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Volume 728: debated on Wednesday 15 June 2011


Asked by

My Lords, we are deeply concerned by the situation in Abyei and the current violence in Southern Kordofan. We call for an immediate cessation of violence and urge the parties to work through the African Union-facilitated negotiations to resolve their differences. Michael Ryder, the UK special envoy to Sudan, is in Addis Ababa today, supporting these talks. We are particularly concerned by the humanitarian impact and the lack of access for humanitarian agencies. We strongly urge the Sudanese armed forces from the north and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army to allow humanitarian agencies immediate access to those who most need their help.

I am very grateful to my noble friend for that Answer. Does he agree that the situation unfolding in Southern Kordofan is creating a major threat to regional stability? Will he confirm recent reports that of the 60,000 people in Kadugli, 40,000 have fled from the heavy fighting, which has included bombing and strafing by the Sudanese army; and that some 10,000 are now stranded on the roads without sustenance of any form? Will he confirm also the eye-witness reports of the Sudanese army going from house to house, pulling out opposition supporters and local officials and executing them? Will he confirm that UNMIS has completely failed to protect civilians and assure the House that we, as major donors to northern Sudan, will apply every pressure we can to ensure the restoration of peace, the protection of civilians and the securing of access to humanitarian aid before independence on 9 July?

My noble friend obviously follows these matters extremely closely. Of course I can confirm his last point; we will use every possible endeavour and will hope that the talks going on under the AU implementation panel in Addis Ababa will begin to lead to a calming down of the situation, and to the necessary humanitarian access that at present is being denied. My noble friend asked whether I could confirm various reports. Obviously, in detail, I cannot. What I can say is that we have had a range of reports with horrifying elements to them. We completely deplore the bombing of civilians by the forces of Sudan and Khartoum. All these developments must cease—there must be an immediate cessation of this kind of fighting—so that we can get back to what we hoped would be a pattern of peace under the comprehensive peace agreement, so that Southern Sudan can move towards its independence day on 9 July.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that there is reliable evidence, including photographic evidence, of the aerial bombardment of civilians in Southern Kordofan, including the use of helicopter gunships to chase civilians like wild animals; and that there are reports of UNMIS forces standing by while northern soldiers kill civilians in front of them? Will the Minister indicate whether Her Majesty's Government will press the UN Security Council to take effective action to ensure that UNMIS forces will be effective in their role, and also to give serious consideration to the priority request of local people for a no-fly zone?

The noble Baroness is right when she confirms what I said about the bombing, which we deeply deplore. On the question of UN action, there are proposals that may be moving towards a resolution, but of course resolutions do not necessarily deliver the goods. What is needed is a much stronger operation. UNMIS needs reinforcement and has had some already—although it has not been a total success in protecting civilians from the atrocities that the noble Baroness describes. There is also some hope—perhaps that is too strong a word and I should say some movement forward—to be gained from the agreement that appears to have been accepted in Khartoum that an Ethiopian, non-UN force should intervene in Abyei to try to bring peace and to stop any further fighting and conflict arising both from tribal differences and differences between the north and south.

My Lords, does the Minister agree with Archbishop Deng, the archbishop of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, that the situation at the moment has all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing and potential genocide, and that this adds a very particular urgency to the need for effective international action to bring an immediate end to the bloodshed and also to secure a long-term, lasting peace?

I agree with the right reverend Prelate. I do not think that there is any doubt that this is a very serious situation, with some extremely ugly developments, and that it needs very urgent action by both north and south—but particularly by the northern forces, which are using heavy weapons to attack civilians in a completely unacceptable way.

My Lords, in the past few days we have heard a number of responses to the terrible situation in Southern Kordofan: the White House has talked about crimes against humanity and the targeting of individuals on ethnic grounds; and the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury has described what he calls “government-supported terror” and “another Darfur”. However, from our Foreign Secretary we have had only a short Written Statement which talks of his concerns and condemnation. In response to such appalling atrocities, surely we have a right to expect more assertive words from the British Government, and a commitment to urgent action, such as, particularly, a movement to Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

I am the first to salute the noble Baroness’s concerns in this area, but I do not think that she is being quite fair. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has spoken out about these matters both at Foreign Office Questions and in quite long Statements, and I know that it is a major preoccupation. Possibly the best evidence of his close preoccupation with these extremely worrying concerns is that he will attend the independence on 9 July, in Juba, together with other international leaders; the full support which is already reflected in our substantial consulate-general, to be an embassy, in Juba; the extremely close, daily involvement of our officials in the whole operation; and the very substantial aid programmes which we offer both to the new South Sudan as it emerges and to address the continuing problems of north Sudan—providing, I should add, that they, in a sense, follow more responsible policies and cease these hideous, open and atrocious attacks on unarmed civilians.