Thursday, 12 February 2004

Questions (97, 98, 99)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

83 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which he hopes to influence the situation in Iraq, with particular reference to restoring peace and stability; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4337/04]

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Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

84 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the current situation in Iraq. [4101/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 83 and 84 together.

I have consistently argued that an accelerated transfer of authority from the occupying powers to the Iraqis is necessary, while also recognising that this transfer has to be properly prepared. Although progress is being made in this regard, this positive development is offset by the continuing violence and the deep sense of concern which this is generating. The continuing insecurity problem cannot be solved through military means alone. A political solution is required. The support of the Iraqi people and of neighbouring countries is crucial to the successful transfer of sovereignty.

The fundamental question is how to transfer power to a sovereign Iraqi government at a time when the country is torn by violence and the three main factions — Shia, Sunni and Kurds — are in disagreement over the way forward. The resistance continues to inflict casualties on both the occupying powers and ordinary civilians. At the political level, there is disagreement on how to choose an interim government.

I welcome the announcement that a UN electoral team has been sent to assess the feasibility of holding elections before 30 June, and if not feasible, advise on possible acceptable alternatives. The UN elections advisory team left for Iraq on 5 February. I would concur with Secretary General Annan's analysis that consensus among all Iraqi constituencies would be the best guarantee of a legitimate and credible transitional government arrangement for Iraq. I have also consistently spoken in favour of a deeper UN involvement, as I believe that a UN role in the oversight of the transfer of sovereignty, for example, in supervising the formation of the transitional assembly, would give the process greater international legitimacy. I commend Secretary General Annan's efforts to maximise, within the existing political and physical constraints, the role and activities of the United Nations in regard to Iraq.

During our Presidency we will continue to support efforts aimed at reaching an international consensus on the way forward. We will be in contact with our EU partners, the United States and other concerned countries. In addition, in our role as Presidency of the European Union, Ireland is pleased to join with the US and other donors as a member of the Iraq reconstruction core group. We believe this will be a valuable opportunity to work closely with other donors to ensure that reconstruction efforts in Iraq are successful.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

85 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report to Dáil Éireann on the political climate in Sri Lanka; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4310/04]

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On 23 February 2002 a formal ceasefire agreement was signed, with Norwegian facilitation, between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, LTTE, and the Sri Lankan Government. Despite mounting political difficulties on the island, the ceasefire has continued to hold. On 4 November 2003, President Kumaratunga relieved three senior government ministers of office and personally assumed their powers. President Kumaratunga was reportedly concerned about LTTE proposals on an interim administration for the north and east of the country, and claimed that the government, led by Prime Minister Wickramasinghe, was making too many concessions. She announced that talks with the LTTE had been postponed indefinitely. A state of emergency was declared and parliament was prorogued for two weeks. Although Mrs. Kumaratunga holds the office of president, her party constitutes the official opposition, having lost parliamentary elections to Prime Minister Wickramasinghe two years ago.

The prime minister reportedly rejected as unworkable a power sharing offer from the president. On 8 February 2004, President Kumaratunga dissolved parliament and called for elections to be held on 2 April, nearly four years ahead of schedule. It is unlikely that there will be a resolution of these differences until after the elections. There are ongoing concerns that a prolonged political confrontation between the prime minister and the president could ultimately jeopardise the peace process with the LTTE. However, the LTTE have continued to reaffirm their commitment to the peace process.

On 4 November, the Presidency of the European Union, in conjunction with the European Commission, issued a statement urging the parties involved to continue to work together in support of a negotiated political solution. On 14 November 2003, Norway announced the suspension of its involvement in the peace process until such time as the political crisis is resolved. From 24 to 27 November 2003, EU External Relations Commissioner Mr. Chris Patten visited Sri Lanka where he held meetings with both government representatives and the LTTE. Commissioner Patten urged both sides to resume the peace process and warned against the extremely negative consequences that a resumption of violence could bring.

A co-chairs conference is due to take place in Washington on 17 February 2004, as a follow-up to the June 2003 Tokyo donor's conference on Sri Lanka. The co-chairs consist of the EU, Japan, the US, and Norway, the last in view of its position as facilitator of the peace process. Co-chairs are responsible for monitoring progress towards peace and advising on actions by the donor community. Through various channels, the Government will continue to take all appropriate opportunities to encourage the parties concerned to bring the peace process to an early, successful conclusion.

Question No. 86 answered with QuestionNo. 50.
Question No. 87 answered with QuestionNo. 34.
Question No. 88 answered with QuestionNo. 12.