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Volume 706: debated on Wednesday 14 January 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they will take in the United Nations Security Council to solve the internal conflicts in Somalia.

My Lords, we fully expect the efforts of the UN Secretary-General’s special representative to Somalia to advance the political process in that country as envisaged in the Djibouti agreement. The Security Council has reviewed the situation in the country on a regular basis. A current draft Security Council resolution is under discussion which envisages a UN peacekeeping deployment in future if there is sufficient progress on the political and security fronts.

My Lords, considering that the Djibouti process involves the expansion of the TFG Parliament to include the 275 members of the ARS, what arrangements will the Security Council make to bring the two factions of the Parliament together and to provide logistical and security arrangements that will permit them to hold their meeting peacefully in the absence of the Ethiopian troops who are departing at this moment? Secondly, will the UN engage with the authorities in Puntland to eradicate the pirate base on their territory and persuade them to give up their claims to part of Somaliland?

My Lords, on the noble Lord’s first point, the meeting of the Parliament, if that provision of the Djibouti agreement is confirmed and made operable, is a little way down the road. We first have to get the Djibouti agreement fully accepted by the different parties and everyone to come in. Obviously, security will be a problem in holding a large meeting of parliamentarians, but I give the noble Lord some reassurance. In these first days of Ethiopian withdrawal, the level of insecurity in Mogadishu appears to have fallen.

My Lords, in the light of events at the presidential palace in Mogadishu and the humanitarian disaster, with the International Medical Corps estimating 1 million people now displaced in Somalia, can the Minister share with the House something about the humanitarian problems that face the people of Somalia and also his reflections on peacekeeping in Africa generally? After his recent experiences in Darfur, in the east of the Congo, and now in Somalia, does he not think that there needs to be a more fundamental debate about how we go about peacekeeping and conflict resolution in Africa?

My Lords, the noble Lord will forgive me, but I do not want to overburden the patience of the House, so to his latter question I had better just say yes. There is need for a fundamental discussion of humanitarianism in the current context, especially in the very weak states of Africa. On the humanitarian situation in Somalia itself, we are the second largest bilateral donor. We planned and are well into an annual programme for 2008-09 of £30 million. We are trying to find effective ways to deliver humanitarian assistance into what the noble Lord is quite correct to describe as a situation of great insecurity and difficulty.

My Lords, within the failed state of Somalia is the former British protectorate of Somaliland, based on Hargeisa, which is a haven of relative peace and stability and is seeking to regain its independence. Does my noble friend agree that it should be supported by discreet British diplomacy and that we should seek to persuade members of the AU in that regard? To what extent is the aid he described going to Somaliland, where it can be used effectively, rather than to the anarchic state of Somalia?

My Lords, it has been a continuing feature of the situation, as my noble friend says, that Somaliland has been a relative haven of stability, although it too has been subject to tragic terrorist attack recently. The British Government’s position has always been to be sympathetic to Somaliland’s demand for independence but we feel, first and foremost, that this is a matter for the different components of Somalia to negotiate between themselves; and, secondly, that it is for the AU, which has shown a deep suspicion of any redrawing of African boundaries, to move on this and that any overt British support for this goal would actually set it back. We have to let Africa sort out this problem.

My Lords, as the Ethiopian troops began withdrawing only the day before yesterday—on Tuesday—does the Minister agree that it is possibly a little early to judge the security situation and the power vacuum that they leave? However, is it not clear that the al-Shabab Islamic extremists will have a much freer run for the moment, and that action internationally is required? Are we, the British, supporting the American draft resolution for a UN force to be in place by 1 June, if that is not too late?

My Lords, I take a very important correction from the noble Lord; it is too soon to say with any confidence that the security situation has improved. There has been a fundamental debate about the Ethiopian forces, whose intervention into the country we certainly understood the reasons for, and whether they have become more of a source of the conflict than a solution to it. Certainly, al-Shabab and the other hard-line Muslim elements in the country have essentially mobilised themselves against the Ethiopian presence, and if you read the language in which they have cast the Ethiopians as a proxy of the United States in Somalia, you can see that they have in some ways become part of the problem, not just part of the solution. We have to wait and see what impact the Ethiopian withdrawal will have on the security situation.

On the second point, we are working very closely with the Americans to secure a resolution. We are, however, taking care to make sure that there is no open-ended commitment of a UN peacekeeping force without political progress and sufficient conditions of security to ensure that that force could be effective.