HL Deb 27 June 1977 vol 384 cc885-8
Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary during his visit in early May to President Neto of Angola asked about the undertaking to reduce the numbers of Cuban troops in that country and, if so, what response he got.


My Lords, the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary did not raise this matter with President Neto.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, may I ask why he did not raise it with the President, because surely it is all-important? Cannot these Cuban troops be classified as mercenaries? As they are now extending their operations to, I believe, about 18 different countries including Libya, call the noble Lord say what action will be taken by Her Majesty's Government to raise the matter with the United Nations.


My Lords, the noble Baroness and the House will recall our exchanges in this House on 17th May on this matter when, in reply to a similar Question, I said that sovereign independent States are entitled to decide from which countries they choose to seek assistance; therefore it would not be appropriate to raise this matter at the meeting which the Foreign Secretary had with President Neto, among others, when he visited Africa last. However, I also indicated—and I repeat it today—that there are other channels through which we can make, and have made, our views very clearly understood about the appalling interference from outside by one country in the affairs of another.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, would the Minister confirm that when President Neto asked for assistance from the Cubans there was not a sovereign State, and he was not in fact President of Angola; and does that not alter the status of the Cubans in Angola.


My Lords, the noble Baroness puts the position correctly. However, at that time we made representations to both the Russians and the Cubans because the channels then were quite different from today's.


My Lords, would the Minister agree that perhaps the most important task in Africa for Her Majesty's Government is to achieve a Rhodesian settlement; that so long as there are Cuban troops in central Africa credence is lent to Mr. Smith's spurious argument that he is a bastion of the West, and that this is not helping our negotiating team out there.


I would agree, my Lords. This is a dangerous situation anyway and the only difference between me and those who have spoken this afternoon is the appropriateness of raising this matter in the kind of meeting that the Foreign Secretary had with President Neto in May. There is no doubt that the presence of troops from one country in another country, even at the request of the second country, can only have an unsettling effect on Africa. As I have said before, détente is indivisible and if it is conducive to détente in Europe that there should be no interference by one country with another, surely the same applies to Africa.


My Lords, does the noble Lord's reluctance to interfere in the internal affairs of another country apply to South Africa.


My Lords, I was not aware that we were interfering in the affairs of South Africa. We, with the rest of the civilised world, are extending to South Africa excellent advice about apartheid.

Baroness ELLES

But, my Lords, following my former question, would the Minister agree that the British Government have recognised as a State a body of people who were supported by an outside aggressive group of soldiers.


My Lords, with a great many other countries, among them friends and allies of ours, we have given recognition to the present Angolan Government. This is not exceptional; indeed it is desirable that we should recognise a country as soon as certain criteria are satisfied, as they were in this case. We hope to move from recognition to full diplomatic relationship as soon as possible.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether or not troops from other countries as well as Cuba intervened in Angola, and whether it is not a fact that the South African troops were there before the Cuban troops went there.


My Lords, at the time when there was civil war in Angola we expressed clearly to all concerned that it was quite wrong and dangerous for them to interfere in the affairs of Angola. Since then, the Angolan Government have been set up and recognised by a very large number of countries, and the situation has changed. It is for the Angolan Government to decide who they will invite to come in or stay to assist them. I am not aware that they have invited South Africans to come in.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, following the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, would the Minister agree that the South Africans withdrew their troops from Angola and that there are now no more South African troops in Angolan territory.


My Lords, of course I can confirm that.

The Earl of SELKIRK

My Lords, when the Foreign Secretary visited that country did he raise the question of British prisoners in Angola.


Yes, indeed, my Lords. It is part of the object of extending recognition into the field of diplomatic relations that in that way we shall be the better able to protect British interests, and indeed British subjects who may be in difficulty in such a country. At the moment the Italian Government and Embassy in Luanda are helping us in this respect, and we are very grateful to them.


My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that, shortly after the major hostilities in Angola, an undertaking was given by the USSR that the Cuban troops would be withdrawn within the next 10 or 12 months? Could they be asked to honour that obligation.


My Lords, as the noble Baroness reminds us, there were indications at one stage that the Cubans might consider a gradual withdrawal. We hope that Cuban intentions remain of that order. I cannot confirm the numbers of Cubans in the country. I was asked when I answered questions on this point a few weeks ago. I have looked into this matter again. It does not seem to me that there is evidence of any reduction since I last spoke about this subject in the House, and the House should know it; 15,000 may still be a reasonable estimate. However, as to the second point raised by the noble Baroness, we shall, I repeat, take every appropriate opportunity of making clear to the Cubans, to the Government of the USSR and indeed to all concerned, that we hope very much that a withdrawal will take place from this and similar countries in Africa in the interests of creating a more stable situation in that Continent.

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