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Sierra Leone

Volume 406: debated on Tuesday 10 June 2003

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1.

If he will make a statement on Sierra Leone. [117938]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Bill Rammell)

The UK has made a significant political, military and financial investment to end the conflict in Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone has now enjoyed over a year of peace under a democratically elected Government. The UK has a long-term commitment to Sierra Leone, and will continue to support the Government as they make the reforms that will ensure a sustainable peace.

Two key elements in that long-term stability are the prosecution of war criminals and preventing conflict in adjoining countries from destabilising Sierra Leone. In view of that, will the Minister tell the House what practical steps Her Majesty's Government are taking to bring President Taylor to justice? Secondly, what steps are they taking to secure a regional solution to the problems of the area?

We have taken the lead in establishing the special court, and committed some £6.6 million to that effect. The court and the prosecutor are entirely independent. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was referring to the indictment that was recently laid down in respect of Charles Taylor. The prosecutor makes his own decisions, but we are urging that Charles Taylor should give himself up to the authorities, and that others in the region should support that move.

The hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) rightly made the connection with the situation in Liberia, because we know that Sierra Leone's problems have almost always been imported from that country. Even more important than the indictment of Mr. Taylor—although that would be a good thing—is the peace process in Liberia. Will my hon. Friend tell the House what practical steps the British Government are taking to drive through that process, which is a necessary precondition to long-term peace in the region?

My hon. Friend's analysis is absolutely right. We need to push forward the peace process in Liberia, and we are certainly pushing to that effect. The pressure to achieve that will have been enhanced by United Nations Security Council resolution 1478, adopted on 6 May, which renewed the arms embargo and the travel ban aimed at those breaking the arms embargo, and dealt with the issue of rough diamonds. From 7 July, the sanctions will also apply to timber, the revenue from which is used to purchase arms. That pressure, allied with our constant urging of the Liberian authorities to engage in a peace process, represents the right way forward.