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Africa and the Middle East

Volume 526: debated on Monday 4 April 2011

Mr Speaker, with permission, I will update the House on recent developments in Africa and the middle east. Before I do, I know that hon. Members on both sides will wish to join me in expressing sadness and outrage at the killing of seven international UN workers in Afghanistan this weekend. They put themselves in harm’s way to support a better life for the Afghan people. I pay tribute to those who died and call for their killers to be brought to justice.

The House will also share our concern about the heavy loss of life in Côte d’Ivoire. The UN has confirmed at least 462 deaths and up to 1 million people have been displaced. I discussed the situation this morning with Jean Ping, who chairs the African Union Commission. The African Union has led mediation efforts. We are also in close contact with the rightful President, Mr Ouattara. The Security Council will meet tomorrow to discuss its response. We call for an end to the violence, for defeated former President Gbagbo to step down, for all human rights abuses to be investigated and for the International Criminal Court to investigate the crimes that appear to have taken place.

We also remain in close contact with the small British community in Côte d’Ivoire. Since December, our advice to British nationals has been to leave the country. France is leading on plans to evacuate nationals of EU nations if it becomes necessary. We have sent a rapid deployment team to Paris, ready to be part of any evacuation, and consular officers in the region are on standby.

Britain continues to play its part in the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1973 to protect civilians in Libya, and 34 nations are now providing a range of assistance. NATO has assumed full operating capability over all military operations, and since Thursday, a total of 701 sorties and 276 strike sorties have been conducted. The coalition has all but eliminated the regime’s air defence capability and stopped it bombarding Libyan cities from the air. We are destroying key regime military assets, including main battle tanks and mobile artillery. The arms embargo is being enforced. We have prevented a huge loss of life and a humanitarian catastrophe.

However, the regime is still able to inflict considerable damage on Libya’s civilian population using ground forces, and indeed is deliberately inflicting such harm, particularly in the towns of Brega, Misrata and Zintan, where the heaviest fighting is taking place. So long as the regime continues to attack areas of civilian population, the coalition will continue military action to implement the UN Security Council resolution. We take every precaution to minimise the risk of causing civilian death and are seeking verification of incidents where this nevertheless may have happened.

We are one of more than 30 nations contributing to the humanitarian effort in Libya. Food distribution is taking place at six locations in opposition-held areas in the east of the country. The World Food Programme has more than 10,000 tonnes of food positioned inside Libya and neighbouring countries, and hopes to reach 85,000 people. The Department for International Development is flying tents for more than 10,000 displaced people from its stocks in Dubai to be distributed by the Red Crescent. Several consignments of medical supplies have been successfully delivered to Misrata and, yesterday, a Turkish hospital ship was able to evacuate 230 wounded people.

A further British diplomatic mission has travelled to Benghazi, led by Christopher Prentice. As I explained to the House last week, we are not engaged in arming the opposition forces. We are prepared to supply non-lethal equipment that will help with the protection of civilian lives and the delivery of humanitarian aid. Given the urgent need of the interim transitional national council for telecommunications equipment, the National Security Council has decided this morning to supply it with such equipment.

On Wednesday, Libya’s Foreign Minister, Musa Kusa, joined other prominent Libyan figures who have resigned their positions. He flew to the UK from Tunisia of his own volition, having notified our authorities shortly before his departure of his intention to travel here. In accordance with the EU travel ban, he was refused formal leave to enter the UK but was granted temporary admission and met by officials. Musa Kusa is not being offered any immunity from British or international justice. He is not detained by us and has taken part in discussions with officials, since his arrival, of his own free will. Today, my officials are meeting representatives of the Crown Office and Dumfries and Galloway police to discuss their request to interview him in connection with the Lockerbie bombing. We will encourage Musa Kusa to co-operate fully with all requests for interviews with law enforcement and investigation authorities, in relation to Lockerbie as well as other issues stemming from Libya’s past sponsorship of terrorism, and to seek legal representation where appropriate. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear, these investigations are entirely independent of Government; they should follow the evidence wherever it leads them, and the Government will assist them in any way possible.

