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Democratic Republic Of The Congo

Volume 406: debated on Thursday 12 June 2003

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1.30 pm

With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on a British contribution to a multinational force for the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I advise the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is attending a NATO Defence Ministers' meeting in Brussels, which is why he is unable to present the statement today.

The House will be aware of the serious situation in the Ituri province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, particularly in and around the town of Bunia. There has been a resurgence of fighting, particularly between Hema and Lendu militia, and tens of thousands of people have fled from their homes. Some are in refugee camps around Bunia; others are scattered in the surrounding countryside. There is a risk that renewed violence and disease could lead to many deaths.

The United Kingdom is wholly committed to supporting the United Nations peacekeeping effort in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In Ituri province and elsewhere, good work has been done, but UN troops are faced with a new situation, which they do not have sufficient numbers to deal with. Recognising that, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan requested the creation of a multinational force to stabilise Bunia. UN Security Council resolution 1484, passed on 30 May, provides the mandate for the force, and on 5 June, the EU decided that the operation would be under European security and defence policy auspices.

As framework nation, France will provide the military commander and the majority of the force. Several EU member states and some non-EU nations are likely to contribute. We expect the Council of Ministers to agree today formally to launch the operation—the first EU-led operation outside Europe.

I can now tell the House how the UK intends to contribute to this EU-led force. We have offered to provide an engineer detachment and Hercules transport aircraft to help deploy the multinational force. The exact numbers of personnel needed will not be known until we have completed further detailed analysis of the engineering tasks required in Bunia. Bearing in mind the importance of co-ordination between the United Nations and the multinational force, and to assist with planning, we will also provide five staff officers to the force headquarters and a liaison officer to work with the UN.

I know that many right hon. and hon. Members are concerned that our armed forces have too many commitments. I understand that concern, but I can assure the House that this is a modest, realistic and sustainable deployment. In making the commitment, we are clear that there can be no military solution to the problems in the region. The multinational force is an interim measure, deployed to help the UN with a limited and short-term mandate and will begin to withdraw when UN reinforcements arrive later in the summer.

We hope that this force will help stabilise Ituri province and that it will assist the wider discussions in Kinshasa on the establishment of a transitional national Government. We call on all parties in Ituri, Kinshasa and the surrounding region to play a full part in achieving peace and stability in the region. I am pleased that the EU has responded quickly and decisively to the situation in Bunia. It is exactly how we envisage the EU's security and defence policy developing—as the practical expression of a common foreign and security policy.

The UK takes its commitments to global security seriously. The operation fits into our own and wider EU objectives in the region, including support to the peace process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I trust that the House will recognise that, through that contribution, we are taking practical steps to help resolve a difficult situation. I commend the statement to the House.

I am grateful to the Minister for his statement. Before responding, I would like to correct the record. I do not believe that the Leader of the House deliberately misled the House, but we never insisted on having an oral statement "tomorrow." We were always perfectly happy about an oral statement today, but we believe that it is important that we should always have an oral statement, as a matter of principle, in respect of any new deployment into any new theatre. I am sure that the whole House would agree.

Nobody could possibly object to the proposition that the Congo crisis is crying out for international intervention. That country that has been racked by tribal civil war and has been plundered for decades by neighbouring states for oil, gold and diamonds. We fully support intervention by the international community to stem the latest bloodshed. However, the conflict has claimed some 4 million lives since 1998 and the Minister has not explained what such a small intervention can truly achieve. What he did say is, "It is exactly how we envisage the EU's security and defence policy developing—as the practical expression of a common foreign and security policy." The deployment raises many questions about the assurances given to the House and to President Bush that NATO would always have first refusal over EU operations and would always be involved in the planning. Is this statement on the serious crisis in the Congo really the occasion to experiment with new and untried EU military structures and for the Minister to make political points about their highly controversial European security and defence policy? The crisis demands our best effort, because this small but complex operation may put at risk our servicemen's lives.

Given the Government's commitment to NATO and NATO's proven and tested abilities to plan and command operations of this sort, the Minister should explain why we did not press for NATO to lead the operation, just as NATO is leading peacekeeping in Kabul without any direct US military involvement.

