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Somalia: Peacekeeping

Volume 685: debated on Wednesday 11 October 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What representations they have made to the Government of Somalia concerning the possible deployment of peacekeeping forces by the African Union or a coalition of African states, and what is their assessment of the legality of such a force.

My Lords, the African Union has approved a proposal by members of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development—IGAD—to deploy a peace-support mission to Somalia. On 13 July 2006, the UN Security Council confirmed its willingness to consider whether a peace-support mission would contribute to peace and stability in Somalia on receipt of a detailed plan from IGAD. We will participate actively in this consideration. I have had discussions with the transitional federal government representatives on this subject and the subject of trying to sustain current peace negotiations.

My Lords, has not the situation changed since the Islamic Courts Union declared a jihad against any foreign forces entering Somalian territory, including the deployment of IGADSOM, as has been decided by the African Union Peace and Security Council? Does the Minister consider there to be any scope for a discussion between the AU and the Islamic Courts Union on a variation of the proposal that would be acceptable to them, either in terms of the states that are providing forces or in the terms of reference of the mission? Will it be explained clearly to the Islamic Courts Union that if it does not agree to such a mission, the likelihood is that President Abdullahi Yusuf will call on the Ethiopian forces to help to protect him?

My Lords, the peace discussions in Khartoum are about to enter a third phase, and there have also been useful contacts in the past couple of weeks in Nairobi. The aim of the peace discussions is to provide the conditions under which a peace-support operation would work successfully with the agreement of all parties in Somalia. It remains quite clear to me that if the Islamic Courts Union cannot accept peace proposals, the Security Council will have to consider very urgently the decisions taken by the front-line states on security in the region.

My Lords, are the Americans supporting the warlords in Somalia? If so, will Her Majesty’s Government make representations to them to stop? The trouble in Somalia was caused by gangs of warlords shooting people up and engaging in total mayhem. Even a strongly Muslim Government would be more peaceful and more preferable to what has gone before.

My Lords, I think the noble Earl is referring to an allegation some while ago that the United States had supported several warlords and their armed militias. Whether or not people think that this is the best outcome for Somalia, the move of the Islamic Courts Union against the warlords has more or less taken them out of any part of the equation, as matters stand. The problems now lie principally between the transitional federal Government of President Yusuf—the only Government who are supported by the United Nations as the legitimate Government—and the Islamic Courts Union.

My Lords, what is the Minister’s assessment of the Islamic Courts Union and its medium-term aims? It has been suggested that it wants to create an Islamic state, and that it has links with various fundamentalist extremist groups, including al-Qaeda. Is that a danger? Are we seeing the emergence of yet another failed state and source of terrorism, or could the Islamic Courts Union provide the stability that my noble friends have suggested?

My Lords, I do not think that the Islamic Courts Union is a homogenous body in any sense. It contains some elements which are moderate and plainly disposed towards the peace negotiations that I have described. It contains some elements—they may be in the ascendancy at the moment—which I would describe as being on the end of the politics of al-Qaeda and very dangerous. The reality is that we must make sure that moderate parties on both sides—the transitional Government and the Islamic Courts Union—engage in discussions and try to get to a new balance between the different forces. It would be of no benefit to this country to see the kind of takeover of Somalia which would create a further serious international security problem.

My Lords, is the mandate of the African Union in such a situation solely to observe, as it has been in Darfur where it has not been able to protect the people at all? Is it in any way likely that either it or any subsequent force would have any power of intervention? Is it only to observe and report what we are constantly hearing?

My Lords, there are two important questions in the noble Baroness’s supplementary question. First, the precise purpose of an IGAD force, were it to be introduced in Somalia, would have to be agreed with the Security Council. Its mandate could include anything that the Security Council deemed appropriate. If it is introduced, I would hope that it would be sufficiently robust to do the job properly. On the second question, which requires some comment, the mandate that the AMIS force has in Darfur could and should have been used far more extensively than just for observation. At the beginning it was.