Musa Kusa’s departure weakens the regime and exposes its utter lack of legitimacy, even in the eyes of those most closely associated with it in the past. It confirms that there is no future for Libya with Gaddafi in power. It is right that, in these circumstances, when the Foreign Minister of a regime that is committing atrocities against its own people wishes to leave that country and to take no part in what is happening, we should assist in that process. We will treat those abandoning the Gaddafi regime in the following way. Any who travel to the UK to speak to us will be treated with respect and in accordance with our laws. Any immigration issues will be considered on their merits as with any other case. If our law enforcement authorities wish to speak to them about crimes committed by the regime, Her Majesty’s Government will in no way prevent them from doing so.

In the case of anyone currently sanctioned by the EU and UN who breaks definitively with the regime, we will discuss with our partners the merits of removing the restrictions that apply to them while being clear that that does not constitute any form of immunity whatsoever. We will begin such discussions at the EU this week in the case of Musa Kusa. Sanctions are designed to change behaviour and it is therefore right that they are adjusted when new circumstances arise. We continue to offer our full support to the investigations of the International Criminal Court.

The Libyan regime is under pressure. What is required from it is clear: a genuine ceasefire as set out by President Obama and others including our Prime Minister last month, an end to all attacks against civilians, the withdrawal of armed forces from contested cities and full access for humanitarian assistance. When those requirements of the UN are fulfilled, air strikes to protect civilians can stop. The world is united in believing that the Gaddafi regime has lost all legitimacy and that he must go, allowing the Libyan people to determine their own future.

We continue to pursue tough sanctions at the EU. Additional sanctions on five Libyan companies and two individuals are being discussed at the EU today and if agreed will be in place on 12 April. We also continue to pursue additional sanctions with our international partners at the UN and we hope to achieve agreement soon. The first meeting of the contact group on Libya that was agreed at the London conference last week will take place next week in Doha, and I will attend. It will take forward the work agreed at the London conference, maintain international unity and bring together a wide range of nations in support of a better future for Libya.

Elsewhere in the region, we remain very concerned about the political situation in Bahrain. It is vital for the future stability of the country that the Government and leaders from all communities work together to reduce sectarian tension and to create the conditions in which a national dialogue can lead to real political reform. In Yemen, attempts at agreeing a political transition have repeatedly stalled or failed. There is an urgent need for steps to meet the legitimate demands of the Yemeni people and we call on President Saleh to engage with the opposition and with the protesters in a way that meets these aspirations and avoids violence.

We are deeply concerned by further deaths and violence in Syria. We call on the Syrian Government to respect the rights to free speech and peaceful protest. We call for restraint from the Syrian security forces and for the Syrian authorities to investigate the deaths of protestors and bring those responsible to account through a fair and transparent process. We note the announcement of certain reforms and believe that meaningful reforms that address the legitimate demands of the Syrian people are necessary and right.

The United Kingdom believes that the people of all these countries must be able to determine their own futures and that the international community must be bold and ambitious in supporting those countries that are on the path to greater political and economic freedom. That is why across the region we stand for reform not repression, and why in Libya, supported by the full authority of the United Nations, we are acting to save many lives threatened by one of the most repressive regimes of them all.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and for allowing me advance sight of it this afternoon. May I also join him in expressing revulsion on behalf of the Opposition at the murders of the seven UN workers in Afghanistan this weekend? He is right—and speaks for the whole House in this—generously to commend their work and unequivocally to condemn their killers.

May I also associate myself with the Foreign Secretary’s comments about the gravely worrying situation in Côte d’Ivoire? I welcome news that he has held discussions this morning with the chair of the African Union Commission, Jean Ping, and that contingency plans are in place for any evacuation deemed necessary. I join the Foreign Secretary in stating clearly and categorically that Laurent Gbagbo must step down immediately. If he does not stand down, there is clearly a risk of a repeat of the situation we had in Angola in 1992 when a disputed election led to a protracted civil war. Given that risk, will the Foreign Secretary share with the House his assessment, in the light of those conversations with the African Union, of Nigeria’s willingness to contemplate supporting any west African-led intervention force in Côte d’Ivoire? Given the prior opposition to such a move by Ghana and Gambia, what assessment has he made of the possibility that the Economic Community of West African States might be able to agree to an intervention force in the event of the conflict continuing in the days, weeks and months ahead? What assessment has he made of the number of Governments in the African Union that still support Mr Gbagbo?

On Syria, on Friday thousands of Syrians took to the streets of Douma after prayers and were reported by the BBC to have been chanting, “We want freedom.” Yesterday it was reported that again thousands of people had taken to the streets there, this time to bury at least eight people who died during Friday’s protests. The legitimate demands of these protestors should be met, as the Foreign Secretary said, by reform and not by repression. What assessment has he made of the likely impact on the reform process of the appointment of the new Prime Minister, Adel Safar?