A European security and defence policy operation is clearly more risky. The German former chief of NATO's military committee, General Klaus Naumann, has warned of the "casual approach of politicians", and that "soldiers risk dying" because of politicians' "ambitious decisions". Furthermore, a French military briefing paper obtained by The Guardian described the operation as
"politically and militarily high risk; very sensitive and complex",
but that has been ridiculed by an EU military planner who said:
"This is the most cynical military briefing I've read in my entire life. Everybody is just laughing at it."
Have the UK Government seen that paper, and what was their reaction?

In order to allay any concern, can the Minister set out the military mission for the operation? He seemed keener to talk about the ESDP, but said nothing about the military mission. What are the benchmarks for its success, and what are the key risks? Realistically, what impact can 1,400 soldiers have in a country the size of Europe? How can a mere 1,400 soldiers avoid being overwhelmed by the scale of the humanitarian crisis in Bunia? What humanitarian aid will be available to support military operations there? What are the provisions for reinforcement, if necessary, and what are the means of extracting the force in an emergency?

The French briefing paper is reported to confirm that the deployment will have negligible impact on the tribal conflict. Francois Grignon of the International Crisis Group has written:

"This intervention is, on the face of it, totally insufficient to meet the needs of Ituri's pacification."
Let nobody doubt Britain's concern for the people of the Congo and of the whole African continent, but I am sure that the Minister would agree that there is no point in hand-wringing gestures for ulterior political motives. Our armed forces have proved themselves in Africa time and again. There is no doubt that they will do an excellent job, whatever they are asked to do, and we certainly wish them well.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's initial comments about full support for the intervention, but the thrust of his comments was that it would have been better done under NATO than under ESDP. Of course, NATO could have become involved if it had wished, but it did not. The ESDP process was then triggered. That was always envisaged when the process was set up.

I take exception to the hon. Gentleman's comment that the very nature of the deployment would place additional risk on the lives of our personnel. There is not one shred of evidence for that and when the hon. Gentleman raises such scares, he has to recognise the possible impact on morale. It was a wholly unacceptable approach to adopt.

The potential humanitarian crisis and other threats that may exist—such as people pouring in to safer areas or outbreaks of major diseases and pestilence—have all formed part of the force planning that has been undertaken, in recognition of the fact that it will be a small deployment. The hon. Gentleman asked under what mandate we act and what approach we will take. I suggest that he reads the UN Security Council resolution, which states that the Security Council:
"Acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations … Authorizes the deployment until 1 September 2003 of an Interim Emergency Multinational Force in Bunia, in close co-ordination with MONUC,"—
which is still there and has been strengthened—
"in particular its contingent currently deployed in the town, to contribute to the stabilization of the security conditions and the improvement of the humanitarian situation in Bunia, to ensure the protection of the airport, the internally displaced persons in the camps in Bunia and, if the situation requires it, to contribute to the safety of the civilian population, United Nations personnel and the humanitarian presence in the town … Stresses that this Interim Emergency Multinational Force is to be deployed on a strictly temporary basis to allow the Secretary-General to reinforce MONUC's presence in Bunia and in this regard, authorises the Secretary-General to deploy, within the overall authorised MONUC ceiling, a reinforced United Nations presence to Bunia, and requests him to do so by mid-August 2003."
That is a very specific mandate for a specific time, laid down by the United Nations while it builds up its force to deal with all the other attendant problems. Our force is not going out there to deal with those problems. We are putting in place specific enabling capabilities to enable the force to be deployed.

I hope that I have answered the questions raised by the hon. Gentleman. He is clearly concerned because the ESDP is involved, but that does not diminish the quality of the personnel who will be put in place. They will do a thorough and professional job, as they always do, no matter which flag they are doing it under.

Albeit that the House is relatively empty, let us understand that this is a momentous statement. With trepidation and foreboding, I support the Government's actions. I was chosen by Mr. Speaker Weatherill as the leader of the Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation to Zaire in November 1990 and I just hope that Ministers understand the bitter tribal divisions in that place. We will be going into a morass, and it is not a place for a token force to achieve anything. The Minister says September and refers to strict dates. I hope he is right, but let us not mistake the momentous nature of what we are doing.

