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Volume 506: debated on Tuesday 2 March 2010

5. What recent assessment he has made of the political situation in Sudan; and if he will make a statement. [Official Report, 8 March 2010, Vol. 507, c. 2MC.] (319386)

This is a crucial year for Sudan, with elections due in April and the referendum on self-determination for south Sudan in January 2011. We welcome the recent Darfur framework agreement and ceasefire. We urge all parties to work together to build a peaceful future for Sudan, whatever the referendum result.

The Minister will be aware that following that ceasefire agreement the President of Sudan said Darfur is now at peace. Since then however, the Sudanese military has attacked the Jebel Marra region. What information does the Minister have on that, including on civilian death and displacement, and what representations are his Government making?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that issue, about which there is serious concern as it continues to destabilise prospects for progress. Our information is that more than 300,000 people have been forced from their homes—more than double the number in 2008. We have urged the Sudanese Government and the UN mission to prioritise the protection of civilians and to support reconciliation. We will argue for that in discussing the renewal of the UN’s mandate in April.

The EUFOR Chad mission in the region is key, and it is supported by more than 2,000 French troops, 500 Irish troops, 400 Poles, 200 Swedes, 160 Austrians and many more. Some in this House are very critical of other countries making small deployments to international operations, so could the Minister confirm whether only four UK service personnel are part of the mission?

It is rather a unique moment when the Scottish National party calls for more British troops to be deployed somewhere in the world—however, this is no place for political knockabout, as the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) said. Let us be clear that the UK contribution to the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur has been more than £100 million. In March 2009, the UK contributed a further £1.85 million in discretionary funding for the training and equipping of a Sierra Leone reconnaissance company to deploy to UNAMID, and we continue to explore all possibilities for further and effective UK support. The UK is doing more than its bit to contribute to the mission.

Will my hon. Friend comment on whether it is possible to strengthen the democratic process across Sudan and on how that is emerging?

My hon. Friend raises the crucial issue. The elections are scheduled for next month, and we have so far pledged £12.5 million towards them. That funding has been focused on technical preparations, civic education and conflict management. We hope that the process will be credible; the voter registration process was conducted largely peacefully. The legal framework for the elections has been approved with a level of consensus, so we hope that they will be another milestone on the way to stability in Sudan.