Let me associate myself and the Opposition with the position set out by the Foreign Secretary on both Yemen and Bahrain.

The situation in Libya has, of course, dominated debate within and beyond the House in recent weeks. The Foreign Secretary at the weekend was optimistic that we have not yet reached a stage of stalemate, but beyond protecting civilians from the air, UN resolution 1973 provided a range of diplomatic powers intended to deepen the isolation and increase the pressure on the Gaddafi regime. These included an expansion of asset freezes, enforcing the arms embargo and measures to prevent mercenaries from flying into Libya. Will the Foreign Secretary provide an update specifically on the implementation of these non-military diplomatic aspects of resolution 1973?

I welcome the fact that Christopher Prentice’s team is in Benghazi assessing the situation and entering into dialogue with the interim national council. The Foreign Secretary has just told the House that “we are not engaged in arming the opposition forces. We are prepared to supply non-lethal equipment that will help with the protection of civilian lives and the delivery of humanitarian aid.” He went on to say that he had decided this morning with his colleagues on the National Security Council to supply the transitional national council with telecommunications equipment. Will he therefore inform the House whether opposition military forces have been in receipt of any support from British military personnel in maintaining or upgrading the military equipment that they already possess?

Turning to the case of Musa Kusa, his defection should be taken as a welcome sign of the disillusionment and disunity within the Gaddafi regime. Following that defection, can the Foreign Secretary give us his latest assessment of the situation within the Gaddafi regime? In particular, how seriously should the House treat the discussions between Musa Kusa’s successor and the Greek Foreign Minister in trying to find a way of resolving the conflict? Clearly, our first priority has to be the urgent operational need to ascertain information from Musa Kusa with respect to the present conflict in Libya. UN Security Council resolution 1973 must be enforced, and if he can help in any way to bring that about, all sides of the House must surely welcome it.

However, many in the House will want to know that Musa Kusa is not and should not be above British or international law. Last week I supported calls saying that the appropriate authorities including, of course, the police should in time be able to ask him all the necessary questions about Libya’s violent history, not least here on British soil. The murder of a police officer in Northern Ireland on Saturday, on which Ministers are due to give a statement later today, will no doubt remind the House of the links between the Libyan regime in the past and decades of terrorism on British soil.

I welcome the news, therefore, that the Scottish Crown Office and Dumfries and Galloway constabulary are now in discussions with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about how to pursue their investigations. Will the Foreign Secretary tell the House whether any other authorities in the United Kingdom or in other countries at the international level have been in contact with the Foreign Office over the arrival of Musa Kusa as part of their investigations into Libyan terrorism or crimes against humanity perpetrated in Libya?

In conclusion, both sides of the House supported the decision to enforce UN Security Council resolution 1973. The members of our armed forces, of course, have the continuing support of the House, and the Government have our continued support in using diplomatic means to maintain pressure on, and deepen the isolation of, the Gaddafi regime.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what continues to be strong bipartisan support for the operations that are taking place in Libya. He mentioned his revulsion at the events in Afghanistan—the murders of the UN workers. That will be felt across the House and the whole international community.

On Côte d’Ivoire, the right hon. Gentleman asked how many African Union nations there are now that do not believe Mr Gbagbo should stand down. I think the number is down to zero. The whole of the African Union is clear about that. The African Union did try to mediate a solution. It is Mr Gbagbo’s persistence in trying to sit where he is, having clearly lost the election and despite the views of his own countrymen and the efforts of the African Union, that has precipitated the violence we now see.

It is not the belief of west African countries that they will need to provide an intervention force of the kind the right hon. Gentleman describes, but that will be discussed at the UN Security Council tomorrow, as I mentioned in my statement. We will strongly support greater action by the UN and French forces that are in Côte d'Ivoire to help ensure civilian protection in Abidjan and elsewhere. We will also discuss the international response to the mounting civilian casualty list and reports of atrocities in the country. We will urge the swift investigation by the UN-mandated commission of inquiry into reports of horrific human rights abuses in Côte d'Ivoire, which are not necessarily all on one side. All abuses must be investigated. However, I do not think that Nigeria and other west African countries are contemplating an intervention force on top of the fighting that is happening there now.