Not for one moment do the Government, or any other country involved, underestimate the scale of the problem, which is long-running and will not be easily resolved. That is why I said in my opening statement that a military solution is unlikely. We have to move forward on a range of fronts. I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support. In one sense, the decision is indeed momentous, because it shows a clear commitment in Europe to take on difficult tasks that we have been requested by the UN to address. We understand wholly the deep, bitter tribal divisions that exist, and that could fragment even further. The scene is constantly shifting, with supporters moving from faction to faction. The UN has to understand that, and it does. It has to tackle it, and it is trying. We will give it support in what it is trying to achieve.

I thank the Minster for advance warning of his announcement. We do not believe that today is the day to rehearse arguments about European integration. We welcome the positive response by the Government to the request for troops to be sent to the Congo, under EU authority. I am sure that it is with some discomfort that our armed forces face yet another commitment in the present circumstances, but the Minister is right to point out that the strategic defence review acknowledged that as a permanent member of the UN Security Council Britain has a responsibility to contribute to international peacekeeping missions.

The shadow of Rwanda will fall over this mission. There is a need for many more troops than those on their way to the Congo. According to, a leaked French military document—as the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) said—the force will not be able to disarm the militia or stop the war, merely protect civilians. While it is right that we should not know the exact rules of engagement, can the Minister assure the House that they are sufficiently robust to protect our troops in the field, and the civilians in their care?

What efforts are the Government making to convince other nations to contribute, both from within the EU and outside it? Will there be a reserve call-out associated with this deployment? Can we learn the lessons from Sierra Leone? Can we ensure that all personnel on their way to the region receive appropriate protection against diseases? Will the malaria prevention issued be the same as in Sierra Leone? As with Sierra Leone, we need to know what the exit strategy is—as the Father of the House said. The French have said they will commit only to 1 September, after which they will hand over command to the Bangladeshis. Do we leave with the French, or wait for the Bangladeshis?

We could leave in advance of that. When the recce has returned, it will define exactly what is required. We do not yet know the extent of the engineering requirements in the field, and other Departments and non-governmental organisations are there and may be able to undertake some of the tasks. The scale and scope of the operation has not been fully defined, other than that it will take place within a tight parameter. We could leave earlier, although the likelihood is that we will withdraw as the UN reinforcements enter the region.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's acceptance of what we are doing. I was thrown a wee bit, because we usually get some confusion about whether to support a deployment from the Liberal Democrats—

Well, I think of a recent conflict on which they tried to face both ways. They are now picking and choosing which parts of the world they wish the UK to become involved in, and yet at the same time they say that we have obligations under UN Security Council commitments to seek to do what we can to deal with those issues.

The hon. Gentleman also said that there was a need for more troops. I do not know whether he is asking for more UK troops to become involved—

Well, at least that is clear. I can give him assurances that, as I said in my statement—he had an advance copy of it—other EU and non-EU nations are being spoken to by the French, as the framework nation, to try to assemble a package.

On the rules of engagement, the deployment of our personnel and of the multinational force will take place under chapter VII of the UN charter. The hon. Gentleman should understand precisely what that means. We do not discuss details of the rules of engagement, but our troops will be armed and will use their weapons for their own defence, if required.

The Gentleman asked about the reserve call-out, and I can tell him that we have no plans in that regard. This important deployment will be small. The precise numbers have not yet been determined, so I see no need for a reserve call-out. However, the purpose of having reserves available is that they can be called out in certain circumstances, if there is a need to supplement the work of the regular forces in meeting the demands placed on us under the UN charter. No such call-out is planned on this occasion.

I welcome today's statement, which has been inevitable for many years. Like everyone else, I welcome it with apprehension because of the scale of the problem that exists.

I have two points to make. First, there must be a fierce intensification of the diplomatic effort to prevent neighbouring states from interfering in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and to get their forces out of that country. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the Government are playing their part in that? Secondly, I suggest that my right hon. Friend read "A Nation Betrayed" by Linda Melvern, which deals with Rwanda. We must not betray the Congo in the same way that Rwanda was betrayed. Every member of the UN Security Council must play its part, which means an application of forces way beyond what is being talked about today.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has been very active in highlighting this issue. He takes a close interest in this and other parts of the world, and I know that he has been raising this issue over a considerable period of time. He asked for more military intervention and for more intensive diplomatic efforts. I assure him that the diplomatic effort is being intensified as a result of the assessment that a military solution is not the way forward. However, we must always take matters on a case-by-case basis. The UN approach to the issue has been carefully constructed, and we must recognise the primacy of the UN in the matter and accept its assessment. The UN has asked for support, and adopting the EU-led approach of the ESDP will give confidence in the interim period, ahead of what we hope will be a much more substantial presence on the ground through MONUC, the UN force in the area.

