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South Africa (Elections)

10. Mr. Desmond Browne (Kilmarnock and Loudoun): What discussions he has had with the South African Government about the outcome of the recent elections there. [86582]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tony Lloyd): My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister telephoned Thabo Mbeki on 7 June to congratulate him on the ANC's victory and on the peaceful conduct of the elections. Those elections have been a resounding success. The high voter turn-out and generally efficient conduct of these elections have further strengthened the democratic process in South Africa.

Mr. Browne: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that the continued success of democracy in South Africa will largely depend on how able its Government are to deal with the monstrous problems they face, including massively increased crime, the spread of AIDS and endemic poverty and unemployment? Will he confirm that this Government have as foreign policy priorities an increase in trade, the continued sharing of

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technology, continued private investment and--most importantly--the strengthening of civil society in South Africa?

Mr. Lloyd: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The priorities that he has set out are those adopted by the South African Government. From the Government's point of view, the increase in bilateral trade and in trade between the European Union and South Africa was fundamental. That is why we were at the forefront of ensuring that the EU moved forward on a free trade agreement with South Africa.

My hon. Friend raised the very important issue of HIV/AIDS. About 3 million South Africans are HIV positive. When he was in South Africa earlier this year, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced an assistance package of £100 million, targeted on that problem. However, in all our dealings with South Africa we shall continue to give support to the democratically elected Government, who are committed to tackling the major priorities involved in improving the economic and social structure for all South Africans. That is a welcome change from previous South African Governments.

Sierra Leone

12. Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): What assessment he has made of the current situation in Sierra Leone. [86584]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tony Lloyd): We welcome the recent signing of a ceasefire agreement and the negotiations currently taking place in Lome. We urge all those involved to seize this opportunity to secure a sustainable peace and to end Sierra Leone's appalling cycle of violence.

Mr. Heath: The Minister might have been forgiven if he had suggested that interest in Sierra Leone had diminished a little in this House since last year, but it remains a very important matter. Has the Minister had any discussions with President Obasanjo of Nigeria to secure assurances that Nigeria will maintain stability over the next crucial few months while the peace process is worked out?

Given the tragic humanitarian disaster that has overtaken Sierra Leone, which has 400,000 refugees and 1 million displaced persons within its borders, will the Minister say whether any further progress has been made on the EU's projected $30 million aid programme?

Mr. Lloyd: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that, sadly, the House's interest in Sierra Leone seems to have diminished, but the tragic reality of the country was never reflected in the rather partisan, party-political debate here in Westminster.

It is important to pay tribute to the role of ECOMOG--and to Nigeria's role within it--in stabilising the situation in Sierra Leone. Nigeria has worked enormously hard, and its nationals have died in the stabilisation struggle. We have worked closely with Nigeria and ECOMOG, and President Obasanjo has maintained his commitment to ensuring that Nigeria will finish the job that it started and that ECOMOG will play its part.

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I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman the exact state of progress on the EU's projected aid programme, although I shall respond in due course with that information. However, the Government retain their dual commitment to ensuring that we win in this period of conflict by maintaining progress towards peace, and to ensuring that we win the peace, too. That will involve investment after the conflict has ended.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok): Will the Minister expand on the matter of the humanitarian aid that we are providing to Sierra Leone, and on the aid that we are providing to help rebuild civil society there? It is not enough to provide foodstuffs and materials; civil society must be reconstructed. What are the Government doing in that regard?

Mr. Lloyd: My hon. Friend asks a very important question. A real effort has been put into giving humanitarian aid. We have given some £3.5 million since the beginning of this year, when the most recent rebel incursion into Freetown occurred. Nevertheless, the bulk of the assistance made available--in the order of £20 million--is for different forms of reconstruction assistance. The aim in part is to demobilise those engaged in combat, and also to reconstruct civil society and ensure that there is an economic base on which peace can be founded. That is the most profound and important commitment that we can make.


13. Mr. John Grogan (Selby): If he will make a statement concerning the Government's policy towards Mongolia. [86585]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): Britain enjoys a very warm relationship with Mongolia. We have fully supported Mongolia's transition to democracy, and we commend the Mongolian Government's commitment to achieving a market economy. Our educational and cultural links are strong, and bilateral trade, though modest, has real potential to increase. We hope that the relationship will continue to develop in all areas.