In Syria, as the right hon. Gentleman says, a new Prime Minister has been appointed. As in all these cases, we will have to judge by actions, rather than words. The Syrian President has committed himself to certain reforms, but it is clear that many in Syria would like those to be much more far reaching. We in the United Kingdom recommend reforms that meet the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people. I think that the new Prime Minister, and indeed the President, will be judged by that.

On Libya, the overall implementation of the sanctions set out in UN resolutions 1970 and 1973 is particularly good by the standards of these things because there is very strong international agreement on them. The vast majority of nations in the world are fully behind the sanctions. That has led to freezes on tens of billions of dollars of the regime’s assets. The conflict has led to oil not being lifted from Libya, so the principal income of the regime has also been very seriously affected. The right hon. Gentleman asked about opposition forces and whether British forces had been involved in any way in upgrading, improving or maintaining the equipment. I am not aware of any such efforts, so the answer to that question is no.

I discussed with the Greek Foreign Minister this morning the efforts and discussions that took place late last night in Athens between the Deputy Foreign Minister of Libya and the Greek leaders. The Libyans again put forward, as they have in various discussions over the past three weeks, their intention to have a ceasefire, but of course the Gaddafi regime has three times announced a ceasefire and yet continued its attacks, particularly the attacks on the people of Misrata, who have been placed in a desperate situation. I believe that my colleague, the Greek Foreign Minister, conveyed the message that we would want him to convey, which is that a ceasefire will be judged by actions, not words, and that we wish to see the Gaddafi regime observing the requirements that the international community has placed on it. I think that these attempts to have discussions with other countries are a sign of the pressure that the regime is under, but the solution is in their hands to adopt a genuine ceasefire and then, in the interests of their country, make it clear that Colonel Gaddafi will go.

I hope that my statement answered satisfactorily all the questions that the right hon. Gentleman raised about Musa Kusa. Musa Kusa has come to a society that is based on law, and the way in which we treat people who come to this country will be based on law. They will not be given immunity from prosecution from British or international authorities. Equally, we cannot put them under a restraint that is not justified by evidence against them. If they are not under arrest, they are of course free to move around. Our response in every way will be based on law, just as our international response, our implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1973, is based on international law. We stick to the implementation of that resolution—nothing more and nothing less—in the military action we are undertaking, and that gives us our strong moral, legal and diplomatic position.

Order. There is understandably much interest in this statement, but there are three more statements to follow and, therefore, heavy pressures on time, so brevity, as usual, is vital.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement. Does he agree that removing Colonel Gaddafi must be the focus of our attention? There are many around him still propping up his regime, however, so can he confirm that there is no viable future for those still loyal to Colonel Gaddafi as long as they continue to keep him in power?

Yes, there is no viable future for the country as long as Colonel Gaddafi is in power, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right that Gaddafi should go. Virtually the whole world thinks that Gaddafi should go, although let me be clear that our military objectives and activities will be strictly in accordance with the United Nations resolution—let no one be in any doubt about that. But, of course, what is required for any viable future for Libya is for Gaddafi to leave, and of course we recommend to other figures in his regime that it would be right to follow the example of Musa Kusa and desert a regime that has done such violence and damage to the Libyan people.

However much we despise Gaddafi and everything that he represents, does the Foreign Secretary understand that there is no wish for Britain to become actively involved in a civil war, and that resolution 1973 should not be interpreted in any way as Britain being involved in any way whatever in what is, after all, a civil war, although we know which side we would like to see win?

The hon. Gentleman is getting involved there and taking sides, but I hesitate to call it a civil war. It is an uprising by people who started with peaceful demonstrations against a despotic regime that then waged war, using heavy equipment, artillery and air power, against them, even at the stage when all they were trying to do was to demonstrate and to ask for the rights that we take for granted in so many other parts of the world. I hesitate to call that a civil war; it is a Government waging war on their own people. Nevertheless, I think I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he looks for: we will implement the UN Security Council resolution, and that is what we are there to do. If it had not been for that resolution and the legal authority that it provides, we would not be engaged in what we are doing in Libya. We rest on that resolution, but we will continue to implement it.

In view of the emerging possibility of further prosecutions in relation to the Lockerbie bombing, does my right hon. Friend agree that any such prosecutions should be conducted through the regular court system in Scotland, and that we should avoid the previous incongruity of having to establish a special court at Camp Zeist in Holland, as happened in the case of Mr Megrahi and his co-accused?

