HC Deb 17 February 1964 vol 689 cc840-7
The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and for the Colonies (Mr. Duncan Sandys)

I promised the House last week that I would, at the earliest opportunity, make a further statement about Cyprus.

The House will recall that after the serious fighting just before Christmas, the British, Greek and Turkish Governments offered the use of their troops in the island to help restore law and order. The offer was accepted by President Makarios and Vice-President Kutchuk. A joint force was set up under a British commander, and had some success in halting the fighting.

While the immediate task was to stop the bloodshed, it was clear that there could be no peace in Cyprus without a settlement of the inter-communal problem. It seemed wise, in the first instance, to try to achieve such a settlement through direct negotiation between the parties concerned; and a conference was convened in London for this purpose.

At the same time, the Secretary-General of the United Nations was invited to send a representative to Cyprus to observe the progress of the peace-keeping operation, and he appointed General Gyani to undertake this task.

However, while the conference was proceeding, the position in Cyprus began to deteriorate and renewed acts of violence in various parts of the island occurred. In the light of this worsening situation, it was agreed in principle by all of the parties at the conference that a more broadly based international peacekeeping force must be established as quickly as possible. However, when it came to decide the composition, terms of reference and method of control of such a force, it was not found possible to reach agreement.

The British Government and the Governments of Greece and Turkey considered that it would be best to invite certain other members of the N.A.T.O. Alliance to provide the necessary troops, though not, of course, as a N.A.T.O. operation or under N.A.T.O. control. There were two reasons why we took this view. The first was that these countries had forces close at hand and immediately available. The second was that all N.A.T.O. members had a direct interest in stopping an inter-communal conflict in Cyprus which, if allowed to develop, could all too easily lead to a clash between two N.A.T.O. allies.

Our first approach was made to the Government of the United States and together we worked out a plan for an international force on these lines. This was approved by the Governments of Greece and Turkey, and by Vice-President Kutchuk, on behalf of the Turkish-Cypriot community.

However, Archbishop Makarios felt unable to agree to this plan. Although he accepted in principle the need for an international force, he insisted that it should be under the direct control of the United Nations. He also insisted that, as a first step, the Security Council should pass a resolution designed to deter Turkey from exercising her right of intervention under the Treaty of Guarantee, which he would wish to be regarded as an act of aggression.

While we are advising restraint to all concerned, we would not, of course, be prepared to support a resolution in the Security Council which could be interpreted as an accusation of aggressive intention against any of the Guarantor Powers or as over-riding any of the three treaties concluded after Cyprus received her independence.

There seemed to us to be serious objections to the proposal that the United Nations should be asked to assume full responsibility for creating and controlling the required international force. The transfer of the argument to the Security Council would not in itself solve the difficulty in reaching agreement upon the composition and terms of reference of the force.

In fact, these decisions would be made more difficult by the involvement in the Security Council countries who have no direct interest in the maintenance of stability in Cyprus, and who would not necessarily be unhappy to see differences develop between two N.A.T.O. allies. There is also the problem of finance, which might involve reconvening the General Assembly and much consequent delay.

Nevertheless, in an endeavour to meet Archbishop Makarios' wishes, we amended our original plan and provided for a continuing link with the United Nations, though not for direct control. We also proposed that the force should no longer be exclusively confined to N.A.T.O. countries. Unfortunately, President Makarios still did not feel able to accept this proposal. Meanwhile, the situation was further deteriorating and the outbreak of violence at Limassol last week gave us cause for serious concern.

While we have sent some further reinforcements we have throughout made it clear that Britain is not only unable, but also unwilling, to bear indefinitely almost the whole burden of the peacekeeping operation, more especially if the two communities are not prepared to give us their full co-operation.

