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Volume 556: debated on Monday 14 January 2013

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on Mali and on the United Kingdom’s limited support to the French military deployment to assist the Government of Mali. On 10 January, Mali’s Islamist rebel groups, including significant terrorist elements, moved south from their northern strongholds and captured the town of Konna. From there, they posed a danger to Mali’s second and strategically important garrison of Mopti, and potentially to its capital, Bamako. The situation in Mali is a serious concern for the UK; it would not be in our interests to allow a terrorist haven to develop in northern Mali. As a responsible member of the Security Council, we must support the region in limiting the danger of instability in that part of Africa threatening UK interests.

This latest violence follows a year of instability in Mali. In January 2012, Tuareg nationalist rebels under the banner of the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad—the MNLA—reignited a long-standing armed rebellion against the Malian state. Fighting opportunistically alongside the MNLA, but with a very different agenda, were two terrorist groups: al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb; and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa. Another mainly Tuareg group with an Islamist agenda and strong ties to other terrorist groups, Ansar Dine, also fought against Malian troops. In March 2012, Mali experienced a coup d’état by army officers concerned that the Malian Government were not responding effectively to the threat from these northern groups. Shortly afterwards, Islamist rebels took advantage of the instability caused by the coup to establish control of the north of the country—70% of the territory, including 10% of the population. Following strong pressure from the Economic Community of West African States, the military junta then passed control to an interim civilian-led government.

Along with the international community, the UK has been concerned by the potential for terrorist groups to establish a safe haven in northern Mali that, if left unchecked, could pose a threat to Europe and the UK as well as to our interests in the region. Together with the international community, the UK has been promoting an effective political process in Mali, which includes a road map to democratic elections and a mediation process between the Malian Government and the northern political groups. Both the political and the military tracks—and, in the longer term, economic development—must contribute to a strategy to strengthen the whole region and make it less vulnerable to humanitarian and political shocks.

The United Nations Security Council met for an emergency session on 10 January to discuss the movement of extremist forces south and concluded that recent events posed a direct threat to international stability and security. Furthermore, it emphasised the urgent need to counter the increasing terrorist threat and reiterated its call to member states to assist the settlement of the crisis in accordance with United Nations Security Council resolution 2085, issued and agreed on 20 December 2012.

In response to the statement by the United Nations Security Council and in the light of the fast-emerging threat to the city of Mopti, the Government of Mali made a direct request to the Government of France for assistance. France commenced the deployment of a military contingent on 11 January. The Foreign Secretary, the Secretary of State for Defence and the Chief of the Defence Staff discussed the situation with their French counterparts on 11 January. On the afternoon of 12 January, the United Kingdom received a French request for limited military logistic support to its deployment to Mali and the Prime Minister spoke to President Hollande later that evening. They discussed the deteriorating situation in Mali and the importance of limiting civilian casualties, expediting the deployment of regional forces and co-ordinating international efforts effectively. During that phone call, and on the basis of advice provided by the Ministry of Defence, the Prime Minister agreed to the French request for limited logistic support and directed the Chief of the Defence Staff to make aircraft available.

I wish to inform the House that two C-17 transport aircraft have been assigned to assist in the deployment. Additionally, a small detachment of technical personnel has deployed to Bamako airport to assist with the reception of UK aircraft. I am informed by my MOD colleagues that on arrival in Paris one of the aircraft faced technical problems, which engineers are currently working on. My MOD colleagues will provide additional information on that in due course. In the coming days, the African-led force, AFISMA—or the African-led international support mission—will begin deploying to Mali to bolster the Malian forces in the aim of restoring Mali’s territorial integrity.

Separately, the EU is considering a military training mission to help to build the capacity of the Malian forces. As the December European Council made clear, the mission has a clear training-only mandate and no combat role. UK support for the mission and for the Council decision is currently under parliamentary scrutiny, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe will discuss it with the European Scrutiny Committee on 16 January. The EU training mission will support and is in line with the UNSCR obligations on Mali.

I assure the House that British forces will not undertake a combat role in Mali. The Prime Minister has authorised a limited logistical deployment following a direct request from one of our closest allies. The National Security Council will meet tomorrow and will be briefed on the latest developments in Mali. Government Ministers, alongside the Prime Minister’s special representative for the Sahel, my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Mr O'Brien), will work with the French Government, the region and international actors such as the UN to put in place the short-term resolution to the crisis and the longer term conditions for security and economic development. The UN Security Council will meet again this afternoon to discuss the crisis.

