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Democratic Republic Of The Congo

Volume 407: debated on Monday 23 June 2003

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What (a) inoculations and (b) preventive medicines have been given to UK troops deploying to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. [120552]

In my oral statement to the House on 12 June, I said that we would finalise the exact number of engineering personnel to be deployed to the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the basis of further detailed analysis of the engineering tasks required in Bunia. I can now tell the House that this work has been completed, and we intend to send about 70 Royal Engineers to assist in improving Bunia airfield. With support staff and headquarters-based officers, total deployment will be in the region of 85 personnel.

In answer to the hon. Gentleman's specific question, all troops deploying to the Democratic Republic of the Congo are to be inoculated against vaccine-preventable endemic diseases such as hepatitis A, tuberculosis and yellow fever. Appropriate anti-malaria tablets and any necessary booster vaccinations will be provided before deployment. In addition, deploying troops will be briefed on preventive measures that they should take when in theatre.

I thank the Minister for that answer, which he has clearly thought about very carefully since last week, when he was a little more vague in what he was telling us. Will he now make it very clear that he knows exactly what the troops' mission is?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman thinks that I made my statement last week—I made it the week before. On the question of being vague, did tell the House that there was a requirement for a recce team to report back. It has now done so, and I have given a response. If the hon. Gentleman were truly interested in this issue, he would surely have read United Nations Security Council resolution 1484, which sets out the precise nature of the mission. It is

"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, UN personnel and the humanitarian presence in the town".
That will be the role and the mission of the EU-led troops.

I am grateful to the Minister for his earlier reply and reference to the 70 or so Royal Engineers being deployed to the Congo. However, a cursory look at history shows what a hugely dangerous theatre this part of Africa is, particularly for British soldiers. Is it wise that our soldiers should be going without any combat elements themselves, particularly given that they have to depend on French forces to defend them?

I would not want to rise too readily to that last comment. Given the hon. Gentleman's military background, he surely ought to know just how highly our armed forces rate the French armed forces and their capabilities. This is a very specific mission for our Royal Engineers, who will have supporting troops; in any case, all are trained in self-defence and the use of their own weapons. The mission will take place over a specific time scale in order to achieve the objective of opening up the airfield, which will hopefully allow other support to come in from the United Nations. That will lead to what we all hope will prove to be the eventual stabilisation of an undoubtedly very troubled region.