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Colombia: Terrorism

Volume 699: debated on Wednesday 12 March 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What is their response to the recent terrorist activity on the Colombia-Ecuador border.

My Lords, we have expressed our concern about the tensions along Colombia's borders. In discussions with representatives of the Governments concerned, we have encouraged all parties to show restraint and pursue a political solution. We therefore welcome the outcome of the Rio Group summit on 7 March, where the Governments of Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela, together with other members of the Rio Group, made a commitment to peaceful co-operation in the region and to tackling the ongoing activity and influence of illegal terrorist groups, which was at the root of this crisis.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer, not only because is it very helpful but because it is good news that he has just brought us. However, is he aware that captured computers from the recent military operation revealed that some financial assistance is going to the FARC from the Government of Venezuela? Does he not think that that is rather unsatisfactory?

My Lords, we are aware of those allegations. Clearly, it would be a matter of concern if any country were supporting a terrorist organisation, wherever that was and whatever form that support took. We therefore found it encouraging that the Rio Group members reiterated on 7 March their,

“commitment to fighting the security threats to all states from the activities undertaken by irregular groups and criminal organisations, in particular those with ties to drug trafficking activities”.

My Lords, has there been any application by the Colombian Government to Her Majesty’s Government for the extradition of the Irish republican elements who were giving assistance to FARC?

To my knowledge, my Lords, no. If I am wrong about that I will let the noble Lord know at once.

My Lords, one of the problems throughout countries in that region has historically been impunity from the law. The Government have made bilateral efforts with some countries to strengthen the capacity of the rule of law. What is the Government’s reaction to the rewarding of one FARC member for executing another, which was announced last night?

My Lords, the measures taken by states to combat terrorism must be legal, proportionate and justifiable. We in the UK abide by our commitments under international law and we expect all countries to comply with their international legal obligations. It is vital for all states to provide security against atrocities carried out by terrorists, while, of course, respecting the rule of law.

My Lords, some of the Irish republican persons who were found guilty in Colombia of assisting FARC and who then absconded to the Republic of Ireland are walking openly around the Republic of Ireland. Why are Her Majesty’s Government not pursuing that matter?

My Lords, if I may say so, that is rather wide of the mark in relation to the recent crisis in this part of South America. I understand precisely why the noble Lord asked the question. I do not have an answer for him today but I will write to him.

My Lords, when I was in Colombia some years ago, I saw the terrible damage, torture and misery inflicted on peasants and farmers because of the cocaine habit in the West. Would the Minister consider setting up some sort of exchange scheme, whereby celebrities and City types who think that it is so fashionable and fun to snort cocaine could go there, take the farmers’ place, and grow the stuff themselves?

My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy with what the noble Baroness has suggested, although it is not the policy of Her Majesty’s Government. She is quite right: much of the cocaine on our streets and perhaps in our drawing rooms comes from Colombia.

My Lords, not, of course, Members of this House. The noble Baroness knows what I mean.

Much of that cocaine passes through the hands of illegal terrorists and paramilitaries. Cocaine is also a significant driver of regional instability, corruption and poverty, as the noble Baroness pointed out. It is important that the Government continue to work with Colombian authorities, which we do, to fight drug trafficking.