I had better leave any legal deliberations to those better qualified in the Government. Certainly, whatever appropriate method is necessary should be followed in any future prosecutions. I understand that at the moment there is insufficient evidence to produce further prosecutions, but that may change, so I will let my right hon. and learned Friend raise the matter with the Law Officers, rather than try to give a definite ruling on it.

May I welcome the work of the Foreign Office and its agents in bringing Musa Kusa to the United Kingdom, even if he brings with him a lot of legal, diplomatic and ethical problems? If he was responsible for giving Semtex to the IRA in the 1970s and ’80s, the people who used it to kill and main British citizens are now all out of prison and, in some cases, our partners in devolved Administrations. If people want to quit their regimes, whether in Zimbabwe, Burma or anywhere, and come to the UK, saying that they should go straight to clink and straight away face prosecution is not going to encourage them to defect.

The right hon. Gentleman makes his point clearly. We are not putting anybody straight into clink. Musa Kusa is not detained; he is not under arrest. As I say, this is a society based on law, and if he is not under arrest, he is free to do as he wishes. Equally, as a society based on law, we do not give immunity from prosecution by the British authorities or international authorities.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that while of course we must observe the rule of law in this country, it may nevertheless, from time to time, reach a point where it is in the wider interest, if it is going to mean saving a lot of lives, to do deals with people whom we may find deeply unattractive, and that there are a number of precedents for exactly that?

There are precedents for doing deals with people one has previously found unattractive—there is no doubt about that—in all walks of life and all stages of public life. Nevertheless, while I take my hon. Friend’s point, that has not arisen in this case. In the case of Musa Kusa, there is no deal. Any press reports of a deal—of sanctuary or asylum in return for information—are wrong. That is not how we are conducting this. It is being conducted in a much more straightforward way, and that has not arisen so far.

In the second world war, Rudolf Hess landed in this country and was locked up. Why is it that this Musa Kusa wanders into Britain, is treated in the way that he is, and it is not yet even thought to hand him over to the Scottish authorities? Never mind what my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander) said: just think of the revulsion out there in the country about this man being treated like he is.

As I say, our response to this and other situations will be entirely based on the law of our land. If the hon. Gentleman can find any way in which we are treating Musa Kusa, or anybody else who has come from Libya, without respect to the laws of our country and without full co-operation with policing authorities or judicial prosecuting authorities, then he must tell me about it. In no way are we treating him in any way differently from accordance with our laws.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that matters in the Ivory Coast will be dealt with with some urgency because of the current heavy loss of life that has already taken place?

Yes, absolutely. We have treated this with urgency all along. It was back in December that we called for Gbagbo to go. We have delivered a great deal of humanitarian assistance, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has put in place, not only for Côte d’Ivoire but for Liberia, since this has created a very difficult humanitarian situation in Liberia as well. All the time we have tried to respond to events and put in place the help that is necessary, and we will add to that urgency at the UN Security Council tomorrow.

The Foreign Secretary will know that over the past two days 1,600 people have been injured in Taiz and Al Hudaydah in Yemen. Although of course we appreciate the efforts that he has made on the diplomatic front to bring sides together, is not now the time for an envoy to be sent from the United Nations or the European Union to bring the President and people around a table so that a smooth transition can be exercised?

A great many diplomatic efforts have been made. The right hon. Gentleman mentions my own efforts. I met the President and the opposition parties two months ago to encourage them in the right direction—evidently without success in this case—and other Foreign Ministers from around the world have tried to do the same. In recent days, the Gulf Co-operation Council countries, in particular, have been involved in trying to mediate over Yemen, and Saudi Arabia has often tried to do so. Many efforts have been made. The list of envoys who have tried to assist in bringing people together in Yemen is growing quite long. That in no way excludes further efforts, so of course we will continue to do everything we can to try to ensure that reason prevails and that the way to an orderly transition is found in Yemen that does not involve an even greater scale of injury and loss of life, to which the right hon. Gentleman refers. We will continue these efforts and in no way dismiss the idea of a further international envoy.

When Musa Kusa was ambassador here, we had to expel him for openly calling for the murder of dissidents. We are now supping, if not with the devil, with a pretty good substitute. Is not our enthusiasm for regime change sucking us away from the high moral ground of humanitarian gestures and into the ever more murky world of Libyan politics?

