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Sudan and South Sudan

Volume 735: debated on Thursday 16 February 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of current developments between South Sudan and Sudan following Sudan’s recent alleged bombing of the town of Jau in South Sudan.

My Lords, we have not yet had independent confirmation of the bombings in the Jau area. Although we note South Sudan’s claim that Jau is within its territory, the fact is that both countries claim it is theirs. Whatever the case, we condemn all indiscriminate bombings that could affect civilians. It was at least encouraging that on the same day the two countries signed their non-aggression pact. They also agreed to move ahead with the establishment of a joint border mechanism, consisting of troops from both armies and from the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei, to oversee a demilitarised buffer zone. We urge both Governments to make good on that commitment now.

I thank my noble friend for that Answer. However, does he not share my concerns that the apparent bombing of Jau is in breach of the non-aggression agreement signed the day before and that in fact it follows earlier attacks with bombers and tanks? These human rights violations have apparently been committed—there is compelling evidence of this—by aircraft and tanks sourced from Russia and China, which leads into my first question. Are our Government supporting a call in the UN to suspend all international arms transfers to the whole of Sudan? Is the Minister aware that the director of the International Organisation for Migration has made it very clear that it is impossible to move the half a million people planning to return to South Sudan by Khartoum’s 8 April deadline? Therefore, will the Government press very strongly for humanitarian aid workers to be given access to these camps and for the returnees’ deadline to be extended?

My noble friend, who is considerably closely acquainted with these issues, has raised a number of them with me. On his last point concerning the returning refugees, this is potentially a very serious problem, particularly if the Khartoum Government insist on a deadline for their return, which we utterly reject. Of course we want to see humanitarian access for the refugees in every possible way and we keep pressing on that issue.

On the other matters that my noble friend raised, we have achieved a Security Council statement at the UN but, frankly, the prospect of getting a substantial measure at the UN Security Council is just not good at the moment—the agreement is not there. There is of course an embargo on arms to the whole of Sudan—the north and the south—and that remains in place. However, while my honourable friends and other countries are working day and night to achieve more movement, I echo and share my noble friend’s realism that progress is very slow and that the commitments are not being adhered to.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that last Thursday, speaking at Westminster, the UK special representative for Sudan and South Sudan estimated that in Southern Kordofan some 300,000 people have now been displaced as a result of the aerial bombardment campaign by Khartoum? Is he also aware that on Friday last the United Nations relief agency and refugee service said that some $145 million would be needed to deal with that crisis? In a Written Answer on 21 June last, the Minister said:

“Reports of such atrocities will have to be investigated and, if they prove to be true, those responsible will need to be brought to account”.—[Official Report, 21/6/11; col. WA 294.]

In November, he said that,

“we continue … to seek urgent access to those … affected by the conflict”.—[Official Report, 9/11/11; col. WA 66.]

What progress is being made to bring to justice those responsible for this manmade catastrophe and to get access to those areas of Kordofan?

The short answer to the noble Lord is: not enough progress. The special representative to whom he refers, Michael Ryder, is at this moment back in Addis Ababa seeking to get the negotiations within the context of the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel process going again. It is a constant struggle and progress is very slow.

On the particular aspects of the increasingly horrific humanitarian situation in Southern Kordofan and in the Blue Nile area, I am advised that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, under the guidance of our former colleague the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, does not for the moment want to press for cross-border access either to Blue Nile or to Southern Kordofan because of the impact that that would have on wider humanitarian activities in Sudan. However, it continues to press for cross-line access to all areas of Southern Kordofan. We are supporting it in that approach but we are, of course, up against the continual denial by the Khartoum Government of proper access by humanitarian agencies. It is a difficult situation.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that crucial to the future stability and security of South Sudan will be assistance towards building effective bilateral trade, security and political relations with its neighbours and the wider east African region? Can he say what DfID is doing to build capacity in terms of good governance systems and structures, strengthening the east African community and supporting South Sudan in its expressed desire to join the Commonwealth?

The answer to the right reverend Prelate is that DfID is doing a great deal. It is putting many millions in infrastructure aid and technical support into this new, young nation of South Sudan and into better relations and connections with the whole east African community. The prospects in the long term are very good, but the prospects in the short term are extremely bad, not least because there is, at present, a total block for various reasons on the sale and transfer of oil from South Sudan, where most of it lies, through the pipelines to the north, where it has to be distributed. That, of course, is slicing the revenue of South Sudan almost to zero. We have to overcome these short-term difficulties, but longer term we ought to be able to build a new and more prosperous east African community, which would certainly include South Sudan.