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Sudan: Reconstruction And Humanitarian Aid

Volume 669: debated on Tuesday 1 February 2005

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2.36 p.m.

My Lords, on behalf of the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and at his request, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what they are doing to speed up reconstruction and humanitarian aid in southern Sudan during the interim period following the latest peace agreement.

My Lords, the signing of the Sudan comprehensive peace agreement opens new possibilities for humanitarian and reconstruction assistance. The Secretary of State for International Development has announced a £50 million UK contribution to the United Nations 2005 Workplan for Sudan and the Consolidated Appeal for Eastern Chad from a total allocation of £100 million for Sudan this year. We are encouraging other donors to make similarly early, up-front contributions.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the humanitarian aid programme in southern Sudan should be treated entirely separately from the ongoing negotiations in Darfur? Given the below average production of staple food crops in the south, and the probability of significant population returns to the area, the Security Council should take immediate steps to place on the ground the 11,000 peacekeepers that the Secretary-General demands. Is it possible for the humanitarian programme to be initiated before the peacekeepers are in situ?

My Lords, first, the money for southern Sudan and for Sudan as a whole is separate from the money that we are giving for humanitarian aid in Darfur. Secondly, with respect to the deployment of UN peacekeepers to monitor the comprehensive peace agreement, we are awaiting discussions to clarify the mandate for those peacekeepers, but once that is done they will be deployed. I was not entirely certain what the noble Lord was asking with respect to humanitarian aid and peacekeepers, but I will look at that in Hansard and I will write to him if I can add anything.

My Lords, what support are Her Majesty's Government providing to combat the outbreak of the rare W135 strain of meningitis in the refugee camps across the border from Darfur in Chad? What is the current known number infected? Are they taking steps to ensure that NGO workers in the area have adequate immunisation?

My Lords, I am afraid that I do not have any information about the numbers that might have been infected. The noble Baroness will know that we have been working with the World Health Organisation in looking at health issues in the refugee camps. I do not have the answer to her question on immunisation for NGO workers, but I will write to the noble Baroness.

My Lords, I welcome the peace agreement, but how will it affect events in Darfur?

My Lords, at the moment, the comprehensive peace agreement does not apply to Darfur, although there are institutional elements in the comprehensive peace agreement that will ultimately apply to Darfur once we have a peaceful settlement there. That depends on the outcomes of the Abuja negotiations under the auspices of President Obasanjo. I understand that those may restart later this month. We hope that they do, because the situation in Darfur remains critical.

My Lords, how do the Government intend to respond to the recommendation of the commission from the UN Secretary-General that Darfur, and the international human rights abuses in Darfur, should be referred to the International Criminal Court? Does the noble Baroness agree that if the Security Council does not support that proposal, one of the main planks in the high-level panel's report that more use should be made of such referrals would be made to look pretty weak?

My Lords, we will of course study carefully the recommendations coming out of that report. It was issued at about six o'clock last night in New York. With respect to the recommendation of a referral to the International Criminal Court. that is one way to deal with the situation, and that decision must be agreed by the Security Council. We will be talking to our partners in the Security Council about that as a matter of urgency.

My Lords, coming back to southern Sudan, which is the subject of the Question, how long will it take to establish what the mandate of the peacekeepers should be? How does the noble Baroness evaluate the risk of the present situation breaking down if there is any significant delay?

My Lords, I do not anticipate that it will take too long to agree the mandate for the peacekeepers—there is already discussion ongoing. If noble Lords recall, although the peace agreement was signed only in January, the agreement was reached at the end of last year, so we have already had some time to plan for this. In terms of a possible breakdown in the situation, there has, for example, been an outbreak of fighting in the eastern side of Sudan. That is a result of the fact that some rebel groups were not involved in the discussions around the comprehensive peace agreement. We have to ensure that they are brought into the process as well.

My Lords, on Darfur, has there been progress towards a complete ceasefire and the disarmament of all militias?

My Lords, I can only go back to what I said in response to an earlier question, which is that discussions are taking place in Abuja under the auspices of President Obasanjo. Those discussions are currently suspended, but we hope that they will restart towards the end of the month. Given the critical nature of the situation in Darfur, it is vital that both sides sign up to the protocols agreed in Abuja last year with respect, for example, to humanitarian access.

My Lords, further to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, does the noble Baroness agree that congratulations should be offered to our own people in the negotiations, and to all those from Kenya, the USA, Norway and Italy who took part in giving support to the Sudanese Government? Given that the new government will contain a large element of southern representatives, they must ensure that they are able to demonstrate a different political and economic attitude to the regions, in order to assure the rehabilitation of the south, the rescue of Darfur and the integrity of the whole country. Will Her Majesty's Government and other observers at Naivasha maintain the same active partnership to aid implementation of the peace agreement?

My Lords, the short answer is yes. The noble Duke will be aware that we, with the United States and Norway, were part of the Troika. We worked with members of the African Union and others to bring about the comprehensive peace settlement. The Government of Sudan were not the only key players involved; John Garang from the south was one of a number of others. Our continuing support will be absolutely critical.