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Sudan: Darfur

Volume 703: debated on Thursday 3 July 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What discussions they held at the African Union summit in Sharm el-Sheikh about the strength and effectiveness of the international peacekeeping forces in Abyei and Darfur following recent violence in Sudan.

My Lords, discussions on Sudan at the African Union summit focused on implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement in the light of the fighting in Abyei in May, and of course we discussed Darfur and Chad-Sudan relations. Evidently strong, effective UN missions must be part of the response to the conflicts in Sudan.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. While 95 per cent of Abyei was burnt to the ground and 60,000 people were displaced, precisely what role was the international peacekeeping force playing? What inquiry is being conducted by the Security Council into the failure to protect and deter, and to consider a current mandate for the peacekeeping force? What are the implications for Darfur, where exactly one year after resolution 1769 was passed we are still not up to half the level of the proposed peacekeeping force? What is the noble Lord’s assessment of the long-term implications for the comprehensive peace agreement of the events which have occurred in Abyei?

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on keeping Sudan in front of us. In Abyei, evidently the peacekeepers were unable to prevent the devastating fighting between the two communities. There are limits of mandate, but also limits of equipment which prevented peacekeepers effectively intervening. We have sought to improve the mandate. We also note that they have done a better job of co-ordinating the delivery of humanitarian assistance since the Security Council asked the UN Secretary-General to investigate what happened.

As to the noble Lord’s second point, he is correct that deployment in Darfur is still way below the level we expected by this time.

My Lords, as the Minister has been at the centre of things, can he explain why the UN negotiators have chucked in their hand and resigned, and when a new mediator will be appointed? Why has the African Union force still less than half the troops in place—10,000 not 26,000? Why do they not have the right equipment? Why, which is particularly frustrating, are Britain, France and the United States being blamed for this fiasco? What can we do to put things on a better path as the atrocities and the killings continue, in some places worse than ever before?

My Lords, the UN has for a long time been seeking a new chief mediator to work more full time on the Darfur problem than the two current mediators, who have remained engaged to this point. Mr Bassolé, until now the Foreign Minister of Burkina Faso, is felt to be well placed to lead the mediation effort.

A lot of the violence in Darfur has been stimulated by cross-border attacks by Chad and Sudan on each other’s territory, usually through the surrogates of rebel movements. We are seeking to find ways to diminish, if not solve, that conflict. The noble Lord is right: there continues to be a very high level of displaced people, violence and insufficient UNAMID forces deployed. We continue to press to correct that.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the many good initiatives for genuine peace in Darfur? Concordis International organised a conference last week in Cambridge for the Darfuran leaders. There is a British Muslim peace and reconciliation initiative in Darfur. How can these small initiatives be co-ordinated to help with the EU, UN, AU and our Prime Minister’s peace initiatives?

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on his role in trying to bring Muslim civil society groups together in Sudan. I add that other eminent British leaders, many with Sudanese and African connections, are similarly engaged. Mr Mo Ibrahim, the founder of the award for good governance in Africa, is also pressing to bring these different initiatives together, with the intention of giving civil society in Darfur a voice and the ability to deploy its demand for peace on rebel leaders who seem much more willing to allow this conflict to continue to advance their own political interests. We hope that the combined pressure of civil society will lead to a consolidated rebel position, which we can then bring to the Government of Sudan to ensure, under UN auspices, long-overdue effective peace negotiations.

My Lords, the appointment of a UN chief mediator, Mr Bassolé, was certainly good news. I wish him every success in his efforts. Is it realistic for the head of UN peacekeeping to say that UNAMID will have 20,000 troops and police on the ground by the end of the year, considering that after six months it has managed to increase the total to only just over 9,000? During his stay in Africa, did the noble Lord manage to speak to President Déby to urge him to enter into peace negotiations with President al-Bashir, bearing in mind that the undeclared proxy war between the two countries is one of the main causes of instability and violence in the region? Did the Minister also persuade President Déby to acknowledge that the European Union force is there to protect civilians, not to engage in military action against the rebel National Democratic Alliance?

My Lords, on the latter point, we have been clear in all our public comments that the role of the European Union force is to protect IDPs and it cannot be drawn into the political conflict between Chad and Sudan. I did not, in a very busy set of meetings, have the opportunity to press President Déby directly, but others from Europe did. There is no doubt that we are working collectively to see if we can support a Libyan and Senegalese initiative to find a peace agreement that will hold between Sudan and Chad.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that since the conflict in Abyei, the town of Lietnhom in nearby Bahr-el-Ghazal, which I visited in January, has been attacked with heavy weapons and a further 45,000 people have been displaced? The attack is not even on our radar screens. What are UNMIS, the Assessment and Evaluation Commission and the international community doing to prepare for, anticipate and mitigate further outbreaks of conflict?

My Lords, in Sharm el-Sheikh I met Mr Deng Alor the prominent SPLM leader, who is also Foreign Minister of Sudan. We discussed the situation in Abyei in some depth. He did not raise with me the issue of the attacks on the other community that the noble Baroness mentioned, but we will certainly investigate them. We have been using the CPA, which is now chaired by a British citizen, Sir Derek Plumbly, a distinguished former Foreign Office diplomat, to try to ensure progress in addressing the roots of this conflict and to reach a deal on the border and on oil royalties. Both issues need to be resolved if this conflict is to be prevented from reigniting.