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Central African Republic

Volume 752: debated on Wednesday 5 February 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what support they will provide to the European Union mission in the Central African Republic, authorised by the United Nations Security Council on 28 January.

My Lords, we remain concerned about the security situation in the Central African Republic. An EU operation would reinforce African Union troops and improve the security and humanitarian situation. The EU operation is still subject to UK parliamentary scrutiny and further EU Council decisions. If agreed, the UK could cover around 15% of the common costs; we are not planning to provide combat troops.

With thousands dead, more than 1 million displaced, many new recruits as child soldiers and many instances of sexual violence, there has clearly been failure by the United Nations and others in sleepwalking into this situation. For now, the support of the UK for the EU mission and the work of the UN and the AU is welcome. Will the Minister use her good offices to ensure that the Minister for Africa and the relevant Minister at DfID organise a briefing for Members of both Houses, given the level of interest that there is in this crisis, both here and outwith the Houses, after more than 100 people attended a meeting in Parliament last Wednesday night?

The noble Lord is absolutely right to raise these issues. He will recall from the Question that I answered on 16 January that the two issues that came out loud and strong were, first, on support from the United Kingdom for the EU—and I am delighted to say that the Foreign Affairs Council has clearly moved on this matter; and, secondly, noble Lords’ request for further information from my ministerial colleague. I fed that back to Mark Simmonds, who has agreed to come and brief parliamentarians. I think that a date is currently being arranged.

My Lords, in the past few days there have been reports of further collusion between ex-Seleka rebels and Chadian soldiers, as Seleka rebels have fled to the north of CAR, raising a flag that indicates that it is now partitioned from the rest of the country, and have been joined there by Chadian soldiers, who are helping in those efforts. Could my noble friend the Minister please outline whether those issues were raised by the Minister, Mark Simmonds, when he met the Foreign Minister for Chad on 28 January? Will Her Majesty’s Government make representations to the UN and the AU to insist on the removal of Chadian soldiers from any peacekeeping effort in the country?

I am not sure what was raised at that particular meeting, but I shall certainly check the record and write to my noble friend about that. In relation to the efforts of the African Union forces, we are, of course, grateful for the front-line position that they have taken in this matter. We feel that it is for the African Union to decide the most effective make-up of its forces—but ensuring at all times the high standard of behaviour among those deployed on this mission. We have regular discussions with the African Union on this issue and on a whole variety of peace and security issues, but I shall make sure that our Permanent Representative to the AU raises these matters with the AU Commission.

My Lords, I was in the region last week, and what was very clear to me on the ground was that the violence has moved from Bangui and into the rural areas of the Central African Republic. In the past 72 hours some 75 people or more have been killed in Boda, some 100 kilometres outside Bangui. What urgent steps are being taken, not simply to reinforce the AU-EU peacekeeping efforts but to ensure that backing up those efforts is a DfID and EU presence on the ground, addressing the issues of interfaith relationships and sustainable livelihoods, because it is joblessness and hopelessness as well as sectarian hatred that fuels these outrages?

The noble Lord raises a number of issues, and I agree with what he says, but ultimately we have to return to a political process. There was a process agreed at N’Djamena in April last year, I think. There have been political changes at the top, as the noble Lord will be aware, with the President resigning and a new President now heading up the interim council. Ultimately, these incredibly complex matters will be resolved only when we return back to the political process. As for DfID’s contribution, I can inform the House that the contribution has increased, and the department has made a total contribution to date of £15 million.

My Lords, the Foreign Policy Association analysts have stressed that the key challenge is disarming both the Seleka and anti-balaka groups before any possibility of a ceasefire and wider peace agreements can be raised. With the deployment of 500 EU troops sending the right signal, does my noble friend share the EU representatives’ concerns at the limited number of AU troops deployed in the CAR so far? Do the Government agree with the UN’s assessment that at least 10,000 troops, mostly from the AU, will need to be deployed before progress towards a ceasefire and peace agreement can be contemplated?

My noble friend will be aware that matters have progressed through the UN Security Council resolution. The two resolutions passed—in December 2013 and in January this year—have been about strengthening the mandate both for the French Operation Sangaris and also for African Union support through MISCA. I can inform the House that the number of African Union forces deployed has increased since we discussed this matter on 16 January. It is not up to the authorised full operational level of 6,000 but it has gone up over the past few weeks. That is in addition to the French forces and now the potential EU force, depending on completion of the parliamentary scrutiny procedure.

My Lords, the UK Government have rightly voted for the deployment of the EU rapid reaction force for the CAR at the ambassadors’ meeting in Brussels; subsequently at the European Council of Foreign Ministers, where the Secretary of State voted in favour; and then again at the UN Security Council. Can the Minister therefore please, following on from my noble friend’s first Question, give us a progress report on precisely what form of engagement, beyond the 15%, the UK proposes to undertake to ensure that we can soon contribute to the efforts now being made by the African and French peacekeepers?

The noble Baroness will be aware that it was a EUFOR force that we helped and supported. It has a very clear mandate. Part of the discussions in setting that mandate were about individual member contributions, and it was felt at that stage that our contribution would be the 15% towards the core course. At this stage it is important that the matter passes through the parliamentary scrutiny process. I understand that it is in the Commons today, and I think that it will be in your Lordships’ House tomorrow. If that were to pass it could be in time for the Foreign Affairs Council on 10 February. We could then have a further Council direction for the formal deployment.