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Volume 687: debated on Thursday 30 November 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What representations they are making to the United Nations Security Council concerning the threat of international conflict in Somalia.

My Lords, we are working closely with our international partners in the UN Security Council to respond to threatened conflict in the Horn of Africa, including confrontation between the transitional federal Government and the Union of Islamic Courts and the continuing violation of the UN arms embargo on that country.

My Lords, what is the Government's response to the warning by the International Crisis Group that foreign military intervention, as advocated by the US in a draft Security Council resolution, would be likely to cause further desertions from the TFG and even to prompt military action by the Islamic courts against their remaining stronghold of Baidoa? Would it not be perverse if the Security Council, having only yesterday passed a resolution condemning the significant increase in the flow of weapons to Somalia in contravention of the arms embargo imposed as long ago as 1992, were now itself to endorse the US call for the embargo to be lifted in favour of the TFG?

My Lords, these are hugely complex issues in a very complex region where many proxy wars are being fought in the small, strategic country of Somalia. Regional countries and the African Union have indeed asked the UN Security Council to provide an exemption for a peace support operation. No one is suggesting lifting the arms embargo more extensively. We are working with our colleagues in the UN and discussing the suggested Security Council resolution. We will continue to work with our colleagues to try to find a peaceful solution to the troubles of that country.

My Lords, does not my noble friend agree that the political issues go far wider than the Somalian conflict itself? How should we approach their strategic nature?

My Lords, the issues that are tearing the world apart at the moment are being played out in Somalia. The Horn of Africa is in great danger unless we deal with the situation very sensitively and delicately in the UN. Another conflict would be disastrous for Somalia and the wider region. We fundamentally do not believe that there can be any military solution in Somalia. We support the Arab League-sponsored Khartoum dialogue and urge all parties to engage constructively and to return to negotiations in Khartoum, or some other mutually agreeable location.

My Lords, the Minister is right that the situation is very complex. The noble Lord’s Question rightly refers to international conflict. That is not the position now, and I value the Minister’s comments that both Ethiopia and Eritrea are being rapidly sucked into this disastrous conflict, that there is a huge Somalian minority in Ethiopia and clearly the country feels threatened, and that enormous dangers portend, as the Minister has indicated, the turning of the whole of the Horn of Africa into yet another area of turbulence equal to the Middle East. Can she say what information we have on active terrorist involvement in all these areas at the moment? Are there signs that the al-Qaeda franchise or other terrorists groups are operating, and how can she most clearly define Britain’s own interest in seeking to co-operate with other countries through the UN and elsewhere to prevent yet another major conflagration?

My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned the important issue of Ethiopia. We are aware of reports of Ethiopian and other foreign troops in Somalia. UK officials have delivered very strong messages to the Ethiopians to hold back from war. In respect of the wider issues of global terrorism, we monitor all the reports that are coming forward. We speak to our partners, the US, and our partners in the European Union very often on this issue. We are watching and we are ready to act when necessary; but we monitor the situation very closely.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that, out of the eight countries that have been accused of breaking the arms embargo, five are African states. This brings me to another point: should not the Government be discussing these issues with the African Union whose membership, after all, is pledged to support good governance, transparency, the rule of law and democracy? Surely the individual nation states of the African Union should put the interests of their continent before their regional self-interest. Should not the Government make that point to the African Union?

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. Indeed, we do discuss these issues with the African Union. One of our desires for Somalia is that there should be peace and good governance. These are precisely the issues that we talk to our colleagues in the African Union about, and we will continue to do so.

My Lords, I have just returned from Somalia on a governance mission. Is the Minister aware that many observers in the region are highly critical of the gung-ho attitude of the US Government and their willingness to back what is virtually a dead horse in the transitional Government, and that ultimately we will have to talk to the courts? What is her response to this analysis?

My Lords, we believe that the transitional federal charter and the institutions created under it are the only basis for reconciliation and political progress in Somalia. We do not believe that the international community should permit those institutions to be removed by force. We deplore what is happening in Somalia and the force that is being used by the courts, because they are primarily supported by one clan and have not yet stated their acceptance of the transitional federal charter as the basis for inclusive political institutions. However, we do hope to continue dialogue with the less extremist elements of the courts.