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Central African Republic

Volume 751: debated on Thursday 16 January 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the failure of the transition government and the growing crisis in the Central African Republic.

My Lords, our immediate priorities are to stop the appalling violence in the Central African Republic, to protect civilians and to ensure humanitarian access. The UK worked to secure UN Resolution 2127 in December. We are now working closely with France and our international partners to support the African Union force and the UN mission. In addition, we have allocated £15 million for humanitarian assistance and provided three airlifts for the French military.

I thank my noble friend for her comprehensive Answer. Just this week, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights team confirmed that certain ex-Seleka perpetrators of human rights abuses are Chadian nationals, even wearing the armbands of the Chadian FOMAC peacekeepers, and credible testimonies were found of collusion between Chadian FOMAC peacekeeping and ex-Seleka forces. The people of the Central African Republic therefore have good reason to view Chadian international peacekeepers as a threat. Can the Minister confirm that it is Her Majesty’s Government’s position that any peacekeeping force, whether under a UN, AU or MISCA mandate, should not contain troops from Chad?

The current African Union MISCA force has contributions from Burundi, Cameroon, the Republic of the Congo, Guinea and Chad. I take on board the concerns that my noble friend has raised, and we of course keep under review the lead in these matters. However, it has been felt that at this stage the African Union lead is a right way forward.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that a key driver of the conflict in the Central African Republic is, and has been, the wealth of mineral resources to be found there, including diamonds, gold, uranium, copper and petroleum products? Will the Minister tell us whether discussions are taking place about how to ensure that there is adequate oversight of the management of the extraction and trade of minerals so that the people can at last enjoy the right to benefit from that lucrative industry?

The noble Baroness is right; that has been an underlying factor to much of the violence that we have seen in the country. I am not aware of what specific conversations have taken place in relation to oversight of the industry to which she referred. I will check and certainly write to her.

My Lords, Gérard Araud, the French Ambassador to the UN, has confirmed that French and AU forces are confronting a near-impossible situation in the CAR. The BBC in Bangui this morning reported that John Ging of the UN is calling for,

“a huge international effort to tackle this situation”.

Does my noble friend therefore accept that the deployment by the United States of two C-17 aircraft to fly in 800 Rwandan troops over the next month will still be woefully inadequate? Will the Government make good the C-17 logistical shortfall to accelerate the delivery and scale of the peacekeeping force and to reduce the rising risk of genocide, which we all fear?

My noble friend is right; there is an absolutely appalling situation on the ground. The violence has been seen by many of us on our TV screens as the news reports have been coming out. We currently have about 3,500 troops deployed there as part of the African Union force and I understand that a total of about 6,000 will be deployed—there are about 1,600 French troops deployed. We have responded to requests from the French for three airlifts, which took place in December. We will of course respond to any further requests for support. My noble friend may be aware that there is a European Foreign Affairs Council meeting on Monday, and further options may well be discussed there.

My Lords, can the Minister reflect on the role that outside insurgents are playing in the Central African Republic? Can she tell us what the Security Council is doing to ensure that the western borders of the republic are secured, so that organisations such as Boko Haram are not able to influence events inside the CAR, where jihadists are already present?

The information that I have from my brief—although I stand to be corrected by the noble Lord, who is greatly experienced in the area—is that the situation has at this stage been contained within the borders of the Central African Republic. There are some concerns about external elements and a potential religious element to this developing, and we are of course keeping an eye on that.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the scale of the crisis is very large? I am grateful for what the Government are doing in response to this particular crisis, but will they use their offices in the European Union to make sure that all nations take part in dealing with this rather appalling situation? I am not confident that the African Union actually has the capacity to deal with the situation, much as it is on the ground. I hope the Minister can give us some comfort by confirming that the Government are talking to our European allies to ensure that whatever is needed is provided. Otherwise, we will end up with genocide and pictures on our television screens that will make all our stomachs churn day by day.

I take on board what the most reverend Primate has said. Going back to the European Union and the Foreign Affairs Council meeting on Monday, an options paper has been circulated which is currently under discussion. A number of options have been presented in that paper. At this stage, however, we are going back to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2127 from December, which agreed that it was appropriate for the African Union to lead on this and for the French troops to carry on with their deployment.

My Lords, whatever action is taken right now to deal with this horrific emergency, there will be a need for action afterwards, following any stabilisation, both to build the capacity of the state in the Central African Republic and to try to promote reconciliation between the Christian and Muslim communities, which at the moment are tearing each other apart. Can the Conflict Pool or the Building Stability Overseas Strategy of the UK Government make a contribution to either that process of state building or that process of reconciliation, which will be so important on the ground in the aftermath of the current crisis?

I completely agree with the noble Lord; it may well be one of the things we will be considering. The situation that we are facing at the moment means that we have to deal with the immediate violence. The whole point of having the transitional appointments of the president and prime minister, both of whom resigned only last week, was to enable a process to take place in which there would be elections within 18 months of April last year. Unfortunately, the violence has not stopped under the transitional government. There are expected to be further elections for a further transitional government within the next 14 days and then further elections will take place with a process behind them for political discussions. It may well be that at that stage, it will be right for the UK to be involved in the stabilisation work.