The House will no doubt be concerned about the humanitarian situation in the region and what the UK is doing to alleviate that situation. The UN reports that more than 200,000 people have been displaced inside Mali and another 210,000 have fled as refugees in the region. In addition to the immediate support to France, the UK has contributed £59 million in humanitarian aid to the Sahel region through multilateral organisations. In December 2012, the Department for International Development agreed a further £15 million in humanitarian aid to the region and funds from the UK have been put to work to help the immediate needs of the Malian people.

Finally, I would like to reassure the House that the safety of British nationals and personnel remains of paramount concern. Our travel advice has advised against all travel to Mali since the coup in March 2012. That was updated on 11 January this year to advise British citizens remaining in Mali to leave by commercial means, if possible. Our embassy in Bamako is in regular constant touch with the British community there, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London is, of course, working to ensure that contingency measures are in place.

The threat posed by the instability in Mali is of grave concern to the UK. We must not allow northern Mali to become a springboard for extremism and create instability in the wider west African region. The ferocity and fanaticism of the extremists in northern Mali must be not be allowed to sweep unchecked into the country’s capital. France, which has an historic relationship with Mali, is quite rightly in the lead. In the coming days we will be focused on the regional and international diplomacy we must achieve to check this emerging threat.

I thank the Foreign Office Minister both for his statement and for advance sight of it. We were slightly surprised that on the day of Defence questions, the statement was not made by the Ministry of Defence, especially given the difficulties experienced today by one of our C-17s—although with the Defence Secretary absent, that is probably understandable.

On behalf of the Opposition, I clearly state our support for the commitment that is being made in support of our close and important French ally, acting in pursuit of a Security Council resolution which stated

“its grave concern about the consequences of instability”

in northern Mali

“on the region and beyond . . . the continuing deterioration of the security and humanitarian situation”


“the increasing entrenchment of terrorist elements including Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)”

and affiliated and other extremist groups. That resolution went on to call on member states to provide assistance to Mali’s armed and security forces as soon as possible in order to restore the state’s authority over its entire territory.

It is important, therefore, to be clear on the strategic purpose of this military engagement and the end point that is sought. Is it to enable the transitional authorities to regain control of the entire north of the country, as outlined by the Security Council in October, or just to halt the southern advance of rebel forces? Those extremist groups operating in the Sahara and Sahel regions are responsible for guerrilla attacks, suicide bombings, attacks against Government, military and civilian targets, as well as for gross abuse of human rights.

As the Minister said, this is not just an issue for Mali, important as that is; it is an issue for stability across the region, especially as there are concerns that AQIM has been networking with other terrorists groups in the region, including in Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen. It is very clearly against the interests of international security that they should be allowed to establish a base in Mali. From our own Government’s experience of the successful intervention in Sierra Leone, we know how effective timely, well executed military action can be. That depends on good intelligence. There is a concern that the fall to Islamic militants of the southern town Konna—the strategically important town in Mali which led to the French taking action—appeared to take the international community by surprise. Why was that? Why was the intelligence not better, and how can it be improved?

I realise the difficulty in commenting on security matters, but the French President, Francois Hollande, has ordered an increase in domestic security in the aftermath of recent French military operations in Mali and in Somalia. Now that we are engaged in assisting the French operation, can the Minister reassure the public that our Government are taking similar action here in the UK and also to protect the position of British citizens abroad?

While supporting this action, the British people will want to understand the military consequences of the announcement. Our first current military priority must remain Afghanistan, so can the Minister say whether the deployment of British military aircraft will impact on ongoing operations in Afghanistan or other commitments? Will he also say over what period the aircraft will be operational in Mali, and what will be the cost to the defence budget?

Given the leakage of weaponry from Libya, what assessment has the Minister made of the risk from surface-to-air missiles to our and other countries’ aircraft? I raised that point several times with Defence Ministers in 2011, so I hope that the current Ministers are more seized of its importance than Ministers were then.

What will be the involvement of other nations, obviously beyond the commitment of the French? It has long been intended that the lead on supporting the Mali Government should be provided by an African-led force, so does not the present French deployment only emphasise the urgency of that? Will the Minister set out what steps are being taken to speed up efforts to achieve that, and when does he expect that the African force led by ECOWAS will reach the UN-authorised level of 3,300 personnel on the ground?