No, I think that the high moral ground is retained by basing all our actions on what is legally correct, as we have done in our handling of the whole Libya crisis from the United Nations resolution downwards, and in the handling of these individual cases. When somebody with such a long association with the regime wants to leave it, and by doing so damage the regime, I think that it is right to assist them in doing so. Additionally, it can only be a good thing to discuss with such a man the situation in Libya and the middle east, and gain his insight into it. It can also only be a good thing that any prosecuting authorities that wish to speak to him and get more information from him can do so. I see no downside in doing what we have done with him over the past few days.

Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that among the restrictions that he proposes to remove is the freezing of Musa Kusa’s assets? That will mean that a man who has engaged in the most despicable acts, both abroad and in the exploitation of his own people, and who has built up his assets on that basis, will be able to enjoy the fruits of those acts.

The hon. Gentleman makes a number of assumptions in his question. I will not necessarily take issue with those assumptions. However, where we have placed asset freezes and travel bans on individuals purely because they are members of a regime, as is the case with the European Union asset freezes and travel bans—we are not talking here about United Nations Security Council travel bans—when an individual ceases to be a member of that regime, it follows that a change in those restrictions should be discussed; otherwise there would be no incentive whatever for members of the regime to abandon its murderous work. When the situation changes and the reasons the restrictions have been placed on an individual change, of course the restrictions should change as well.

When we first intervened in Libya, the length of our commitment was talked of in briefings in terms of weeks; now it is months. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that if there is a stalemate on the ground without a ceasefire, we could be talking years?

I am not sure that I have ever referred to days, weeks, months or years, and I am not going to start doing so now. I think that to do so is futile. We will implement the United Nations resolution. We should not be put off implementing that resolution if it takes time, just as we might have been very pleased if it had not taken many days at all. I do not think that we should say of something of the gravity of the protection of the civilian population of Libya, with all the consequences that flow for north Africa and the wider middle east, that we will do it for only a week or for 10 days. It is important to carry through the authority of the United Nations, and we are not putting a time limit on that.

On Friday, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported that the Foreign Secretary, with French and German support, intends to propose the recognition of a Palestinian state on 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital, at the next Quartet meeting in two weeks. Is that true? If so, I commend that positive step, but ask him not to get sucked into the issue of land swaps and to maintain the right of return for refugees.

I hate to disappoint the hon. Gentleman on something that he was going to commend me for, but no, we are not proposing the recognition of a Palestinian state. We have recently upgraded the Palestinian delegation in the UK to a mission. What the UK, France and Germany are putting to the Quartet is that the basis of negotiations set out by the Quartet, including the United States, should include 1967 borders, with land swaps, a just settlement for refugees and Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states. We are advocating that as an established basis for negotiations, but we are not advocating proceeding unilaterally with the recognition of a Palestinian state.

Will the Foreign Secretary update the House on the planning for the post-conflict reconstruction and stabilisation of Libya, and on whether he believes the scope of the existing UN resolution, for example in relation to our inability to deploy the military stabilisation and support group, means that it can be practically implemented to achieve what we want to achieve there?

This is a vital subject that we discussed in part of the London conference last week. It will be an important part of the discussion at the first meeting of the contact group, which, as I explained in my statement, will take place in Doha next week. The United Nations Secretary-General made it very clear at the London conference that the UN was prepared to take the lead in co-ordinating the stabilisation and humanitarian work, which was an extremely welcome commitment. The next stage, on top of the urgent work supported by our Department for International Development that I mentioned earlier, is to conduct more detailed consideration of Libya’s future stabilisation needs at the Doha meeting.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for an advance copy of his statement.

Of the 34 countries currently involved, how many are Arab states, and how many of that number are involved in front-line activities?

The number of Arab states involved in military participation is two, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. They have both supplied fighter aircraft to support the no-fly zone. Of course, other states are involved in humanitarian assistance, and the 34 also include states that have given over-flight rights to assist in the implementation of the UN resolution. That would be a minority of the 34, but I do not have the numbers to hand for each different category of Arab support.

We should be clear that the Arab League continues to support the implementation of the resolution robustly. It attended our meeting at the London conference, and we will expect to see it in Doha as well. There were five or six Arab nations represented at the London conference, and I hope that more than that will join the contact group. The support of Arab nations for what we are doing has been maintained from the beginning, and it continues.

Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that we owe it to the United Nations to continue to press the Afghan Government to bring the Mazar-e-Sharif killers to justice? However, will he also condemn the burning of the Koran by American extremists, which does not excuse, but clearly inflamed, the violence?