I do not know how many troops my hon. Friend thinks should be involved, given the scale of the problem, but it would be a failure of our thought processes if we were to adopt a military approach to the matter. As he said, we must adopt a diplomatic approach. All our efforts, through the UN and through NGOs, must be aimed at finding the best solution. The problem is complex and has existed for some time. We are all aware of the terrible experience in Rwanda in 1994, and I do not think I need to read the book "A Nation Betrayed". All of us remember in some detail what went on at that time. Lessons have been learned, and I hope that we can find a solution on this occasion.

Although I recognise that the deployment is a small one, does the Minister understand that many of us oppose it? Britain has no historical responsibility for the Congo, and our economic and political interests there are very small. As the Father of the House said, the risks involved in the deployment are very great. In those circumstances, does the Minister accept that the risks to British servicemen are such that we should not commit them in such a venture?

No, I do not. There is no question but that there is a risk attached whenever we deploy our armed forces. However, our forces know what they are being asked to do. They are professional, dedicated and highly trained people. On this particular occasion, they have a specific role within a specific and tight mandate that has a specific time frame. There is also a humanitarian element to the deployment. If we can solve this problem by means of EU and UN action, I am sure that the British people will be on our side, and British forces will have done a great job once again in the name of this country.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, and his clear declaration of the Government's logical and realistic response to an extremely serious problem.

I turn now to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington). Those of us who were part of an all-party group that had the privilege of visiting Rwanda towards the end of last year recall that the President of Rwanda warned that he would not hesitate to send troops into the Democratic Republic of the Congo if he perceived a threat to his country's borders. It would be absolutely wrong for Britain to stand by and watch a repeat of the genocide that has taken place in the region, especially when the UN has invited us to contribute and we have the support of the EU.

Therefore, I again welcome my right hon. Friend's statement. In the circumstances, if it becomes necessary for the Government to add to Britain's contribution, we should not hesitate to do so.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who is another Member with a very close interest in this particular part of the world. I can tell him that the Government of Rwanda welcome this initiative, as do neighbouring states. All those countries are very keen to resolve the very deep problems in the area, as they realise that the problems could spill over their borders. That is why there is tremendous international support for the deployment, as my right hon. Friend's remarks have underlined.

The Minister of State should hang his head in shame at this statement. We are making a token contribution to a token force that is going into a boiling cauldron of a situation. If the international community was even half serious about dealing with the matter, the deployment would involve a properly organised UN force with a properly organised UN mandate. What we have instead is a confusion that involves a multinational force sitting alongside UN forces. The forces involved are wholly inadequate for the confusion of tasks that have been set. Nothing that the Minister of State has said can disguise the fact that the deployment is simply a little gift from the Prime Minister to the President of France that will allow the EU to strut its stuff on a stage that it should not even contemplate. The sooner we can get out of this disastrous engagement, the better.

The hon. Gentleman is applying his usual judgment in coming to his conclusion—although he may change his mind tomorrow, as he has done in respect of other matters.

I do not hang my head in shame about this. I think that we can hold our heads up in relation to the commitment that we are making. That commitment is being made on the basis of what we have been asked to do by the UN, which has identified a shortfall in its current force strength in that part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It has asked us to do something, and we have decided to do what we can. Our participation will be for a limited period. We recognise the dangers that exist, and we do not undertake the deployment lightly. All the matters involved have been properly assessed, and we have studied the rules of engagement to determine the basis on which our people will be deployed. We have also assessed the force protection that will be required when we deploy our personnel. If the hon. Gentleman thinks otherwise, he has not understood for one moment the way in which this Government—and previous Governments—arrive at conclusions when deploying forces. We do not make this deployment lightly, but we recognise that we have international commitments. I should have hoped that the hon. Gentleman would recognise that those commitments must be understood and adhered to.

