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Volume 455: debated on Tuesday 16 January 2007

4. What recent assessment she has made of developments in the situation in Darfur; and if she will make a statement. (115404)

President Bashir has now accepted UN support for AMIS—the African Union Mission in Sudan—and has allowed the first UN military personnel into Darfur. That is important, but it is only the first step. We urge the Government of Sudan, the UN and the African Union to work for full implementation of the joint support package and an urgent resumption of the political process. All sides need to observe the ceasefire, too, particularly the Government of Sudan, who have been bombing the rebels, as that is vital for progress on the humanitarian front.

I thank the Secretary of State for her reply, but has a time line been developed for the United Nations and the African Union to be on the ground? At what point will that protection start to be provided for people in Darfur?

There are three stages to the deployment: first, light support, in which 180 personnel, 34 of whom have already arrived, are expected to be involved; secondly, heavy support; and, finally, the establishment of a full hybrid African Union and United Nations force. There is no specific timescale, but everyone who wishes the position in Darfur to improve is anxious that as many of those people as possible should be deployed as soon as possible, and that is something for which we are all working.

Is it not correct that although it is six months since the Security Council agreed to put more than 20,000 peacekeepers into Darfur, very few countries have agreed to supply either troops or police? What can my right hon. Friend do to convince more of our allies to support UN resolutions on the ground? When that deployment is finally made, will she ensure that steps are taken to protect the women of Darfur, thousands of whom have been raped when they went out to do normal tasks such as gathering firewood?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to one of the most appalling aspects of the situation in Darfur. I understand her concern that there has not been a speedier commitment of forces ready to move into Darfur, but she will appreciate that one reason is that until now, the Sudanese Government have been unwilling to make clear their acceptance of the need for troops. It is difficult in those circumstances to persuade the international community to come forward as speedily as it should, but with our allies, we continue to push for such steps.

Given that the poisonous conflict in Darfur has now spread to Chad and the Central African Republic, and that as the right hon. Lady has acknowledged, foot-stamping by the Sudanese Government has already vetoed one vital United Nations troop deployment to Darfur, what further steps can and will be taken by the international community to rein in that violent barbaric regime, whose diplomatic sorcery is exceeded only by its unrelenting genocide?

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, because I know that he takes a great interest in these issues, we have appointed a special representative to go and work in the area as a roving ambassador, and the United Nations has recently appointed Jan Eliasson, who was, I believe, in Sudan last week, to make his own fresh assessment of the situation. So further diplomatic efforts are continuing. In fairness, I ought also to say that President Bashir wrote a few days ago to say that he does accept the agreements made at Addis Ababa and the previous agreements, and will now proceed to implement them. We all hope that on this occasion that will be followed through.

Further to the answers that my right hon. Friend has given, can she say whether we have had bilateral discussions with the French, in particular, and with the Government of Chad, about how we can support the efforts of the international community more specifically?

We have had continuing discussions with a number of allies, including our French colleagues. As my hon. Friend knows, there is concern about the position in Chad. We are pressing all involved to uphold the Tripoli agreement and to stop the fighting that has been occurring on the border, not least through proxies on the border, and to take more concrete steps on the ground to try to re-establish a degree of peace, not least because, as I know my hon. Friend and the House are aware, the last thing we need in the region is to see instability and conflict spreading in Chad, to add to that in Darfur. I can assure my hon. Friend that we are doing everything we can to make progress on the matter.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the situation on the ground in Darfur appears to be the worst that it has been for some time, with humanitarian access at its worst point since about 2004, given the withdrawal of NGOs, and with 200 people reported killed in the week up to last Saturday, journalistic access—for obvious reasons—increasingly rare, many thousands of people in danger of violence, and hundreds of thousands in danger of food shortages? Although I welcome, as the right hon. Lady does, the comments of the President of Sudan, will she comment on the fact that he is also reported as saying at the weekend that UN troops are not necessary, and that there are sufficient forces in Sudan already, from African countries—not a helpful approach to the situation? Given her previous statement last October that “negative consequences” will arise for the Government in Khartoum if the situation continues to deteriorate, will she reiterate that today, and even spell out what some of those negative consequences might be?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making those points. In some ways he is right about the situation being dreadful and deteriorating, but in some ways it is not quite so bad, in that there is less fighting than there has been. What are particularly dreadful, and must cease, are attacks by the Government themselves, including in the past few weeks attacks on groups who had just agreed a ceasefire with the African Union commanders. That is a chaotic and ridiculous situation. The right hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the implications for the humanitarian effort. I am sorry to tell the House that there are probably fewer aid workers in Darfur now—for wholly understandable reasons; those are very brave people, who go into all sorts of horrendous situations—than for about two years, although there remain quite a number of food stocks. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is aware that we have tried to do everything we can to work with the humanitarian organisations, by helping to organise protected routes and so on. As I mentioned, the UN envoy was in Sudan only a few days ago. The right hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the fact that there is quite a small window of opportunity for the Government of Sudan to show that this time they are sincere in being willing to move forward with the UN and the African Union. If they are not able to do so, consideration of what action the international community can take, such as sanctions, will have to come to the fore again, which is not what anybody wants.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of reports that last week some 200 people were killed in clashes between ethnic African farmers and nomadic Arabs in southern Darfur. She will also be aware that the rebel forces have split into many different groups, which seem to spend as much time fighting one another as they do even the Government of Sudan. Would she go as far as to impress on the Government of Sudan the view that this is now not only a question of trying to bring in a force to deal with the normal conflict, but of ensuring that there is security on the ground, so the AU-UN force has to be brought in now, not in the future?

My hon. Friend is right to express concern about the fact that there seem to be even more splits among the rebels, and fighting within and between different rebel groups. That suggests that unless we can soon make more progress in pushing forward the peace agreement and encouraging the rebel groups who had not previously signed to do so, the administrative situation could deteriorate from where it is now. As he says, that makes the situation urgent as well as dangerous, and we will continue to work with our colleagues in the United Nations to try to see what can be done to help to resolve it.