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Westminster Hall

Wednesday 13 March 2002

[Sylvia Heal in the Chair]


Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Kemp.]

9.30 am

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): During this season of Lent, hundreds of my constituents and many thousands more across the two counties of Wiltshire and Dorset, which comprise the diocese of Salisbury, have been lobbying their Members of Parliament about the situation in Sudan. The link between the diocese and the Episcopal Church of Sudan was established by Bishop George Reindorp in 1972, working with people such as Ted Bickersteth, who served there as a civil servant for many years. That link has developed and prospered and is now under the chairmanship of Bishop Peter Hullah of Ramsbury.

In this short debate, I have three objectives. First, I hope to establish beyond doubt that the United Kingdom has a moral responsibility to work for peace and the restoration of stability and prosperity in Sudan. Secondly, I hope to establish exactly who in our Government is in the lead on Sudan policy, and what Her Majesty's Government and our allies propose to do. Thirdly, I hope to make the case for self-determination for the people of Sudan, both north and south.

The world is focused on the war against terrorism, preoccupied by the situation in Afghanistan, mesmerised by the prospect of renewed military action against Saddam Hussein in Iraq, staggered by the violence in the middle east and horrified by the situation in Zimbabwe. However, by far the biggest killing fields of recent years, the worst humanitarian disasters and the greatest forced displacement of people are to be found in Sudan.

Nobody knows exactly how many people have been killed or driven out of their country. Best estimates suggest that between 1.5 million and 3 million people have been killed during the 40 years of civil war, and between 3 million and 5 million Africans have been driven out of their homes in southern Sudan. There are some 4 million internally displaced persons—more than anywhere else in the world. A million more have dispersed into neighbouring countries. Some 30 million people live in northern Sudan, and about 16 million in southern Sudan. Northern Sudan is Arab, southern Sudan African. Northern Sudan is the seat of a militant Islamic Government. Southern Sudan is the heartland of the Christian faith and the animist tradition.

Why did Britain get involved in the first place? We were never threatened by the people of Sudan. There was then no mineral or other natural resource to exploit. We did it to protect our interests in Egypt and to stop the French expanding east of the Nile watershed. That culminated in the Fashoda incident, when General Kitchener moved south down the Nile into Sudan, defeated the Mahdists and claimed the town of

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Fashoda, now called Kodok, for the Government of Egypt. The French withdrew. Thereafter, Sudan was administered by the British, who set up a condominium with Egypt.

The British recognised the effective split of the country into northern and southern interests and, through a system of indirect rule, left the administrative and judicial functions to agents of the traditional tribal authorities. That lasted until 1 January 1956. On 20 December 1955, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Harold Macmillan, made a statement to the House of Commons:

Meanwhile, in the House of Lords, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, the Marquess of Reading, made an identical announcement. For the Labour party, the Earl Jowitt said:

the Sudanese—

For the Cross-Benchers, Lord Rea said:

The Marquess of Reading responded for the Government, saying that

A moral responsibility for the future of Sudan was undoubtedly established.

As part of the campaign in the diocese of Salisbury, and part of Christian Aid's campaign, constituents have asked me to write to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry about oil exploration and extraction in Sudan. I await a reply. Meanwhile, I have corresponded with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw); the Secretary of State for International Development; and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, whose most recent letter, although extremely helpful, referred me to the hon. Member for Exeter.

It is, therefore, with some surprise and great delight that I see that another Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), will respond to the debate. He is warmly welcome, and I know that we can count on his professionalism to provide us with the answers that we seek. I hope that he will, for a start, tell us who is now leading the Government's response. Is it Baroness Amos, in the House of Lords?

During the 1990s, Sudan's relations with the international community suffered because of its links with terrorist groups such as the al-Qaeda network and Egypt's al-Islamiya. In 1996, the United Nations Security Council passed resolutions 1044, 1054 and

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1070, demanding that Sudan end all support to terrorists. The United States Government designated Sudan a state sponsor of terrorism and imposed a trade embargo. By the end of 2000, however, Sudan seemed to be making progress. After 11 September 2001, its Government condemned the attacks on the USA, and terrorism in general. On 28 September 2001, the UN Security Council lifted the 1996 resolutions. The US embargo remained in place, but the President announced a new initiative.

There is no doubt about the commitment of our Secretary of State for International Development. She has visited Sudan and convinced the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary that Britain must take a lead. The Prime Minister recently announced the appointment of a UK special representative for Sudan, who will be answerable jointly to the Secretary of State for International Development and the Foreign Secretary. A dedicated team, drawn from both Departments, will support the special envoy, Mr Alan Goulty, who is head of the middle east desk at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He was our ambassador to Sudan and is deeply knowledgeable about the country, and we wish him well. We also wish the Government every success in working with the Government of Sudan, other Governments and, in particular, the people of southern Sudan to find a way through this tragic crisis.

On 6 September 2001, President Bush announced the appointment of Senator John Danforth of Missouri as America's envoy for peace in Sudan. The President said:

Jack Danforth is a former United States Senator and an ordained minister. In accepting the President's commission, he said:

He has been as good as his word, and I congratulate him and the Swiss on brokering a six-month ceasefire in the Nuba mountains.