We want to be clear about the underlying objectives of the mission. Is it viewed as a one-off British contribution, or does it mark the beginning of a phased engagement that could see further British capabilities playing a part in the future? There are press reports today about trainers being sent and RAF drones being prepared, and the Minister indicated that ground crew will be in theatre, so will he clarify the position?

Essential as military action is, it is not sufficient, and the lasting stability that we all want in Mali, and in west Africa more generally, will be realised through a political process involving a successful, inclusive mechanism for transition to a permanent political authority in Mali. The involvement of regional partners, especially the Algerian Government, will be important. What discussions have taken place between us—and indeed our allies—and the Algerians on this matter? Will the Minister provide the House with the Government’s assessment of the likelihood of such a transition and the potential for lasting political stability and reconciliation?

Long-term stability will come through the developmental process, which is why we support the governance and transparency fund in Mali—I am pleased that the Secretary of State for International Development is in the Chamber—and west African food aid programmes. In recognising the threat, it is essential that we also recognise the need to focus on longer term preventive measures that can limit the requirement for military action—that is to say that interventionism should be about proactive developmental work as much as reactive military responses. Will the Minister update the House on how the Government are ensuring that our developmental priorities are linked to our security objectives in north-west Africa?

Finally, I am sure that the Minister, with his usual courtesy, will seek to ensure that any escalation beyond what has been announced today is brought to Parliament for its approval.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support. His remarks will be extremely helpful as we continue diplomatic discussions with our international partners.

I understand that the deployment of the two C-17 planes was discussed earlier during Defence questions. The reason it was decided that the Foreign Office should take the lead on the statement was the complex diplomatic and regional foreign policy implications of this limited deployment.

The right hon. Gentleman was correct to highlight the UN Security Council resolution. As he will probably be aware, resolution 2085, which was adopted just before Christmas, was the second to set out, under chapter VII, a whole series of policy strands that need to be followed to promote security and territorial integrity in not only Mali, but the wider region. Included in those strands is the all-important matter of human rights, which he was absolutely right to mention.

The right hon. Gentleman asked what we wanted to achieve, and I can summarise that in two specific strands: first, to diminish significantly the presence and influence of al-Qaeda in the Maghreb and the allied terrorist groups; and, secondly, to secure a democratic Government who are acceptable to the whole people of Mali—in the north and in the south—and who provide basic services. Priority should therefore be given to a lasting political process.

The right hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear that security, as it relates to the UK, is constantly monitored and under review, but at the moment we do not feel that it is necessary to raise the threat level beyond substantial. I can confirm that there will be no impact on the priority operations in Afghanistan, and the Prime Minister has made it categorically clear that the initial supporting deployment will be for a period of one week. He has also made it clear that no combat troops from the UK will be involved, and we have no plans to provide more military assistance.

The right hon. Gentleman was also right to pinpoint the importance of the African Union and ECOWAS-led force. One of the proposals under discussion is to bring forward that deployment, and some member states of ECOWAS have already suggested that they will be willing to put troops into Mali. Togo and Senegal are the first two that immediately spring to mind. He is also right to highlight the importance of Algeria in this process. I can assure him that both the Prime Minister’s special envoy, my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Mr O'Brien), and the Foreign Office have been discussing this matter with the Algerian Government and their representatives in New York. It is essential that we bring back the territorial integrity of Mali as part of what we want to do.

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight the importance of long-term sustainable development, and that is why the Foreign Office is working closely with DFID to make sure that there is not only a political solution but sustainable economic development to break the cycle of conflict in the northern part of Mali.

Does my hon. Friend agree that Ansar Dine’s close links with Boko Haram is another reason why this organisation cannot be viewed in isolation, and obviously has potential to interact and encourage further terrorist activity? Does he also agree that if the EU deployed a training team, it would be in our interests to support it, and that it would make sense to do that from our training mission in Sierra Leone?

I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. I know that as my predecessor in the Foreign Office he had significant involvement in monitoring this situation. He is absolutely right to highlight the potential danger and links between the respective terrorist organisations in the northern part of Mali, in northern Nigeria and elsewhere in the Sahel. He is also absolutely right to highlight the importance of the potential EU training mission to build capacity in the Malian military forces to ensure that they have the capacity to retake the northern part of Mali and to hold it once the territorial integrity has been regained.

Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr Spellar) I commend the decision taken by the Prime Minister to give this practical support to the Government of France. Will the Minister spell out in a bit more detail the consequences for the west African Commonwealth countries and their stability were effective and firm action not taken to deal with the threat in Mali straight away?

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks about the Prime Minister’s correct decision. He is also right to highlight the potential for the terrorist activity taking place in the northern part of Mali spreading to other parts of not just the Sahel but west Africa. There are clearly potential dangers from the threats that have been articulated by those in al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb not only to those in Europe, but to economic and social development and to the alleviation of poverty, which is abject in some parts of the Sahel and in northern Mali, and to the commercial interests of UK firms in the region.

Some northern groups, such as the MNLA and even Ansar Dine are not straightforward jihadists, and there have been genuine grievances in the north around issues such as poverty and disempowerment, all of which suggests that a political solution as well as a political response might be possible, given enough subtle use of local intelligence and negotiating skills. Can Britain ensure that subtlety in negotiating skills are deployed alongside the Mirage jets, especially since Britain is widely regarded as rather more neutral in the region than France?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point: this is not a simple picture. A variety of groups are involved in northern Mali—not only those associated with terrorist activities but, in some cases, those associated with the Tuareg people, who have not necessarily been sufficiently engaged in the government of Mali in recent years. An important process is in place, established under the auspices of the United Nations and set out in UN Security Council resolutions, that encourages dialogue and discussion with those who want to play a responsible part in trying to find a satisfactory and peaceful solution, in the long term, to the future of Mali as a credible sovereign state.

Will the Minister update the House on the planned European Union mission to Mali and the potential for UK participation in that? How would it operate in the circumstances that exist on the ground there? Will he give an update on the position of other EU partners, including the Danes, who have apparently been considering logistical support today?

The European Union training mission in Mali, which will be discussed under the common security and defence policy, involves a few hundred training personnel being sent to Mali to build capacity in the Malian military and security forces to enable them to reduce the influence of the terrorist activity taking place in the northern part of the country. The detail is still being discussed, but recent events at the end of last week mean that these discussions need to be expedited so that the Malian military can have the capacity not just to retake the northern part of their country but to make sure that they can provide security and stability in the months and years ahead.

When did contingency planning for this begin in the Ministry of Defence or at Permanent Joint Headquarters? How big is the small detachment in Bamako, and how many RAF personnel will be deployed to France?

The discussions relating to the problem in northern Mali have been going on for some considerable time in the Foreign Office, the Ministry of the Defence and the Department for International Development. The response that the Prime Minister gave to the request from President Hollande, who was responding to a request from the Malian Government, was a crisis response. It was not a detailed, thought-through response—it has been thought through since—but a response to a particular need at a particular time of crisis. As my hon. Friend will be aware, these things are monitored persistently and continually. I do not have the numbers with me on the military personnel who are being deployed to Paris and Bamako, but I can tell my hon. Friend that the number of people operating the military aircraft and those who will be protecting them will be very small.

In response to the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), the Danes have said that they are going to make commitments on logistical support, as have others in the international community beyond the immediate region.

The Minister will be well aware that there is a great deal of antagonism towards the Malian army and its human rights record in the north of the country, that the Tuareg people have been systematically excluded from the political process, and that that has laid very fertile ground for this conflict to break out. Is he concerned about mission creep and the unintended consequences of Britain’s and France’s involvement in a war that will create a growth in the forces he is seeking to oppose, rather than bring about the political settlement that is necessary to achieve peace and prosperity for the people of the country?

I reiterate that the Prime Minister made it very clear that we were offering only limited logistical support—two C-17 planes and no combat troops—and have no plans to provide more military assistance. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, though, to say that it is necessary to bring the Tuareg and their representatives into the political process and the political governance structures of an integrated Malian state. That is being discussed at the United Nations and at a regional African level, led by the African Union and other senior figures in ECOWAS.

The House totally understands that no combat troops will be deployed, yet technical personnel will be sent to Bamako airfield to service the large aircraft that will presumably bring in equipment such as tanks. When those aircraft land, will those technical personnel include force protection personnel, possibly including personnel from the RAF Regiment, who are actually soldiers?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The capital of Mali is pronounced “Bam-ack-co”.

Just to clarify the matter, there are currently no plans for NATO to be involved in Mali. The EU has drawn up a mission comprising 400 men, about 250 of whom will be force protection, and they are due to deploy later in the year. My hon. Friend asked a specific question about the number of military personnel who will be there to operate and to defend, if necessary, the aircraft when they are in Bamako. I will have to let him know about that.

