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Democratic Republic of Congo: UN Mission

Volume 704: debated on Thursday 30 October 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they support the request of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Congo for increased resources for the United Nations mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

My Lords, we are gravely concerned by the increase in violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The UN mission in the DRC faces an important challenge in stabilising the situation in the east of the country and supporting efforts to alleviate the humanitarian consequences. We are reviewing, with our partners and the UN Secretary-General, the current levels of support to MONUC.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that Answer. I hope that, as the Government take part in the review, they will also take a hard look at the mandate, and the interpretation of the mandate, for MONUC in the Congo. What steps are the Government taking, with others, to gain the renewed commitment of all parties, including the CNDP of Nkunda, to the Amani programme of work on the range of issues that underlie the conflict? What is their attitude to the suggestion that emerged at a meeting in Kinshasa on Tuesday, chaired by the president and attended by Her Majesty’s ambassador, and for which France, as president of the EU, has shown some enthusiasm, for a strong force—a kind of “Artemis mark II”—to strengthen MONUC’s efforts to restore peace in the DRC and so in the region, and to restore space for pursuit of the vital Amani programme?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate rightly draws our attention to this issue. There is chaos in the eastern Congo. The city of Goma is subject to an extraordinary degree of lawlessness. However, I can assure noble Lords that there is now a ceasefire which has held since late last night. The rebels are no longer advancing on Goma. I have within the past hour spoken to the UN special representative in the Congo and he renewed the request for European troops. I told him that we first had to see how the political situation was going to shape up and whether this ceasefire would hold. Our first priority is a political process backed by adequate humanitarian access.

My Lords, this is a colossal tragedy to which the right reverend Prelate has rightly drawn our attention. What is going on in the Congo, and has gone on for the past 45 years since the total failure of decolonisation, has been described as the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. As the Minister rightly says, it has got very much worse in the past 72 hours. Obviously, we from this island cannot solve the tragedy or help directly by ourselves, and we must work with others. Where would he put the priority? Is it in trying to get more reinforcement for the UN troops, who seem to be in no position to stop the Rwandan-backed rebels—if they are Rwandan-backed? Or can some European contribution be made given that Mr Kouchner in Paris is saying that there should be an EU force of 1,500 troops but Mr Solana is saying that he does not want troops, he only wants diplomacy? Could we really work bilaterally with our good friends in Europe and possibly avoid any undue European Union bureaucracy which would only delay things in helping these poor people?

My Lords, the root solution to this problem is the implementation of the existing political agreement which calls for the moving of rebels away from the border and the resolution of these two rebel groups by their reintegration into society in Rwanda and the Congo. A failure to act with sufficient will and energy on the agreement has led to this flare-up of violence and a renewed political effort to ensure that it is implemented is key.

Humanitarian access is now vital. There are some 35,000 displaced people moving towards Goma and we have to be able to assist them. We have made £20 million available to the pooled humanitarian fund of which £15 million has already been passed on to agencies. However, we must keep in mind the prospect that peace will not be restored. Therefore, we certainly cannot rule out an additional deployment, whether it is a strengthening of MONUC or a European force. It is too early to say whether that is necessary; and whether it would arrive in time is also questionable. We have first to try to secure a political solution backed by proper humanitarian support.

My Lords, the Minister will have seen Ban Ki-Moon’s statement yesterday that he regards this as a humanitarian catastrophe. He will also have seen the figures promoted by the International Rescue Committee that some 5.4 million people have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1998. Given the deteriorating situation there, with Save the Children pulling out of Kivu yesterday and the situation in Goma which he has just described, does the Minister think that part of the political process to which he has just alluded should be a high-level diplomatic meeting between President Kabila of the Congo and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda? Given that, in the east of the Congo, one dimension is the conflict between Hutus and Tutsis, and that Kabila, certainly during a meeting that I had with him, has indicated his willingness to have such high-level diplomacy, is it not perhaps time that Her Majesty’s Government facilitated such an interchange?

My Lords, I have on many occasions spoken to both presidents to urge them to meet, and they have frequently met. The difficulty has been the follow-up, which has led to a history of mistrust between the two men. Just today, however, facilitated by the UN, the Rwandan Foreign Minister has flown to Kinshasa for high-level direct contact between Rwanda and the Congo.

My Lords, considering that 850,000 people are displaced in North Kivu, with a quarter of a million of them displaced since August, is it not extraordinary that the Security Council has not met since March and that there has been no statement by the Secretary-General since that date? What moves is the United Kingdom making to ensure that the subject is on the Security Council’s agenda?

My Lords, I am pleased to be able to correct the noble Lord on that. The Security Council has met several times this week on the issue. Last night it issued a statement calling for the appointment of an envoy, the cessation of hostilities and implementation of the political agreement of which I have spoken. The Secretary-General has also made statements and has said that the issue has been his number one preoccupation over the past month. We are working with the UN, which we feel is very much engaged on this issue.

My Lords, given the deteriorating situation in the eastern Congo and the difficulties in south Sudan and Somalia, what are Her Majesty's Government doing to strengthen the capacity of the international system to respond more effectively to conflicts in future and to try to prevent further humanitarian catastrophes?

My Lords, the noble Lord puts his finger on the real issue. We see international peacekeeping buckling under the demands being placed on it without sufficient investment in improving the quality of peacekeeping, whether it is UN or AU peacekeeping. There has been an erosion of political support for peacekeeping and a willingness on the part of local parties to conflicts and of Governments to resist the deployment of peacekeeping forces, so I am pleased to say that the Prime Minister has taken a lead on a strategy that is intended to restore the authority and legitimacy of peacekeeping while strengthening its capabilities.