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Iraq: Turkish Incursion

Volume 620: debated on Wednesday 20 December 2000

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2.57 p.m.

Whether, as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, they have received notification by the Turkish authorities of an incursion into Iraq by Turkish troops as required under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
(Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, we are aware of press reports of a Turkish incursion into Iraq across the border at Habur on 16th December. We have asked our embassy in Ankara to investigate these reports. We are not aware of the UN Security Council having received any notification by the Turkish authorities of an incursion into Iraq by Turkish troops. We have closely monitored previous incursions, including one in May and one in August. We shall continue to do so.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is a requirement of the United Nations charter that any action across an international frontier should be the subject of a notification to the Security Council by the state engaged in that action? The Turkish authorities have crossed the frontier into the Kurdish enclave of northern Iraq on numerous occasions in the past, sometimes without any notification at all, and occasionally, after prompting, with notification. Does the Minister agree that that is a dangerous precedent to set? If the Security Council takes no action against Turkey in respect of those incursions, other states may be encouraged to cross international frontiers in a like manner. Thus there could be a danger to world peace.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that, pursuant to Article 51, a duty is imposed on countries to notify the United Nations. I can reassure the noble Lord that Turkey is well aware of that duty. We are not aware of Turkey having reported any incursions to the United Nations under Article 51, but we are aware of past communications from the Turkish authorities to the president of the Security Council in response to letters from the Iraqi authorities. I can assure the noble Lord that Turkey is aware of the concern which has been expressed in that regard.

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that the area which the Turkish troops have entered is part of the safe haven in which we are giving some protection to the Kurds from Iraq? Can she say whether safe haven protection will be given in respect of incursions from countries other than Iraq, such as Turkey and possibly Iran?

My Lords, I should make it clear, as I did in my first Answer, that we have been made aware of reports of a Turkish incursion into Iraq across the border. We have asked our embassy in Ankara to investigate those reports and give us a clear expression of what has occurred. As soon as we have confirmation of those facts, I shall be in a better position to advise the House about that issue.

My Lords, I support the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. Will the Minister confirm that representatives of our embassy in Ankara were recently able to go to the Tur'abdin area of south-east Turkey? Is she aware that the position of Kurds and other groups seems to have improved in recent months; and will she welcome that? Will she also welcome the recent collaboration between the British Council and Bilkent University in organising a worthwhile seminar on the issue of human rights? Does she agree that Turkey's decision to take human rights more seriously will stand it in better stead with its friends and enable any application for membership of the European Community to be taken far more seriously in the future?

My Lords, I am most happy to agree with the noble Lord in relation to those issues in terms of improvement and collaboration on human rights. We very much welcome the fact that since they came to office in May 1999 the Turkish Government have taken steps to improve human rights. As a result of those developments, the military judge has been removed from the state security court and the maximum sentence for torture has been increased. There is now increased dialogue on these issues between the government and non-governmental organisations. All those matters must be welcomed. I agree with the noble Lord that the hope of possibly joining the EU seems to have been a catalyst for productive change.

My Lords, in view of the welcome development of better attitudes to human rights in Turkey and the obvious desire of Turkey to be considered as a serious candidate for membership of the European Union, will the Minister draw to the attention of the Turkish authorities the necessity of keeping and maintaining the rules of the United Nations which Turkey has possibly breached in this case? Will she also draw to their attention the success of the United Kingdom Government in accepting a different language and culture in Wales while still recognising that Wales is part of the United Kingdom?

My Lords, I can certainly say to the noble Barones that these are important issues and that we have raised them with a number of countries seeking accession to the EU. The dialogue will be ongoing. It will be critical and, it is to be hoped, beneficial in the long term for all the people of Turkey.

My Lords, will the Minister be supporting a strengthening of sanctions, as has apparently been called for by Secretary of State-elect Powell; and, if so, what would she hope would be achieved by such a strengthening?

My Lords, I take it that the noble Viscount refers to sanctions in relation to Iraq. Although I am not dealing with that question today, I can certainly assure the noble viscount that full consideration will be given to all comments made by Preside-elect Bush and those whom he has appointed to act on his behalf.