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Volume 455: debated on Tuesday 16 January 2007

After some years of lawlessness and little effective government, an historic opportunity now exists for a sustainable solution to Somalia’s difficulties. We are working with Somalia’s transitional institutions and our international partners to help to stabilise Somalia through early deployment of a security force, to restore governance through an inclusive political process, and to rebuild Somalia through increased international assistance.

Following directly on from stability and international assistance, what is Her Majesty’s Government’s position on the recent American air strikes in southern Somalia?

The hon. Gentleman will know that there is concern about some of those who have been active in supporting or pushing terrorist activity in that part of the world. I am afraid that action sometimes has to be taken to stop those activities.

Given that many fear that the clan-based warlords will simply reorganise themselves and continue the insecurity that Somalia has faced over the past 16 years, what steps will the international community take to foster reconciliation among the various clans so that we can tackle the long-term reasons behind the insecurity and violence that has blighted that country?

My hon. Friend is right to identify those concerns. As I said to the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), we are encouraging the transitional Government towards an inclusive political process, because we feel that that could help. There is a fairly widespread view in the international community that, paradoxically, recent events in Somalia have created a better opportunity for such moves than has existed there for quite some time. My hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East has recently been in Yemen and Kenya talking to other people who are taking a great interest in these issues. We are doing what we can to seize the opportunity that recent events have created.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) is far better-looking than me—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] That is what he tells me, but I do not believe him.

Further to the Foreign Secretary’s comments on the security force on the border between Somalia and Kenya, can she give the House an assurance that the quid pro quo for the Ugandan defence force’s involvement will not be to turn a blind eye to the creeping move against freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Uganda?

No; absolutely not. We welcome Uganda’s willingness to help resolve the situation in Somalia, but Uganda is not the only country in the world about which we continue to have and express concerns regarding some of its domestic policies, while welcoming its involvement in some international efforts.

Will the Foreign Secretary reconsider her earlier reply to the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) about the American air strikes in Somalia? Does she not accept that the United States performed a wholly illegal act, which will make the position worse? Several people killed as a result of the air strikes were nothing to do with Islamic Courts but innocent civilians who happened to be in the area. Does not she acknowledge that that makes the situation in Somalia far worse, rather than bringing about the necessary peace and reconciliation process to put an end to the misery that has been the life of most people in Somalia for at least the past three decades?

I certainly accept my hon. Friend’s final remarks that a peace and reconciliation process is important for the long term. As I have already said in answer to several other hon. Members, we intend to encourage the transitional Government to undertake a political process that is as inclusive as possible. However, I stress to my hon. Friend that it has long been public knowledge that extremist elements have operated as part of Islamic Courts and that al-Qaeda has operated in Somalia for some time. That poses a threat to people in Somalia as well as the wider international community. I take the view, which the Prime Minister expressed last week, that there cannot be a safe haven for international terrorists.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that there is a short window of opportunity in which to establish a self-governing, stable democratic state in Somalia, which is a hugely important strategic area of the horn of Africa? She referred to the international stabilisation force that may be established today. What dialogue has she held on the matter with the international community? Does she agree that the force must have sufficient combat strength and an adequate mandate, and that there is a genuine danger of Somalia descending into a fundamentalist Islamic state if sufficient action is not taken in good time?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s opening remarks. Yes, of course there is a danger, but it has existed for quite some time. One reason for sharing his wish for speedy action to move in and support the Government in Somalia is that it is perhaps less of a risk now than it has been for a considerable time. We are very anxious to secure a force that has sufficient strength and the right kind of mandate. On dialogue with the international community, as it happens I was discussing the matter only this morning with the President of Tanzania. Our officials were heavily engaged in the international contact group and played a key role in trying to help broker and reach agreement. I therefore assure the hon. Gentleman that we are conscious of the need for speed as well as effectiveness, and we will do everything that we can. No one wants a security vacuum in Somalia, not least because of the dangers to which he and I referred of extremist elements there.