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Volume 711: debated on Wednesday 10 June 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what measures they will take to encourage the Government of Sudan to complete the demarcation of the internal north-south border in a way acceptable to all parties, in the light of the violence in the Upper Nile and Western Equatoria regions.

My Lords, demarcation of the north-south border is a critical component of the comprehensive peace agreement. We are seriously concerned at the delays to this work. The UK has provided technical assistance and is working with partners, including through the CPA’s Assessment and Evaluation Commission, to press the Government of National Unity urgently to complete demarcation. Recent months have seen a worrying escalation in violence in southern Sudan, and uncertainty over the border only adds to tensions.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that senior figures in the southern Government have rejected the surprising results of the census published last month, based on the existing north-south demarcations, which state that the southern population makes up only just a fifth of the country’s total, rather than the expected one-third that many believe to be nearer the figure? If accepted, that outcome will result in the reduction of already seriously decreasing oil revenues being passed to the south, which will fuel resentment and the urge toward a return to armed conflict. What will Her Majesty’s Government be able to do to support that fragile comprehensive peace agreement? Does the Minister, for example, plan to see Salva Kiir, the President of the south, on his visit to London later this month?

My Lords, we are concerned about the features that the right reverend Prelate has identified. We were pleased that the census had completed its findings on 22 May and concerned about their rejection by the south, because the census is a crucial feature in both the distribution of resources and the decisions on the demarcation line. That subject is an absolutely crucial component in developing the comprehensive peace agreement. We are doing all that we can, and take every opportunity to further that peace agreement, but the right reverend Prelate is as well placed as anyone in the House to recognise how very difficult the situation is.

My Lords, the Minister will recall that 2 million people have died during the civil war in southern Sudan, along with 400,000 people who have died in Darfur. Does he agree that perhaps the most important part of the north-south comprehensive peace agreement is to secure the referendum in 2011, which will determine the future shape of southern Sudan? What are we doing to build critical mass in a vast region where there are only 20 secondary schools and only one in five has been able to take part in immunisation programmes?

My Lords, the first part of the noble Lord’s proposition rather precedes the second. Unless we have significant progress on the comprehensive peace agreement and, certainly, demarcation of the frontier, we have not got the basis for the effective development of the southern part. We will be able to give some support to civil society in due course, but the noble Lord will recognise that we and the international authorities, including the special envoy, Mr Gration, are bound to concentrate on the issues which are set to guarantee peace first and on the next stage only after that.

My Lords, has the Assessment and Evaluation Commission of the CPA been asked for its opinion on whether it is feasible to conduct the demarcation while there is endemic violence all along the border, particularly in Western Equatoria with the LRA on the rampage? If access to the boundary is not feasible, would the Minister consider suggesting to the parties that demarcation by co-ordinates be considered, as was done by the Lauterpacht commission in the case of the boundary between Ethiopia and Eritrea?

My Lords, that latter point may be considered in due course, but the comprehensive peace agreement envisages the parties reaching agreement with regard to the border. The noble Lord has accurately identified that the border is fraught with conflict and tensions at present. There is a great deal of movement across the border, which is creating substantial difficulty. The international community is doing what it can to support the comprehensive peace agreement, but the noble Lord knows how fragile that position is. I am not in a position therefore to be optimistic about the next constructive stage on this until we have had some progress in this crucial area.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is important before the proposed referendum in 2011 to agree not only the line of the border but the nature of the border and how open it will be to the nomadic peoples, trade and so on? Does he also agree that if the proposed referendum—if it were to take place—were to agree to separation, it is important that the international community helps both sides in preparing for the transition before that possible separation?

My Lords, as ever, my noble friend is constructive on these matters. Substantial preparations will be needed for the referendum and for developments thereafter. But he will forgive me if my brief concentrates overwhelmingly on the immediate issue here and now, which is how to make the comprehensive peace agreement stick in circumstances where he has rightly identified the factors that make the issue so very difficult. It is bound to be the case that we and the international community concentrate on that issue at present.