My right hon. Friend the Minister will be gratified to know that Labour Members recognise that the role being taken by the Government is an honourable one. The crisis in the Congo has existed for many years and it has, alas, been too much ignored by the world community. I therefore welcome today's announcement.

It is clear that the operation involves very limited numbers of personnel, as has already been noted. Opposition Members who have spoken about a force that could solve the problems in the Congo simply do not understand the politics, geography and nature of the conflict taking place in that enormous country.

The real issue was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington) earlier. We must be engaged diplomatically to make the military intervention worthwhile, and that means bringing pressure to bear on our friends in Uganda and Rwanda, who allowed the rape of the Congo by their own troops, and on President Mugabe in Zimbabwe—nowadays our less good friend. Intervention from other African countries must be brought to an end to allow the Congo to reconstruct itself. As my hon. Friend said, in the end, the solution cannot be only military.

I can add little to what my hon. Friend said. I recognise that he fully supports the gist and thrust of my statement and of my responses to other questions. I am grateful for his comments. He understands that the deployment is for a limited period, that it has a clear objective and that the wider objectives must be met by other means. There must be intensive efforts, not just from the UK alone but through multinational approaches; where people have influence on countries in the region every effort must be made to find the diplomatic solution that is required. It will not be easy and it will not happen quickly, but we must at least try.

As someone who has had friends working in the region for years, I share the concern expressed by the Father of the House; the Minister referred to 1998, but the situation has existed for a long time. How can we intensify diplomatic efforts when the problems have been going on for so long? In recent weeks, we have seen pictures in the papers and on television of French troops who can do nothing because they are not strong enough. Does the Minister agree that such pictures do not give us great hope that the force will be effective if it takes only a peacekeeping role? I should like to think that chapter VII gave us more facility for movement within the law.

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman examines what chapter VII is about; a different role is accorded to MONUC, the current force, which operates under chapter VI. The rules of engagement could be different under a different UN mandate.

I cannot disguise the fact that the force is small. That is clearly the case. However, that is what the UN requested in the mandate under resolution 1484 and we are responding accordingly. We are a small part of a small multinational force, with a specific purpose for a short period.

The hon. Gentleman asked how we could intensify the diplomatic effort. We shall do so in the usual way. We have to try to encourage people in the region to take on ownership of the problem, and we must have confidence in their ability to do so. We must help them with security reforms and other aspects so that they can deal with the threats that could knock them off course. We are making a major contribution to achieve those objectives, both through the UN and unilaterally through the Department for International Development and other means. We have a clear view about what is required in the region, but we need to encourage others to come along with us. We have shown that we can achieve progress elsewhere in the world and, hopefully, we can deliver that in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement and the engagement of British forces and the international community in the area. As he is aware, the current mandate is restricted not only as to the length of time but as to the geographical area that the force will cover—a small area around the town of Bunia. In the past few weeks, 70 per cent. of the population has fled the town as a result of violence. This week, there have been reports of further violence in North Kivu. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the mandate of the MONUC forces, which will be reconsidered by the UN this month, should be extended to include the entire Ituri region and that their number should be strengthened so that they can adequately protect the population of the whole area and not just of Bunia itself?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her welcome for the statement. She is right: the mandate restricts us to a small part of the DRC. As we know, the country is 10 times the size of the UK. It is extremely difficult to police such a sizeable area and to deploy troops as meaningfully as some people might want.

On the future mandate for MONUC, the number of troops to be engaged, their role and the way in which they will deal with related problems beyond the immediate area and elsewhere in the DRC is a matter for the UN as the situation develops. We can move forward to achieve our objectives only when we have co-operation from other countries. We shall probably return to that issue in the future once the new mandate has been determined.

Although we appreciate the wise and timely caveats of the Father of the House, we fully support the intervention. However, with hindsight, does the Minister not think that it was highly inappropriate and unwise for the Government to have sanctioned arms sales to all five combatants in the Congo less than two years ago?

An arms embargo has been in place since 1993 and new rules now apply on the sale of weapons to surrounding nations, which may or may not intervene. Tight rules apply and they are constantly under review. If any of those nations were able to contribute positively, or required weapons because they faced a threat to their borders or were working under the auspices of the UN or other African nations, they would need to be equipped.

