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South Sudan

Volume 539: debated on Wednesday 1 February 2012

The situation in South Sudan remains somewhat bleak, in the absence of agreement on the outstanding issues between the two Sudans. Humanitarian needs in South Sudan remain pressing, due to continuing inter-communal violence in Jonglei and elsewhere, and to the influx of refugees and returnees from Sudan. The United Kingdom continues to play a lead role in supporting an effective and co-ordinated humanitarian response. I will be giving oral evidence on South Sudan to the International Development Committee later today.

Would the Minister care to give us his assessment of the dangers being faced by displaced persons and refugees in South Sudan?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question; his knowledge of that part of the world is indeed deep, not least because of the tremendous contribution that his wife made to supporting the people of South Sudan some years ago. More than 85,000 refugees have arrived in South Sudan, fleeing the conflict over the border. There are 25,000 in Unity, and 61,000 in Maban. In Warrup county, the humanitarian community is supporting 110,000 people who have been displaced from Abyei since 2011. In addition, 360,000 have already been assisted in coming down from Sudan, with a potential 700,000 still to come. This is placing enormous strain on the emergency and humanitarian response, but the UK is playing a lead role and, in December, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced a two-year package of support for the humanitarian funds. [Interruption.]

Order. I understand the sense of anticipation at this time on a Wednesday, but I remind the House that we are considering extremely serious matters affecting the people of South Sudan.

The United Nations mission in South Sudan has been widely criticised for having a poor mandate and for having its resources in the wrong place. What is the Minister’s view on that?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has just returned from the African Union summit that was held in Addis Ababa last weekend, and he is fully seized of that issue. He had direct discussions on this matter with the chairman of the commission, with President Mbeki and with Prime Minister Meles. People are focused on the question of an appropriate mandate, but the current position is that it is better to deploy into the right places the troops who have been mandated, rather than distract ourselves with a review of the mandate itself.

The Select Committee is looking forward to having an extended exchange with the Secretary of State on South Sudan this afternoon. In the light of the disruption of oil supplies, and the fact that the South Sudan Government are 98% dependent on oil revenues, will the Minister tell us what steps our Government and the international community are taking to resolve the dispute and to support the South Sudan Government in regard to that financial constraint?

Extensive meetings took place in Addis Ababa over the weekend, in which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was involved at the highest level. The straight fact is that, while the oil dispute is outstanding, progress is going to be impeded. We call on all parties to acknowledge that it is in their mutual interest to pull back from the brink and reach an agreement, with the north getting the ships to sail and the south to release oil from the wells again.