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. I absolutely condemn the burning of the Koran in that or any other instance. It is fundamentally wrong and disrespectful. As he said, that does not excuse what then happened in Afghanistan, but we should be very clear that we condemn both.

Does not the failure of the armed Afghan police to stop the lynchings of the United Nations workers, along with the previous retreat by 300 members of the Afghan army when they were attacked by seven members of the Taliban, cause the right hon. Gentleman to reassess his very optimistic belief that the security of Afghanistan can be left in the hands of the police and the army when our troops retire?

I do not think we have ever suggested that the Afghan national security forces are able to look after every security situation in Afghanistan on their own—clearly they are not. If they were already able to do that, we would not need to be in Afghanistan. We want to get them in a position in which they can do that from 2014 onwards.

Since the hon. Gentleman points to some of the deficiencies of the Afghan national security forces, it is important also to point out that many of them are doing excellent work, partnered with our troops in Helmand, and that a huge proportion of the military operations around Kandahar over the past year have been undertaken by the Afghan forces themselves. We must not give an unrepresentative account of the capabilities of those forces.

I know that the Foreign Secretary is well aware of the tribal differences in Libya and the historical divide between east and west. To what extent is Gaddafi exploiting our geographical capture in the east to create and perpetuate that sense of divide? What can we do in the west of Libya to ensure that people there see and understand that our humanitarian activity is for all Libyans, not just certain tribes?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. The strength and determination of the attacks that the regime has mounted on, for example, Misrata, illustrate their determination to try to secure by military force areas in the west of Libya so that if they cannot reconquer the whole country, they can declare an east-west divide, playing on history and trying to return to those days. As well as the humanitarian reasons, that is why it is important for us to support the people of Misrata and try to defend them from attack. The vast majority of Libyans with whom I have discussed these affairs, in the opposition and in the regime, strongly support Libya’s territorial integrity and want a united future for their country. They do not agree with any Gaddafi intention to partition it, or to hang on in part of the country.

The Foreign Secretary referred to his discussions this morning with Jean Ping about the terrible situation in Côte d’Ivoire. Was he also able to discuss Libya with him? Has he got any clearer understanding of African Union perspectives on that? Was he able to give or take any encouragement about possible African Union influences that might be used, in keeping with what was envisaged in UN resolution 1973?

As the hon. Gentleman can imagine, we discussed Côte d’Ivoire, but also Libya at great length. Mr Ping was clear that the African Union also felt that Gaddafi should go—the vast majority of African Union leaders have no disagreement with us about that. Some African nations might disagree, but the vast majority of the African Union believe that it is inevitable and right. I have encouraged Mr Ping to engage more closely with our work in the contact group. Indeed, I have invited the African Union to the contact group meeting in Doha at the end of next week. It will have to decide at its meeting in Mauritania this weekend whether to attend the Doha meeting, but I see no obstacle to the African Union’s joining in a meeting, where the United Nations is present. I think that we have established this morning a closer working relationship on those matters.

In 2003, in planning for the reconstruction of Iraq, the UK Government gave too much weight to the opinions and insights of Iraqi ex-pats, émigrés and defectors. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that we do not make the same mistake, as the rats leave what we hope is Gaddafi’s sinking ship?

Yes, I think my hon. Friend makes an absolutely fair point. All those people have important insights and opinions, but we must remember that there are many people left, for example, those who want to leave the regime but cannot or dare not. Some people are lying low and others have been in office in the past and not been seen around in recent years. All their opinions will be important, too. We fully take the lesson to which my hon. Friend refers.

The Foreign Secretary said that Britain would now give the rebels telecommunications equipment. That could cover a wide variety of things, from some mobile phones, through the Bowman system to a missile guidance system. What exactly does he mean by telecommunications equipment?

I do not mean missile guidance systems; I mean telecommunications equipment. I do not want to go into details about the exact specification for various reasons, including that, if I did so, it would be easier for the regime to interfere with the telephones. However, it is telecommunications equipment, which enables people to say where there is desperate humanitarian need and when a town is under attack, and to speak to us in the outside world. I spent a good deal of yesterday afternoon trying to speak to one of the Libyan opposition leaders in Benghazi, but we were never able to establish a telephone connection. It will improve our understanding of what is going on there. It is purely about communications.

The Foreign Secretary should be congratulated on his statement, and the coalition Government should be congratulated on their regular updates to the House. Is the former Foreign Minister of Libya free to leave this country if he wants to?