Does the Minister share my scepticism at the French Foreign Minister’s prediction that French soldiers will be out of Mali in a matter of weeks? That seems pretty unlikely to me. On the comparisons with Sierra Leone, does the Minister agree that it would be wrong to make the wrong comparisons? ECOWAS was deployed in Sierra Leone, and I understand that it will quite rightly be deployed in Mali, but the situation in Sierra Leone required British troops to go in and defeat the terrorists there. The second point on Sierra Leone is that there were no jihadi extremists with an international dimension, including al-Qaeda. Sierra Leone was a specific situation, fuelled by blood diamonds. For all those reasons, I believe that the situation in Mali could become an incredibly long-drawn-out morass, and we must be careful to promote a political solution to it.

The right hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. He is right to highlight the complexity of the situation, and the fact that it will take some considerable time to arrive at a complete solution—a political resolution to the problem and providing stability to enable the northern part of the country to be part of the territorial integrity of Mali. The United Nations resolutions are absolutely clear that the political process is a fundamental part of finding a stable, long-term solution to the problem. I very much hope that the French-led military operation, to which we are providing limited logistical support, will be a short time-frame deployment. However, the right hon. Gentleman is right to say that the diplomatic, political and economic processes will take some time.

Is it not the case that al-Qaeda and its affiliates are not dead, and that there is now an arc of terror from Somalia in the east of Africa right up to Algeria and now down to Mali in the west? Will the Minister confirm that, while Britain and France are offering support, there will be a Malian and African solution to the problem? Does the situation in Mali not underline the fact that today’s fragile states can become tomorrow’s failed states, which can have a direct and sometimes costly impact on the British national interest?

I agree with my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right to set out the trajectory that can be put in place when the international community does not act expeditiously to resolve particular problems. The African Union and ECOWAS have been seriously engaged with this problem for some considerable time, and I can assure him and the House that, in all the discussions held with senior African political figures in the region and elsewhere, with the United Nations and with other political figures around the world by my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Mr O’Brien) and me, and by other Foreign Office and Defence Ministers with an interest in this area, there has been unanimity of concern and purpose that the international community needs to act in a co-ordinated way to resolve this difficult and dangerous problem.

On the specific issue of the C-17 that is experiencing difficulties at present, is it the intention of the Ministry of Defence to release a further C-17 airframe should the problems with that aircraft not be resolved, and does it have the capacity to do so?

That is an operational matter for the military to decide, but I can inform the hon. Gentleman and the House that the spare parts for the plane that is not functioning as it should be at present are on their way to Paris as we speak.

To what extent do the Government believe that the insurgency in the north of the country has indigenous support, and to what extent, if at all, are outside Governments supporting the insurgency, as far as we can tell?

From the information that I have, I can inform my hon. Friend that there is limited support from the population who live in the northern part of Mali for the terrorist activities taking place. The atrocities that are being committed are appalling, including not just the prevalence of sexual violence and rape, but the abduction of children and persuading them, through appalling means, to participate in the military conflict. Stoning, amputations and other participation in extreme sharia law are also taking place. That is not the main reason we are providing limited logistical support, but it starts to paint a picture of why most of the people in northern Mali are not supportive of the terrorist activities and Islamist atrocities, and, indeed, why so many of them—approximately 200,000—have left the northern part of Mali.

As well as condemning the vicious behaviour of the rebel forces, will the Minister address more directly the clear human rights violations of Malian Government forces? On the complicated cast of support and tendencies on the rebel side, do the Government share the suspicion of some credible observers that there is Qatari and Saudi support for some of the rebel forces, and have they addressed those regimes about the matter?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight the importance of human rights, which he will not be surprised to hear is an integral part of the training that will be given to the Malian Government to ensure that they are well aware of the way in which the military should behave when they go into the northern parts of Mali. He will also not be surprised to hear that, on Saudi Arabian and Qatari involvement, I have seen no evidence to support the reports in the media that they are supporting terrorists in the northern part of Mali.