Mr. Grogan: Does my hon. Friend recognise the tremendous achievement of the people of Mongolia, whose national hero is, incidentally, Ghengis Khan? The country borders China but has established a flourishing multi-party democracy in under a decade. The Foreign Office is represented at a donor conference taking place in Ulan Bator; but will my hon. Friend do all he can to support bilateral links between the UK and Mongolia and to encourage our European Union partners to support Mongolia?

Mr. Hoon: I know that my hon. Friend is something of an expert on Mongolia, which, unlike me, he has visited. I hope to visit that part of the world as part of my responsibilities. The Government hope to foster and develop the existing good relationship between the UK and Mongolia.

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Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): I am sure that the House, which is highly knowledgeable about Mongolia, is aware that the western-oriented Government of Mongolia are not keen to become to close to China--except geographically. When the Minister visits Mongolia, will he attempt to improve our trade and investment links? Given his previous responsibility for the internet, will he explore the ease with which all members of the Mongolian Government can be contacted. It is considerably easier to reach them on the internet than it is to contact UK Foreign Office Ministers.

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman is certainly right that there is a good relationship between the two countries, not least because the UK was the first western country to establish diplomatic relations with Mongolia, setting up an embassy in 1963. Mongolians have not forgotten that signal of support, and the UK has a consequently advantageous position. I have not recently surfed the internet in an effort to contact my counterparts in Mongolia.


15. Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): If he will make a statement on the readmission of Nigeria to the Commonwealth. [86588]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): I visited President Obasanjo after his election to congratulate him on Nigeria's return to democracy. I pledged Britain's support for the return of Nigeria to the Commonwealth, and I am delighted that we were able to secure that in time for his inauguration last month.

An immense task remains to be done in repairing the damage done to Nigeria's economy and society in the dark days of General Abacha, a tragic case from which time affects one of my hon. Friend's constituents. However, the new Government have made a good start, and they will have a firm ally in Britain.

Mr. Blizzard: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he consider it acceptable that a Commonwealth country should continue to fail to communicate properly with the UK high commission? My constituent was murdered in Nigeria more than a year ago. Despite requests at the highest level for the release of the police report and promises by the Nigerian authorities that that would be done by a certain date, the report, which exists--I saw it on the police commissioner's desk when I visited Nigeria--remains unforthcoming. Will my right hon. Friend make it clear that Nigeria should observe the basic consular decencies expected of a Commonwealth country in this case and in others?

Mr. Cook: I congratulate my hon. Friend on his resolve and determination in pursuing his constituent's case, even to the extent of visiting Nigeria. I do not believe it acceptable that any country should fail to respond, whether or not it is in the Commonwealth. President Obasanjo faces the major task of reforming and modernising the Nigerian police. He has begun by appointing a new inspector-general, on whom our consul

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called last Wednesday to raise my hon. Friend's constituent's case. I hope that we may soon receive the response that we have been seeking for some time.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): I welcome the Secretary of State's positive endorsement of the new Government in Nigeria. We wish them well because we understand their difficulties. At the same time, I believe that they already have support right across the community, which I trust will develop strongly so as to restore Nigeria to its proper place in the Commonwealth.

Mr. Cook: When I discussed his plans for the future with President Obasanjo, when he was elected but not yet in office, I was impressed by the stress that he placed on reconciliation among the many communities that make up the state of Nigeria. Since then, he has carried that forward, particularly by his work in the Delta region, meeting community leaders and seeking a positive understanding. That is an alternative to the random violence in the Delta, and he will have our full support in his efforts, which will also enable us to welcome Nigeria to its rightful place as a leading African nation in the international community.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): While welcoming the progress in Nigeria, will the Foreign Secretary when he next talks to the Nigerian Government mention our great concern about the amount of financial fraud involving our countries? I have two constituents who have been terribly defrauded--one of them bankrupted--by major Nigerian fraud for which there is no recourse and no possibility of ever recovering the money. Will he ask the Nigerians what they can do to tighten the regulations that allow such fraud to be so commonplace?

Mr. Cook: I am pleased to assure the hon. Gentleman that we have already raised that issue with the Government of Nigeria and will continue to work them. I am well aware of the scale of the problem. It is a striking example of how after a break-down in a country's law and order and a failure to have a functioning central Government, as happened under General Abacha, the ripple effects spread around the international community. We hope that we can work with the new Government at least to reduce, and perhaps eliminate, the problem.

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