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Horn Of Africa

Volume 124: debated on Wednesday 16 December 1987

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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what report he has received from the United Kingdom ambassador to the United Nations concerning United Nations policy towards the Horn of Africa.

We are continuously in touch with developments through Her Majesty's ambassadors to Djibouti, Ethiopia and Somalia and our permanent representative to the United Nations in New York. The United Nations development programme resident representative in Addis Ababa, Mr. Michael Priestley, is co-ordinating work to alleviate the current famine in Ethiopia and he has our fullest support.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is tragic that three quarters of Ethiopia's national wealth is now spent on arms, that Ethiopia has just secured a $4 billion credit from the Russian Government for further arms procurement, and that no fewer than 300,000 young Ethiopians have now been press-ganged into the armed forces? Is it not time that the Ethiopian Government started to discover ways of resolving internal strife in Ethiopia and spent less on arms and more on food? Will my right hon. Friend urge our ambassador at the United Nations, for whom we have the greatest respect, to try to bring pressure to bear on the Ethiopian Government, through the international community in the shape of the United Nations, to start peacefully to resolve Ethiopia's internal difficulties so that that country can begin to produce food to keep itself once more?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is a tragic situation, and we very much regret the continued fighting. It is causing great hardship and threatening the international relief effort. On 13 November we and our European partners deplored the attack on and destruction of a United Nations relief aid convoy. As I have said before in the House, a ceasefire based on humanitarian considerations would relieve much suffering and assist relief efforts. We, together with our European partners, will continue to urge progress towards a peaceful solution of the internal conflicts in Ethiopia, and I am sure that our ambassador at the United Nations will do all that he can to bring home to the Ethiopian Government what is going on.

In the long term, Ethiopia will improve its ability to feed itself only if the Ethiopian Government's agricultural policies stop discouraging farmers in the more fertile regions from growing food. They can produce a surplus to feed the growing population and provide reserves against natural disasters.

I welcome the Minister's comments about the efforts of the Government and of the international community in working for peace in Ethiopia. Nevertheless, will the right hon. Lady make it clear that the fact that a tragic war is taking place will not be made an excuse to listen to the voices that are sometimes heard in the House as a reason not to give aid to the civilian population of Ethiopia?

The Government and all hon. Members wish to see humanitarian aid given to the Ethiopian people, but there is no way in which we will help the Ethiopian Government, who, as my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) said, are spending tremendous amounts of money on armaments rather than feeding their own people. Therefore, all our efforts will be towards humanitarian aid and persuading the Ethiopian Government that their policies of villagisation and forced resettlement are wrong, counter-productive and not in the interests of their people or of anyone else in that region.

Is it not clear that a major element in the serious and worrying famine setting in once again in Ethiopia is the continuing warfare? Will Her Majesty's Government press, through the United Nations and our allies, for the early removal of foreign military forces from Ethiopia — specifically the large contingents of Soviet military bloc advisers and Cuban forces, which have been aiding the puppet Mengistu regime?

As my hon. Friend probably knows, we have already pressed for that, and we shall continue to do so. Our frustration — like that of the rest of the free world wishing to see Ethiopia able to cope with its ghastly famine problem—is that we are not listened to as we would be listened to by most other sensible nations. In that respect, there is a marked contrast between the way in which the Ethiopian Government have responded to the need for food and the way in which the Mozambican Government have responded by handing the land back to the people of Mozambique and increasing the production of food for their own people.