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Central America

Volume 130: debated on Wednesday 30 March 1988

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2.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on progress towards a settlement of the outstanding conflicts in Central America.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Tim Eggar)

We believe that the Guatemala peace agreement remains the best framework in which to seek progress towards a peaceful settlement of the outstanding conflicts in Central America.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Nicaraguan Government on the commendable steps that they have taken towards the implementation of the Central American peace plan? In the light of that progress, will the Government now make representations to President Reagan that it is high time that full and direct talks were opened between the Government of the United States and the Nicaraguan Government on matters of mutual security? Would it not be a wonderful Easter message to the Nicaraguan people if, after seven years of war and 50,000 deaths, they could at least know that steps were being taken towards implementing direct talks to bring an end to that conflict?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, our policy has long been that we welcome peaceful, not military, solutions to the problems of Central America. We have warmly welcomed the peace agreement and we urge everybody to implement it fully. A 60-day truce was recently agreed at talks on 21–23 March. Together with our European partners, we issued a statement in support of that on 28 March and we hope that the second round, planned for 6 April, will bring a substantive ceasefire and progress towards democracy. We shall he looking to the Nicaraguan Government to fulfil their pledges on the democratic front.

Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the release of 1,000 political prisoners in Nicaragua and the reopening of the opposition press there? Does he share my fear that this is only window dressing and that what we really wish to see in Nicaragua is a proper, pluralist democracy?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend, and add that it is deplorable that political prisoners were held by the Nicaraguan regime.

Before the Minister loses his voice completely, can he not bring himself, for once, to congratulate the Government of Nicaragua on the excellent progress that they have made towards implementing the peace plan? Does he recognise that the Esquipulas peace plan applies not just to Nicaragua, but to Honduras, Guatemala and, above all, to El Salvador? What are the Government doing to ensure that President Duarte restarts talks with the FLMN/FDR and to stop the massacre of innocent civilians in that country?

Despite the hon. Gentleman's attempt at winning ways and imploring hands, I would respect his balance in this matter rather more if he condemned the invasion of Honduran territory by Nicaraguan troops. Of course we welcome further moves towards peace in Central America. We have been doing that for a considerable time, and will continue to do so.

What steps can my hon. Friend take to make certain that the Nicaraguan Government improve still further on the efforts that they have made in respect of their negotiations with the Contras and begin to establish the pluralist democracy of which my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) spoke?

It is clear that the Nicaraguan Government, for their part, need to establish a real pluralist democracy and to end their support of subversion in neighbouring states. One of the results of the San Jose IV meeting in Hamburg was that the European Community undertook to give support to the Central American Parliament, which is part of the overall progress in the region towards democracy.