Islamic extremists have been threatening civil society and committing gross atrocities in west Africa for many years, but the situation in Mali is a marked escalation of violence. As in Afghanistan, the Islamists have been brutal in their suppression of women’s rights in Mali. Will my hon. Friend reassure the House that he will work closely with the Department for International Development to ensure that Malian women are fully involved in any future conflict reconciliation?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the appalling level of atrocities taking place against women, particularly in the northern part of Mali. I know that she will be pleased to support the Foreign Secretary’s preventing sexual violence initiative, which we are pushing forward and engaging with very seriously across many African countries and elsewhere in the world. My hon. Friend is also absolutely right to highlight the importance of the involvement of women at a much earlier stage in the resolution of conflict, both in northern Mali and elsewhere.

The Minister in his statement reassured the House that British forces will not undertake a combat role in Mali. Could he give an assurance that British forces will not undertake a combat role in future unless there is a debate and vote in this House?

I reiterate what I said before: the Prime Minister made it clear that this is limited logistical support and that there will be no combat troops on the ground. We have no plans to change the military support that we are giving.

Will my hon. Friend say more about the conversations that he has had with Mali’s neighbours, many of which share with it porous borders and the threat of al-Qaeda in Africa? Has he discussed the contribution that those neighbours could make to tackling the threat in Mali?

My hon. Friend is right to make that point. The neighbouring countries are extremely concerned about the possibility of the terrorists expanding their area of control into their countries because of the porous borders. They are keen for the region, under the auspices of the international community at the United Nations, to resolve the problem as far as is possible as quickly as possible. There is great concern about the increasing migration from northern Mali that may occur if the problem continues, and the knock-on that that may well have in Europe. Another problem is the criminality in parts of the Sahel, including drug, cigarette and people smuggling. All those problems need to be resolved as much as is possible, and the international community is working to that end.

Why us again? We have no post-colonial obligations to Mali. Even without mission creep, we are already exposed to possible terrorist reprisals because of the actions that we have taken. We have seen 618 British lives lost in two wars where there was little direct threat to British interests. Why are the Government so eager to put at risk the lives of British citizens in order to become the policeman of the world?

The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear that I do not share his analysis. As we have discussed, there are serious concerns not just in the UK, but in Europe and the rest of the international community. China and Russia are concerned about what is happening as well. We are right to provide limited logistical support to the French, who are taking the lead because of their historical links with Mali. The two main reasons we are doing this are security and to support the region in ensuring that the conflict does not spread.

Has a timeline for the transition to democracy been discussed, so that the military can go back to the borders, there can be a civilian Government and the United Kingdom cannot be accused of supporting a military dictatorship?

Of course, there is not a military dictatorship in Mali at the moment. Although there was a coup d’état in March, pressure from ECOWAS, the regional African economic group, ensured that the military handed over to a civilian-led transitional Government. My hon. Friend is right about the importance of the success of a political track alongside the military track. That is why, as set out in both UN resolutions, there are detailed timelines for the transition from the current civilian-led Government to a democratic process. However, before that can happen, there needs to be security and stability in northern Mali to ensure that those who live there can participate in the democratic process.

Charities based in my constituency have been active in northern Mali, in particular in Timbuktu, to improve the medical and educational facilities, the local economy and agriculture. They are concerned about the well-being of the people with whom they are working. Will the Minister commit to supporting those charities when a degree of stability and security have been re-established in starting their work again, which is greatly valued by the local people?

I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks and, through him, I thank the charitable organisations in his constituency for their excellent and dedicated work. He will be aware of the terrible destruction of some historic Islamic icons that were an essential part of the historic make-up of Timbuktu. I am happy to provide support to the charitable organisations that he talked about. I suggest that he also take up the matter with my right hon. and hon. Friends the Ministers in the Department for International Development. It is essential that, when the security situation allows, humanitarian assistance and further assistance to build capacity in the provision of services are allowed in to ensure that people in northern Mali have a proper state under which they can lead happy and fulfilled lives.

I should like to pursue the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis). There are obviously people in Mali supporting this action, but how many people are coming from outside the country to support it, and how many countries around Mali appear to be supporting it—not the Governments, of course, but the local people?

I would say three things in response to my hon. Friend. The French deployment is of course at the request of the Malian Government, and the limited British support is at the request of the French. There is no doubt that the terrorist activities in the northern part of Mali have attracted people from outside northern Mali to participate, which is one reason that the matter needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later.

In response to my hon. Friend’s final point about the support from regional countries, from the discussions that I and my right hon. and hon. Friends in various Departments have had, I think I can assure him that almost all Governments, and therefore people, in the region support finding a long-term, satisfactory solution to the current problems in Mali.