Dáil Éireann - Volume 535 - 09 May, 2001

Written Answers - Foreign Conflicts.

67. Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the position in Columbia and the Irish and European [1544] Union's submission for Plan Columbia. [12921/01]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): At the third meeting of the international support group for the peace process in Colombia, held in Brussels on 30 April, the Swedish Minister of State for Development Co-operation, Gun-Britt Andersson, representing the EU Presidency, reaffirmed the EU's support for the peace process in Colombia and for the efforts of the parties to reach a negotiated solution to the conflict. She noted the limited progress achieved in the negotiations to date and urged the FARC and ELN guerrilla groups to recommit themselves to the peace process. Against this background, she confirmed the EU's readiness to step up its support for the peace process by committing a total of 335 million in assistance to the peace effort, comprising Commission aid of 105 million over six years, and a further 220 million in contributions from member states during the next three years.

On behalf of the EU, Minister Andersson reiterated the EU's condemnation of atrocities and other violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, primarily by the guerrillas and paramilitary groups. The EU believed strongly that an end to violence and respect for human rights and international humanitarian law were essential for progress in the peace process and as a basis for greater EU support. As a first step, all parties should work to achieve human rights and humanitarian agreements which would facilitate a reduction in violence and the creation of an improved climate for dialogue, involving the broad participation of different sectors of Colombian society.

In addition, the Union noted the ongoing efforts of the Colombian Government to counteract paramilitaries and urged it to increase its efforts and to dismantle these groups by arresting, prosecuting and punishing all those involved in such activities.

The EU's continued commitment to combat the production and trafficking of illegal drugs on the basis of the principle of shared responsibility was also underlined. It was necessary that all parties address the need to seek viable economic alternatives to the production and trade of drugs. However, it was important too to be aware of the potentially negative impact of some counter narcotic measures. In this context, the EU encouraged independent international monitoring of aerial crop spraying on the basis of procedures established by the Colombian authorities. The Union supported manual eradication as an effective means of dealing with illicit crop production and allowing its substitution, which would promote gainful employment while protecting biodiversity and the environment.

At the same meeting, Commissioner Patten confirmed that the EU intends to contribute to building up peace on the ground through the establishment of ‘peace laboratories' in conflict [1545] areas of the country, initially in the Magdalena Medio region. The aim will be to reinforce local institutions, support civilians engaged in promoting peace and foster economic and social development. Significant resources will also be devoted to addressing structural weaknesses undermining peace, through support for reform of the administration of justice, promotion of integrated agricultural reform and the planning and delivery of sound environmental policies. The EU will also seek to combat persistent violence and human rights violations by supporting the activities of local human rights organisations, and will work to relieve the social impact of conflict through education and re-assimilation of displaced people and by implementing alternative development in areas where manual eradication of crops takes place.

Commissioner Patten said that the aim was to have EU support operational on the ground this year through commitments of up to 43 million for human rights organisations, displaced people and the first peace laboratory.

In addition to financial and political backing, Commissioner Patten stressed the EU's willingness to look at other means of support, including through further trade concessions under the European system of generalised preferences, as well as closer co-operation on control of chemical precursors for narcotics, and on combating the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons.

For its part, the Irish Government intends to make a substantial financial contribution direct to the Colombia field office of the UN High Commission for Human Rights to help ensure the continuation of its vital work in developing a culture of respect for human rights, without which peace cannot take root. The Government also proposes to co-finance, with Irish NGOs and their Colombian partners, a series of new projects in different regions of Colombia, dedicated to human rights and conflict resolution, as well as rural education and community development.

In common with our EU partners, we believe that this substantial programme of support provides clear evidence of our sustained and long-term commitment to the peace process initiated by President Pastrana. In this spirit, the EU will continue to encourage all parties to end violence, engage in the peace process and work to resolve their differences through dialogue, in the interests of all the people of Colombia.

I am arranging to have copies of the texts of the statements by Minister Andersson and Commissioner Patten placed in the library of the Houses of the Oireachtas.