between the north and south of Cyprus, as it is sometimes colloquially described, weakens Cyprus in all sorts of ways and it weakens the Nato Alliance. Obviously, it is a potential source of instability in the eastern Mediterranean which is of great importance to the whole of the Western world.

I can assure my hon. Friend that we are not inactive. Our objective is to achieve a settlement, just as it has been the objective of successive British Governments. But how do we try to achieve our objective? When Mr. Halefoglu, the Turkish Foreign Minister, visited London in July this year my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary was adamant that the Turkish forces should be reduced in northern Cyprus. I have raised that issue when I have met other members of the Turkish Government. The United Kingdom's initiative was launched in 1978 with the Canadians and the Americans to try to achieve a settlement but, unfortunately, no settlement was agreed.

Over the years our initiative led to the United Nations Secretary-General's initiative, and we share his frustration. My hon. Friend read out a good example of that from an article. Since that first initiative failed the Secretary-General has continued to pursue a settlement in Cyprus with skill and determination and we should all pay tribute to his efforts.

The two parties to the dispute continue to reaffirm their support for the Secretary-General and the goal he pursues—a unified federal Cyprus, but, as we know, that has not resulted in the solution that we want. We believe that support for the Secretary-General's mission of good offices represents the most effective way of pursuing our goal in Cyprus and we are not alone in that belief. The United Nations Security Council, the European Community and the Commonwealth all support his efforts.

In March 1986 the Secretary-General came close to an agreement and it remains a source of great regret to us that one side was unable to accept his proposals. We continue to believe that they form a good basis for a settlement and we urge their acceptance even now. We believe that the proposals took account of both the internal and international aspects of the Cyprus problem. They were put forward on the basis that acceptance of each part depended on the acceptance of the whole. I cannot speculate on what will happen in the future, but towards the end of my remarks I shall say that we have contingency plans. Meantime it is essential that we continue to support the Secretary-General in two ways.

First, we are supporting the Secretary-General through our diplomatic effort in contacts both with the protagonists and the other guarantor powers at all levels. The High Commission in Nicosia has regular contacts with the Government of Cyprus and informal contacts with the leaders of the Turkish Cypriot community over matters of direct interest to us, such as property claims by British citizens. We also explore their thinking on the Cyprus problem. Through our embassies in Ankara and Athens we have regular contact with the representatives of the Governments of the other guarantor powers. We also have contact with the Cyprus Government and our co-guarantors at ministerial level.

Over the past 12 months there have been many of those contacts. Most recently my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister met President Kyprianou in Vancouver during the Heads of Government meeting last week and she discussed Cyprus with him. In July my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary discussed Cyprus with the Turkish Foreign Minister. I met the Turkish. Foreign Minister earlier this week and further talks are planned. The Greek Foreign Minister will be coming to London shortly and Cyprus will be one of the main items covered in our talks with him.

Will my right hon. Friend be able to persuade the Greeks to accept the UN resolution, as the Turks have?

We shall do our best and continue to make use of all our contacts within Cyprus, Turkey and Greece to bring about a solution. All contacts, including those of my hon. Friends, must urge both parties to show the flexibility and political will that is necessary to make progress towards a settlement.

The second way in which we support, and will continue to do so, the Secretary-General is through our contributions to the United Nations force in Cyprus, the UNFICYP. The United Nations Secretary-General has repeatedly stressed the vital role that the United Nations force in Cyprus plays. It provides the background of stability that he needs to pursue his mission of good offices. We share his appreciation of the United Nations force. Our support is reflected in the size of our contingent, 740 men, which is the largest in that force. The cost to the United Kingdom of that is some £23 million per annum, which is the biggest contribution that we make to any single peace-keeping operation. By any standards, it is a substantial contribution, both as a peace-keeping commitment and as a measure of our desire for a settlement in Cyprus.

There are many other issues on which I could reply in this debate, but one other important aspect of our policy to Cyprus lies in our refusal to support any move that, in our view, makes a settlement harder to achieve. It is for that reason that we refuse to recognise the so-called 1983 declaration of independence by the Turkish-Cypriot leadership. To do so would simply cement the division on the island.

We were instrumental in drafting Security Council resolutions 540 and 551, which condemned Turkish Cypriot UDI and called upon other states not to recognise it. So far, no state other than Turkey has done so. On the other hand, it is not our intention that individual Turkish Cypriots should suffer as a result of our policy; we therefore continue to trade. Turkish Cypriots continue to come to the United Kingdom. We also try to ensure that the aid that we give Cyprus benefits Turkish as well as Greek Cypriots.

In that context I should like to mention the protocol that was signed earlier this week to the EC-Cyprus association agreement. It implements an important commitment in the original agreement to develop the relationship into a custom union. The protocol is governed by article 5 of the association agreement and it stipulates that the agreement shall not give rise to discrimination between nationals or companies of Cyprus. I believe that that is most important.

On Monday the EC presidency took the opportunity to reaffirm the support of the EC for the independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of Cyprus. I can well understand the frustration that is felt by many hon. Members, and many outside this House, at the lack of substantive progress towards a settlement in Cyprus in recent months. This leads to calls for us to pursue a different policy. We all want to see more rapid progress, so what about the suggestion of an international conference? Despite the fact that it has been difficult for Senor Perez de Cuellar to make progress in recent months, we are aware that he is actively seeking ways to do so. We believe that that is the right way to proceed and that an international conference would not help us at the present time to achieve the solution that we want.

With regard to the United Kingdom, I do not believe that that conference would be timely because we do not wish to undermine the efforts of the Secretary-General. We have contingency plans to cover the fact that, sadly, it might fail. I hope that we will not need to put them into action and I am sure that my hon. Friends will understand that those contingency plans need to remain confidential.

The Motion having been made after half-past Two o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, MR. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at twenty-two minutes to Four o'clock.