It would be nice if there was a simple solution, but there is not. The situation is complex and the scene is shifting all the time. If the hon. Gentleman has a simple solution, perhaps he would let me know and I shall certainly pass it on to those at the UN who are discussing the way forward. I do not think that his remedy would solve the existing problem.

May I add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend? The intervention is long overdue. Does he agree, however, that history shows that intervention, especially in Africa, is often too little, too late? What has happened to the proposal floated at the UN some years ago for a rapid reaction force to which developed countries and some developing countries would contribute? Such situations will always get worse unless there is early intervention. No one wants to put British troops at risk, but we need to recognise that we have both humanitarian and security obligations to take early and serious action to ensure that the combatants know where we stand.

My hon. Friend makes some good points. However, the UN has identified a problem; it has asked for a rapid response, which has been given—albeit within a tight framework. That is the best assessment of what is required of the interim force in assisting the UN to build up to the larger scale force that it judges will be able to deal with some of the problems faced in Bunia—where we are sending our personnel—and the surrounding area.

We cannot rewrite history. There is no point in saying that we can undo the mistakes of the past. We can only face up to the current reality and that is what we are trying to do. I repeat: the situation is complex and fraught with many dangers, but we are determined to assist in the best way that we possibly can.

Several hon. Membersrose—

Order. A number of hon. Members are still seeking to catch my eye; shorter questions will allow me to call as many of them as possible.

As a member of the Inter-Parliamentary Union trip to Rwanda, ably led by the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke), may I say that we saw the results of the genocide in 1994? We literally walked through the skulls and bones of some of the people who were murdered during that genocide, which took place while the world looked on. Although I totally support sending a UN force to the area, for the reasons that I have given, it is important to remember that the situation is very complex. We ought to remember that the genocide in Rwanda was extended, unintentionally, by the French backing the wrong side.

We can all revisit history and find many lessons about what different countries, including our own, have done in the past. That is why I make the point that there are undoubtedly, lessons to be learned, but the scenario is different on this occasion. There may well be a threat of genocide, but it has not yet manifested itself. By acting as we have done, at the request of the UN, I hope that that threat can be dealt with, so that the problem is avoided, but there is no certainty in any of this. If such things happen, the world has to react accordingly to that new threat. The approach to this matter has been measured and focused. Decisions have been made on the best assessment that the type of results that we are looking for will be delivered to stabilise the situation and to allow the UN to move forward on the basis of that stability and deal with the key issues, so that the possible threat of genocide and all the other risks that flow from that can be avoided. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's comments, and I am sure that he learned a lot on that visit.

As a young officer, I was taught that any operation that starts without a crystal-clear mission is likely to start and probably end in chaos. May I bring the Minister back to one of the questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin)? What is the military mission on which our soldiers are being sent?

I shall not reiterate the basis on which the multinational force has been put together. [HON. MEMBERS: "What is the mission?"] I shall come to the mission precisely in a moment. In relation to the parameters of what we have been asked to do on the mission, a recce team is currently finding out the scale of the problem, so that we can then direct our resources at it. I indicated in an earlier answer that we have representatives of other non-governmental organisations as well as of other Departments out there who may be able to take on some of the engineering tasks, if they are so defined.

There will be an engineering and airlift capability to allow the deployment of the force. To get the aircraft in, the airfield needs to be secured and made safe and workable. That is the basis of the mission; it does not extend beyond that. Our forces are not involved in peacekeeping duties and, therefore, they will not be engaged in the manner that some hon. Members fear. They will not be sucked into something else. Their mission will be precisely as I set out in my opening statement and as I have said in my answer now.

The Minister mentioned in his statement that the force will help to stabilise Ituri province. If it is only mandated for self-defence at the moment, how will it effect that stabilisation?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman understands that we are talking about a multinational force and the way in which it will carry out its role. The rules of engagement under chapter VII are very clear.

I wish the hon. Gentleman would stop heckling every answer that I try to give. He has had his opportunity, and he will have other opportunities to respond.

Of course the way in which the multinational force deals with the situation will be defined in the terms of the mission set out by the contributing nations, and its role, which comes under the chapter VII of the UN charter, will be precisely to stabilise that area, to ensure that there is a peaceful environment and to lower the temperature in the area. If there is conflict, that must be dealt with by those who have to meet those responsibilities and, of course, in the interim, that will be the multinational force.