We remain convinced that the revised plan which we proposed offers the most reasonable and rapid means of creating in Cyprus the peace-keeping force which is so urgently needed, if the danger of grave conflict, both internal and external, is to be averted. We are, moreover, satisfied that our endeavour to find a solution to the problem through agreement between the parties concerned, before taking the matter to the United Nations, was not only the most practical course, but was also in full accord with the United Nations Charter.

Nevertheless, since there seemed to be no prospect of resolving the deadlock. and since the situation in Cyprus was becoming increasingly serious, we felt it right, despite the objections to which I have referred, to bring the matter without further delay to the Security Council. We shall continue to do all we can to help in reconciling the differences, so that an effective peace-keeping force can be established without further dangerous delay, and so that a mediator can be appointed to assist in working out a solution acceptable to all the parties concerned.

Mr. Bottomley

Will the Secretary of State convey the thanks of us all to the British troops, who are in Cyprus at the invitation of the Cyprus Government, for their patience and restraint in very trying conditions to keep the peace? Has the right hon. Gentleman anything further to say about the forcible detention of three British soldiers over the weekend?

We on this side have sought not to embarrass the Government during these very delicate negotiations, but I think that we are entitled to say now that the Government clearly do not know what they are doing. Does the Secretary of State recollect that in earlier questions I asked him about consultation with the Commonwealth countries? Is he now in a position to tell us what consultation took place with representatives of Commonwealth Governments?

We on this side inevitably saw that at some stage reference would have to be made to the Security Council. We still want to know why the Government delayed so long in seeking the approval of the Security Council for an international force to be stationed in Cyprus.

Mr. Sandys

I am sure that we all join the right hon. Gentleman in his praise for the way in which our troops have behaved under most difficult conditions. I am sure that we are all extremely proud of them, from one end of the country to the other.

As for the recent abduction of certain men of the Army, the House will have read that they have been released. All I would say is that this is a most deplorable development, and one which emphasises the impossibility of carrying out our peace-keeping task unless we have the proper co-operation of both Cypriot communities.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about consultation with the Commonwealth on this question. We have, of course, been keeping Commonwealth Governments closely informed of developments in Cyprus. The provision of troops by the Commonwealth for this task is another matter and raises practical difficulties for most of the Governments concerned, although at least one Commonwealth Government would have been prepared to take part in the scheme which we originally proposed on a N.A.T.O, basis, or on a basis of N.A.T.O. with some additions.

The right hon. Gentleman asked, finally, why we had waited so long before taking the matter to the United Nations. I thought that I had explained that fully in my answer. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The reasons are quite simple. First, we were very conscious of the urgency of the matter and we thought it right to address ourselves to countries which had troops available near at hand, and which seemed likely to be willing to offer them to take part in the force.

Secondly, we were acting in full accord with Article 33 of the Charter of the United Nations, which I should like to read to the House: The parties to any dispute, the continuance of which is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security, shall, first of all"— I emphasise "first of all"— seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice.

Mr. F. M. Bennett

Can my right hon. Friend say something about the reports of the export of arms from certain countries into Cyprus, which certainly is not helping to create peace but rather the opposite? What steps, if any, can be taken to stop this?

Mr. Sandys

I consider this to be a very serious matter. While we are trying to keep the peace in Cyprus, there is no doubt that a very considerable flow of arms into the island is taking place all the time. [An HON. MEMBER: "From?"] I will not go into too much detail, but I should tell the House that I made the most vigorous protest to Mr. Kyprianou, the Cypriot Foreign Minister, yesterday about this, and explained to him that we had ample information to show that the import of arms is taking place with the full knowledge and approval of the Cyprus. Government and that this is not a matter which is tolerable at a time when we are trying to keep peace in the island.

Mr. Grimond

First, do not these events make it all the more necessary that there should be either a standing United Nations force or, at least, permanent machinery for calling such a force into being very quickly? Secondly, has the Secretary of State any idea, supposing that these proposals are accepted, how long it will take to get the troops to Cyprus? Is there any possibility, for instance, that the United Nations forces in the Sinai Peninsula might move some detachments there? Thirdly, have the Cypriot Government made any inquiry into the events at Limassol last Thursday? There are the most serious allegations that they gave an assurance to our forces that no attack would be made on that day. Surely it is the first duty of the Cypriot Government to attempt to keep order, without which no other force will be able to operate in the island.

