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Column 720Somalis throughout the country and that it hopes to increase local involvement in mine clearing. Fourteen mine- clearing initiatives are under way.
Mr. Worthington : Mine clearance was under way in the north, but, now that it has been centralised in Mogadishu, it has stopped in the north. I confidently predict that there will be no mine clearance in the north this year.
Mr. Lennox-Boyd : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point, which emphasises his earlier observation. We urgently and consistently press international donors and agencies to recognise the needs of the north-west that the hon. Gentleman described.
Mr. Michael : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. A meeting in the House that we organised jointly with the Anglo-Somali Society was attended by someone who had been directly involved with mine-clearance operations in the north. He made the point that moving the operation to the south had stopped progress in the north, which is precisely where progress was being made. That characterises so much of the United Nations approach.
I shall say a few words about the British Government's recognition of the need to help the people of Somalia as they strive to return their country to normality. I shall speak of Somalia in general and then come to the areas of the north-west.
In the absence of a national government, we have no mission in Somalia. However, Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials in London maintain regular contacts with a broad spectrum of visiting and expatriate Somalis. We also keep in regular touch with the United Nations and other international bodies involved in the Somali problem. Staff from our missions in Nairobi and Addis Ababa continue to pay regular visits to Somalia. Our high commission in Nairobi covers central and south Somalia, while the embassy in Addis Ababa is responsible for the north-west. That arrangement takes account of the access routes to Hargeisa and Mogadishu, and is in line with the arrangements of NGOs and agencies. In addition, an NGO liaison officer has been appointed for the north-west to develop new programmes with international and local NGOs in health and education.
The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie expressed particular concern, as did the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth, about the plight of Somalis in the north-west, on which I have already commented. We understand and share his concerns that the interests of that region sometimes get forgotten, and must not be so. Perhaps it would be appropriate at this point to restate the Government's position on the self-proclaimed secession of north-west Somalia. We believe that the future of Somalia must be decided by its people as a whole. The north-west should play its full part in the emerging constitutional dimension.
We hope that the Administration will participate fully in the forthcoming Mogadishu meeting. That is surely the way forward. We recognise the progress that has been made by the Egal Administration, and have made it clear that we are willing to join the rebuilding process. Since May 1991, we have provided almost £5 million of emergency assistance to the north-west. As hon. Members
Column 721know, my right hon. and noble Friend the Minister for Overseas Development visited north-west Somalia last summer in connection with her aid responsibilities. British aid is funding NGOs and UN relief agencies, not only in Hargeisa but throughout the region. With UNICEF, our assistance is helping to re-establish water supplies in the Toghdeer region. We have supported Action Aid's programme in Sanaag since 1992, which is helping to establish water supplies and livestock services crucial to the local economy. The hon. Gentleman has, of course, judged the value of Action Aid's work at first hand and will be pleased to know that, since his eventful visit, we have agreed to continue funding throughout the whole of 1994.
We are also supporting Save the Children with local health authorities to establish health services throughout the region. We have provided funds for an important mine-clearance operation, as I have mentioned, on which hon. Members have commented. That has successfully cleared mines from strategic locations in and around Hargeisa, although I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman has said. In short, our assistance has made, and will continue to make, a vital contribution in north-west Somalia.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth referred to police assistance. In conjunction with UNOSOM and the local authorities, we are helping with the development of a police force in the region. Two missions have been sent. They have been somewhat hampered by some problems and unrealistic expectations among the Somalis, and progress has been slower than we had hoped. Nevertheless, a small team of officers will go to north- west Somalia shortly to work on training. We are also ready to help with equipment and building repairs. I will say a few words about the declaration of a water crisis. We are very concerned about water problems and reports of cholera outbreaks and we certainly stand ready to assist in that area. Our working relations with the north-west are not in any way dependent on recognition of the referendum on independence or any recognition of that kind. Irrespective of that, as I have said, we have consistently urged all the international donors to pay much more attention to the north-western area, and we will continue to do so. We need UNOSOM to play a much more strategic and co-ordinating
Column 722role in that region : I quite agree with that view. We shall also press the point in the Somali aid co-ordinating body meeting which is now taking place in Nairobi. One of the issues that we intend to raise there is the need for a devolved budget.
Somalia is at a crossroads. The last three years have left the country's infrastructure in ruins, and its people with no institutions of government. The international community is prepared to assist the Somalis in rebuilding their country. To enable that to happen, the Somalis must show that they are prepared to work together to provide a secure environment and a measure of stability. Her Majesty's Government will do all that they can to encourage and support progress towards that end.
Let me end with a quote from a speech made by my right hon. and noble Friend the Minister for Overseas Development in a debate on Somalia that took place in this House some two years ago, in the early days of United Nations humanitarian intervention. She said : "We hope that Somali leaders themselves will also have learnt from recent events that the international community can provide the assistance which is so desperately needed only if they also commit themselves to a policy of peaceful resolution of their disputes."--[ Official Report , 12 March 1992 ; Vol. 205, c. 1090.]
That message is still valid in the context of the present day. I am sure that all hon. Members, including the hon. Members for Clydebank and Milngavie and for Cardiff, South and Penarth, will wish to join me in urging the Somali people to seize this opportunity to return peace and stability to their country.
I have been able to comment briefly on only some of the important points raised by both hon. Members, and I apologise if I have not covered all the points that they wished me to cover. My right hon. and noble Friend the Minister for Overseas Development will be reading the report of tonight's debate, and the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie will be visiting her in due course. I know that she will be able specifically to answer his detailed comments during that visit. I will invite her--and I know that she will respond--to write to the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth, and to comment on his remarks more fully than I have been able to tonight.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at seventeen minutes past Nine o'clock.
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