We have not had a clear mission statement, and I would rather trust the judgment of my hon. Friends the Members for Newark (Patrick Mercer), for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) and for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), who were all Regular Army officers and know a great deal about such situations. In Sierra Leone, we committed troops on the ground and, in Zimbabwe, we had a British military advisory and training team. Unlike those areas, where Britain had a responsibility, both historical and current, there is no current or historical British interest in Congo. It is Francophone-zone country, so surely we should be looking to France and Belgium to shoulder responsibilities and to look after their own interests.

Increasingly, in dealing with matters of global security, small or large, international coalitions are put in place. This mission will be EU-led, with the French as the framework nation. The Belgians are already committed to it. Other EU nations have been asked to become involved and some, probably with less historical engagement in Africa than we have, are considering putting in support. Non-EU nations are doing the same. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome that willingness to broaden the international approach to such issues, rather than seeing them as the problem of one nation or a simple, straightforward group of nations. This is about internationalising the solutions to such problems. That is what the UN was originally set up for and, of course, the European security and defence policy is now taking a small part of the ownership of that role.

I lived and worked out in Beni and Bunia in the Kivu region in 1991, and I have the greatest reservations about this mission. The Father of the House was absolutely right when he mentioned that our troops will be exposed to malaria. In fact, it is probably the most virulent strain in the whole of Africa, particularly cerebral malaria, which I was unfortunate enough to catch out there. The people there are good people, and, to some extent, I welcome what the French and the Belgians are doing. Why are we not doing the same in Zimbabwe?

Well, that is an interesting development. Is the hon. Gentleman asking for military intervention in Zimbabwe?

Well, I really do find that surprising. The whole thrust of most of the questions and my responses to them has suggested that although there should he a military presence to try to stabilise the region, the longterm solution is diplomatic. That is precisely what we are seeking to do in Zimbabwe, by doing all that is required so that that country is held in opprobrium not just by Europe and elsewhere, but by Africa, to make people understand the scale of its problem. Most people are now seized of that, which is why there is an intensive effort for change in Zimbabwe, but the hon. Gentleman suggests that military intervention is required. How many troops?

How many troops would be required? The facetious way in which the hon. Gentlemen approach this shows that they have no understanding of international affairs. If the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) is now saying that we should opt for assassination, that is a very dangerous road to go down, and I am not so sure that those on the Conservative Front Bench would support him.

:I am afraid that I have to tell the Minister that, despite repeated questions, he has been very vague about the ultimate mission that this recce is designed to support. France is described in his statement as the framework nation, providing the military commander. Can he please explain to the House what will be the command and control relationships above that level? How will they interrelate with the UK Ministry of Defence?

The likelihood is that we will have a lieutenant colonel in command of our deployed forces, under a French brigadier. A command and control structure will then be established in Paris, to which we are sending six officers, so we will have an input into that. We will have a liaison officer with the UN MONUC forces. The command and control structures that apply are those that normally apply in such circumstances. Of course reporting back is a process that happens in every engagement. What the forces do must be clearly defined, and there must be clear reporting mechanisms in that overall command and control structure. That is no different from what happens in Macedonia, Afghanistan and Iraq, so there is nothing new about this. Opposition Members may have ESDP up there in lights, but the command and control structures are as robust and well-tested as they have ever been.

I hope very much that our officers on the ground out in the Congo are able to articulate the military mission more clearly than the Minister was able to do today to my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer). In the event that, before September, there is a significant escalation in fighting or a major deterioration in the security situation out there, will he look to extract this small force or to reinforce it?

If the situation changes, the planning changes, and the decision changes accordingly. It is no different from any other mission into which—[HON. MEMBERS: "Wait and see."] I do not know whether Conservative Members want us to be there or not. It is clear that they have taken on the mantle of the Lib Dems—they are trying to face both ways. We have gone from assassination in Zimbabwe, as suggested by the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk, to a fulsome welcome for the intervention—but by NATO, not by ESDP—to the demands of the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker). What is he saying? If he is saying that, if the situation deteriorates, do we carry on with our planning assumptions, the answer is if the situation deteriorates and changes dramatically, that must be taken into account in all the planning assumptions.