Mr. Sandys

Of course, we recognise the importance of creating this force. With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's inquiry about how soon a United Nations force could be established, I cannot give an answer. First, we have to get agreement in the United Nations about what kind of force it is to be, where it is to come from, how it is to be controlled, its terms of reference, and how it will be financed. Those are all the difficulties which we had hoped to overcome by the plan which we originally put forward.

We have not yet any further information with regard to Limassol, but we felt very let down over the whole affair.

Mr. P. Williams

Is my hon. Friend aware that we on this side, also, would like to pay tribute to the great work of British troops in this desperately difficult and dangerous situation? Will he confirm or deny the existence of a Government in Cyprus? Does it work? Does it exist? Do the Greeks and the Turks talk or not?

Will my right hon. Friend understand, also, that some of us have a certain lack of confidence in the ability of the United Nations to act in any positive and useful way in this matter? Will he take it from some of us on this side that we believe that, whatever the cost, it is worth paying if British troops can be used to preserve the peace in this situation? Will my right hon. Friend further recognise that we are now on the brink of a situation where we need to recognise that partition may be the only way of solving the problem?

Mr. Sandys

I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that at a time when we are trying to get a mediator appointed, whose task will be to try to find a solution acceptable to both sides, it would not be proper for me to express any personal thoughts about the ultimate solution.

Mr. F. Noel-Baker

The Secretary of State will be aware that the fear of, and, in some quarters, the expectation of, an invasion from Turkey is a major factor in the situation. Can he give an assurance that one of the functions of the expanded truce force under United Nations auspices will be to protect the integrity and independence of Cyprus?

Mr. Sandys

That is among the matters which will have to be settled by the Security Council.

Mr. Hastings

As one who has spent some time in the island recently, may I ask my right hon. Friend to accept an expression of sympathy in his problem in trying to solve this intractable, almost insoluble situation? Can he say to what extent Archbishop Makarios is, in fact, in charge of the various armed elements of the Greek community or of his Government at all?

Mr. Sandys

It would not be useful for me to speculate about that.

Mr. A. Henderson

In view of the fact that President Makarios himself proposed that there should be a link between the international force and the United Nations, can the Secretary of State tell us the nature of the continuing link which was offered by Her Majesty's Government and rejected by President Makarios?

Mr. Sandys

It is difficult to summarise a document, but, broadly speaking, our intention was that the Secretary-General should continue to be represented in Cyprus, that continuing reports should be made to the Secretary-General about the progress of the force, and that he should be fully informed about the nature of the plan that we were making for the creation of that force.

Mr. Kershaw

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the terms of the Treaty of Zurich are not overridden by the reference to the United Nations? Is it not a fact that the Turks have up to now behaved, with a Treaty like that in their possession, with very considerable restraint?

Mr. Sandys

Reference of a matter to the Security Council does not affect the validity of existing treaties of any kind.

As to the second part of my hon. Friend's question, I do not want to be drawn into making any remarks which might be regarded as showing partiality to one side or the other.

Mr. Driberg

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the start of this trouble was the fact that the Constitution proved unworkable and that there was a sharp reaction, not so much from Turkish Cypriots as from the Turkish Government, to the Archbishop's proposals on 30th November for amending the Constitution? Since the Secretary of State has spoken of a mediator who will examine the whole problem and see what can be done to bring the two sides together, which certainly we welcome, can he say whether, simultaneously with keeping the peace and restoring order, there will be consideration of the basic problem of the Constitution, without which there cannot be a lasting peace?

Mr. Sandys

That is, of course, what the mediator's job will be.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

We must get on.