Dáil Éireann - Volume 567 - 29 May, 2003

Written Answers. - Foreign Conflicts.

  65. Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the current status of the peace process in Sri Lanka; if there have been instances where the ceasefire of December 2001 has been broken; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14878/03]

  Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): On 23 February 2002, a formal ceasefire agreement was signed, with Norwegian facilitation, between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelan – LTTE, Tamil Tigers – and the Sri Lankan Government. [1700]There have been six rounds of peace talks between the parties, brokered by the Norwegian Government. However, on 21 April 2003, the LTTE suspended its participation in the peace process, and demanded that an interim administration be established to govern the conflict zone, and announced that it would not attend an international donors conference, scheduled to take place in Tokyo, from 9-10 June 2003. The LTTE claimed that it is not receiving sufficient dividends from the peace process. Intensive negotiations are currently taking place to resolve the impasse. The international donors conference in Tokyo is expected to raise substantial pledges for reconstruction funding to Sri Lanka. The EU has committed to pledging over €50 million in assistance to the peace process.

  Despite the suspension by the LTTE of its participation in the peace process, it continues to abide by the terms of the ceasefire. Although there have been a number of politically-motivated killings and attacks by the Tamil Tigers, the ceasefire is broadly considered to be holding.

  On 21 May 2003, I met with the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Mr. Tyronne Fernando, in Dublin. The Minister and I reviewed the peace process, and the current situation in Sri Lanka. Minister Fernando also met with the Taoiseach, and with my colleague, Deputy Kitt, Minister for Overseas Development and Human Rights. Minister Fernando also briefed the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. During that meeting, he stated that the Sri Lankan Government believes that a transparent and incremental process is the only way to resolve the conflict, and that a military solution is not viable. He said that the Tamil Tigers are still committed to the peace process, and that he was hopeful that they would attend the forthcoming Tokyo Conference.

  The Government continues to monitor the situation closely with our EU partners. We support the mediation efforts of the Norwegian Government, and welcome the current talks taking place between Norwegian peace envoy, Mr. Erik Solheim, and negotiators from both sides in the peace process.

  66. Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position regarding the security situation in Saudi Arabia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14857/03]

  Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): The Department of Foreign Affairs is keeping the situation in Saudi Arabia under continuous review. On 14 May, in response to the tragic events of 12 May 2003, it issued travel advice to Irish citizens which sets out the current situation in the country and makes recommendations to Irish citizens residing there or intending to travel. In light of these very serious incidents and the general tension in the region, further such attacks in the Kingdom cannot be ruled out. Irish citizens are therefore advised against all non-essential travel to Saudi Arabia at the present time.

[1701]  For those Irish citizens travelling to or remaining in Saudi Arabia, we most strongly stress the importance of maintaining the highest levels of personal security. We advise citizens to continue to keep a low profile and to limit travel within the Kingdom to essential journeys only. We also advise citizens to be especially vigilant in places popular with foreign nationals such as hotels, restaurants and shopping malls. Finally, citizens are urged to ensure the safety of their vehicles at all times. Citizens who have not registered with the embassy are advised to do so immediately.

  67. Ms Enright asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the contacts his Department has had with the Government of Colombia concerning the case of a person (details supplied) in detention in Colombia; if he shares the concerns that this person's life may be in danger; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14860/03]

  Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): My Department is up to date with the multi-faceted situation in Colombia, including the question of hostages, through our embassy based in Mexico City, which is also accredited to Bogotá, as well as through our EU partners with resident diplomatic missions in that capital. My own most recent direct discussion of the Colombian conflict with the Colombian foreign minister, Ms Carolina Barco, took place on 28 March last.

  As the House is aware from my replies to previous questions on this subject, Ms Ingrid Betancourt – a candidate in the 2002 Colombian presidential election – was kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, on 23 February 2002. She remains in FARC captivity, along with the former Governor of Meta province, a former cabinet minister, 12 regional deputies, 47 members of the State security forces, and several thousand ordinary Colombian citizens. Three US citizens are also being held captive. I share the concern that the lives of these hostages, including that of Ms Betancourt, are in danger. That concern has increased following the murder by FARC on 5 May last of ten hostages including the Governor of Antioquia province, Dr Guillermo Gaviria Correa.

  On 7 May 2003, Ireland and our EU partners condemned the murder of the kidnap victims and while expressing the hope that all possible efforts would be made to safeguard the lives of all the other hostages, emphasised that hostage-taking is recognised as an act of terrorism and called for the release of all the hostages without preconditions. Our EU statement also expressed the belief that every effort should be made to start up again as soon as possible the search for a humanitarian agreement on the specific hostage question as well as for a negotiated political solution to the overall conflict.

  As I have previously informed the House, on 31 January 2003 President Uribe established a commission to evaluate the possibility of a humanitarian exchange of hostages held by [1702]FARC for terrorist prisoners detained by the state authorities. The three-member commission is composed of Monsignor Luis Augusto Castro, vice-president of the Colombian Episcopal Conference, Mr. Angelino Garzón, a former minister for labour, and Father Darío Echeverri, the secretary of the Catholic Conciliation Commission. As I have also told the House, FARC apparently responded by proposing a number of pre-conditions, including the restoration of the kind of clearance zone ceded to them by President Pastrana in 1998 but which he felt obliged to withdraw in 2002 when he judged that FARC had abused it. It is earnestly to be hoped that a way can nevertheless be found to alleviate the plight of Colombia's many kidnap victims, including Ms Ingrid Betancourt, and that of their families, while also working towards a negotiated solution to the conflict which afflicts that country.

  Question No. 68 answered with Question No. 17.