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Volume 687: debated on Tuesday 19 December 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What assessment they have made of the current prospects for peace and multi-party democracy in Nepal.

My Lords, we welcome the signing of the comprehensive peace accord as a significant step towards peace and multi-party democracy in Nepal. It is vital that all signatories accept the responsibility placed upon them to implement this agreement and ensure that it leads to a sustainable peace and better future for all. The UK continues to stand ready to help the people of Nepal to move towards free and fair elections and a stable and peaceful future.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness. She is quite right to mention all the progress that has been made by the new Nepalese Government this year, especially the peace treaty on 21 November. However, the Nepalese people are still counting the cost of their long civil war, including the loss of 13,000 lives and many disappearances, abductions and detentions on both sides. Can she confirm that these disappearances are not yet being investigated and that the much talked about truth and reconciliation commission has not yet been set up? Is our embassy adopting a wait-and-see approach on these matters or is it vigorously helping the specialised non-governmental organisations and the United Nations on such an important issue?

My Lords, our embassy in Nepal is vigorously pursuing those issues with the United Nations and with NGOs. The Government welcome the establishment of the truth and reconciliation commission, because it is vital that there should be no impunity. However, as it is not yet clear how the commission will function, it is very difficult for us to comment on its value. We are determined to use our greatest possible influence to maintain the pressure to ensure that the commission is properly accountable and that people are brought to justice, so that the number of those who suffered and died—the 13,000 people—is not added to.

My Lords, the new constitutional agreement with the Maoist rebels is very welcome, and we all want to see it properly monitored and held to. Is it correct that the Gurkhas will be brought in to monitor the agreement, since it would take rather longer for the United Nations forces to come in? Could she say a word about that? Are these Gurkhas an integral part of the British Army or will they be locally recruited? Is our embassy being as helpful as possible in that arrangement, if that is what is about to happen?

My Lords, I am terribly sorry but I am not aware that the Gurkhas will be brought in to monitor the agreement. I shall write to the noble Lord with further information. I can confirm that the United Nations is acting as swiftly as possible to ensure that the monitoring processes begin. A United Nations technical mission is currently in Nepal investigating the situation and there are Britons among that team. It is hoped that a more widely drawn UN team will be in Nepal in the near future.

My Lords, the peace agreement is extremely welcome, especially with everything else that is happening in the world, but it is fragile and at an early stage. Is DfID rethinking its policy of reducing aid to Nepal? Given the peace agreement, will DfID at least restore our former aid levels to Nepal? Everyone agrees that it is important to bring the poorest members of society into the political settlement and not simply the political elites.

My Lords, I wholeheartedly agree that it is important to ensure that the whole of Nepalese society, especially the poorest, is included in the peace process. As for funding, our current aid programme is greater than it was pre-2005. So we have restored the level: £36 million has been allocated this year compared with £35 million in 2004-05. We use both sector budget support and support through NGOs and the UN. We will continue to monitor the situation and provide help as and when needed.

My Lords, following on from the question from the noble Lord, Lord Howell, will the noble Baroness at least accept that we should be offering some help in the monitoring force, in view of the fact that we can produce a great number of people who can speak Nepali or Gurkhali, which is the language of the hills?

My Lords, I certainly accept that fact. Our clear intention is to provide as many people as possible within the monitoring force. We have offered that help to the UN.

My Lords, in our dealings with this new Nepalese Government and the Maoists who have come into it, should we not immediately demand that the Maoists no longer prevent Gurkha pensioners and widows—who travel long distances to get their pensions and medical aid—from reaching their destination and that, once they have received their pensions, they are no longer robbed or have an arbitrary tax imposed before they can return to their villages? It is an important matter. There are many thousands of pensioners and widows and I believe that the Government have a responsibility here.

My Lords, it is indeed an important matter. The Government are aware of the harassment of the Gurkhas and their families. We hope that the situation will improve if the peace agreement results in the suspension of Maoist activities. Our people on the ground in Nepal are acutely aware of the situation and will do everything they can to assist, and to exert pressure on the Maoists to cease.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that a key step in Nepal’s democratic recovery will be the free and fair constituent assembly election scheduled for June of next year? What support will the UK be providing to ensure its success?

My Lords, we will certainly be assisting with the monitoring process and have offered whatever assistance we can to the UN as part of the election-monitoring process. As I said, our people are looking at the situation very carefully. We intend to evolve our policies on Nepal as necessary, especially in respect of the elections.