He is not detained or under arrest, so as things stand, he is free to go where he wishes. I am not aware of him trying to leave the country, but he is not in detention. We will treat him in accordance with the law—I strongly reinforce that point. Only if the law prevents him from doing something that he wishes to do would we intervene to stop him departing.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement to the House. On the arrival from Misrata of the hospital ship with some 1,000-plus injured people on board who were hurt as a result of the terrorist campaign, will he tell us what steps he will take to ensure that the Gaddafi regime and his soldiers are prevented from carrying out their clinically murderous campaign against innocent civilians? What steps will he take to ensure that Misrata is not overrun, and that the voice of freedom is maintained?

We have other plans to get further assistance into Misrata, although of course, I cannot be specific about them in advance—we do not want to give notice of our plans to the Gaddafi regime. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that a good deal of our military effort has been designed to protect the people of Misrata. Many of the strikes against battle tanks and mobile artillery units of the Libyan armed forces have been made in the vicinity of Misrata. That is difficult because some of those forces are in built-up areas, and our concern to avoid civilian casualties overrides our desire to attack individual units in such areas. However, a great deal of the NATO effort is now going into trying to relieve the pressure on the most unfortunate citizens of Misrata.

While I can accept that Musa Kusa’s circumstances have changed, the one thing that has not changed is his antecedence—he gave weapons to the IRA and was alleged to be involved in the Lockerbie plot. If we do not have enough evidence to detain him and bring charges against him, what on earth have our intelligence services been doing for the last 20 years?

As I have said, any action must be based on evidence. The hon. Gentleman is quite right that things have been alleged, but the evidence must be presented. The authorities can proceed only on the basis of such evidence.

Under the cover of what else is going on in the middle east, the Iranian regime recently increased the sentences of seven Ba’hai leaders to 20 years. Will my right hon. Friend make strong representations to the Iranian Government to stop the persecution of the Iranian Ba’hais?

Yes, most certainly—my hon. Friend is quite right to draw attention to that. The Iranian Government now have one of the worst human rights records in the world. They have four times as many journalists in detention as any other country; they have carried out per capita more executions than any other country so far this year; they have imprisoned the two principal opposition leaders; and they have added to all that the outrage to which my hon. Friend refers, and we unreservedly condemn it.

The Foreign Secretary and the shadow Foreign Secretary both acknowledged that the Gaddafi regime is at least partly propped up by murderous mercenaries who are terrorising the civilian population. Will my right hon. Friend therefore indicate what steps the Foreign Office, NATO and our allies are taking to stop the entry into Libya of mercenaries from Chad and Niger?

Yes, that is one of the things attended to in the UN Security Council resolutions, which call for action against mercenaries entering the country. My hon. Friend is quite right that there is a good deal of evidence that Colonel Gaddafi has bought some of the military support that he has employed over the last few weeks. Although I cannot go into any operational details, we will take action whenever we can, and whenever we have the necessary information, against the supply of mercenaries to Libya. We have been in touch with neighbouring countries about that. People entering Libya in order to do violence to the civilian population of Libya do so at their peril.

I heard what the Foreign Secretary said to the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) on asset freezing, but in a statement last week he painted quite a rosy picture to the House about the benefit to the Libyan people of a future Libyan Government spending those assets. Can he reassure us that any loosening of sanctions in response to those deserting the Gaddafi regime will not allow those people to take with them riches gained as a result of their long association with Gaddafi which belong to the Libyan people?

Basically, yes, any changes in sanctions on people who have defected from the regime are likely, in terms of the quantity of money involved, to be infinitesimal compared with the assets of the regime and its companies. We are talking about tens of billions of dollars. The United States has frozen more than $30 billion-worth of assets, so we are talking about something very tiny when compared with the total scale of assets.

The House has rightly praised our armed forces for the visible work they are doing, but will the Secretary of State commend the staff of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, particularly the rapid deployment teams, for their sterling work throughout the region in recent times, which is perhaps less visible?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. Rapid deployment teams in a variety of very difficult situations, including chaotic airports and the aftermath of earthquakes in recent weeks, have done an absolutely outstanding job for this country. The diplomatic mission in Benghazi, to whom I have referred, have, in sometimes difficult and dangerous circumstances, gone into eastern Libya, so he is quite right to praise our diplomats and I will take that praise back to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.