However, I say this to Senator Danforth and the Prime Minister: the UN resolutions, the sanctions, the aid money from US and British taxpayers, the voluntary contributions of international humanitarian agencies and the deaths of millions of people will all be in vain if, in pursuing the war on terrorism and for justice in the world, the USA and Great Britain turn from Afghanistan and towards Iraq without so much as a glance at Sudan. Indeed, if we do not help Sudan to find its way back to the table of civilised nations, terrorism will continue to use the country as a safe haven and evil will triumph. Death and destruction will carry on in southern Sudan.

Many people are calling for Sudan's oil industry to be closed down, at least until after the war. I understand that view, but I am not convinced that it is the answer. Existing extraction should continue, but with UN agreement and supervision, so that revenues are used exclusively for humanitarian purposes. We would certainly expect any arrangements to be a great improvement on those put in place for Iraq.

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So, what is the policy? Are the Government of Sudan part of the "axis of evil"? Last week, a man from Juba told me that Osama bin Laden had been seen there. He said that people in the south regard the regime in Khartoum as a terrorist Government. The mujaheddin are certainly in the area, and they are unmistakable. I met them face to face in Bosnia when I was an election observer for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. The facts of the daily situation are clear. As President Bush said of terrorism only last Monday:

Last week, some hon. Members present had the privilege of meeting Archbishop Paulino Lukudu, president of the Sudan Catholic Bishops Conference, and Paride Taban, Bishop of Torit in south Sudan, at a packed meeting of parliamentarians in Portcullis House. They told us that the Government of Sudan's agenda is to impose Islam and Sharia law on the whole of Sudan.

It is clear that the message from the Government in Khartoum is perceived by the people in the south to be totally uncompromising. Those people believe that the Government in Khartoum say that Christians in the south should convert to Islam, flee their homeland or wait to be killed, usually by the Antonov bombers or helicopter gunships that are such a familiar and terrifying part of their lives.

Last Saturday, the Bishop of Salisbury kindly invited me to his house to meet Archbishop Joseph Marona, Primate of the Episcopal Church of Sudan. What a brave and charismatic Christian he is. He explained to me that it is imperative for his people that there be an end to the fighting, the construction of basic infrastructure such as water supplies and roads, the introduction of medical and educational services, and then a plebiscite on self-determination.

On 3 March, the World Council of Churches convened a meeting of the Sudan Ecumenical Forum at Campion house, Osterley, near Heathrow airport. As a result, the Sudanese Churches have issued a detailed statement on the background to the right to self-determination, the mounting consensus for self-determination and the basis for peacemaking through the self-determination process.

The Osterley statement urges the parties and stakeholders to abide by their commitments and enact the referendum law, which should fix a firm date for a free, fair and internationally supervised referendum. That should be agreed within not more than two years. If agreement cannot be achieved, people should be entitled to exercise the right to self-determination. In other words, if no agreement is reached, the lack of agreement itself should trigger the process of self-determination, not only for the people of the south, but for other Sudanese people.

Meanwhile, President al-Bashir of Sudan has been put on the spot. He is now confronting a test of his seriousness about peace. Should he fail to decide in favour of peace, or fail to impose his will on his Government and army, the prospects for peace will diminish. If that happens, my aspiration is that the

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UN swiftly becomes involved. The international community will be challenged to propose serious strategies to protect civilians in the war areas.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): The hon. Gentleman has described the situation and the conditions for the peace process clearly. Does he agree that one of the biggest issues is who benefits from the oil in southern Sudan?

Mr. Key : Yes, of course. I shall refer to that key point, which the hon. Lady is right to mention.

The UN should suggest strategies to protect civilians, and those should not include the supply of weaponry to escalate the conflict. They might include the United States identifying safe havens and no-fly zones.

I have given the Minister notice of five questions, which I ask on behalf of not only my constituents, but people of good will around the world. This may be only an Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall, but the Minister's answers, the whole debate and all my correspondence with Ministers will be available shortly through the internet on my website, www.robertkey.com.

Will the United States, Great Britain and all our allies against terrorism consider the death and dispersal of the African people in southern Sudan in the same way as the plight of the marsh Arabs and the Kurds in Iraq? Will the British Government, with or without the US, go back to the UN and seek international agreement on a new UN resolution to condemn the Government of Sudan and impose new sanctions on the al-Bashir regime, including a freeze on further development of the oil industry? There should be no new investment, exploration or extraction until the bombing, scorched earth displacement and starvation have stopped.

Will the UN insist that revenue from existing oil extraction in Sudan be redirected from Government arms purchases to infrastructure development in the south—water, shelter, health care, farming, roads and education? There is a huge opportunity for the oil wealth of that nation to be shared between north and south. In addition, will the British Government insist on the establishment of UN peacekeepers, military if necessary, in southern Sudan to guarantee the safety of a new international humanitarian relief effort, and will the UN set in train the political processes that will lead to self-determination for the people of southern Sudan? No one could have put it more concisely than President Bush on Monday. Speaking of the consequences of terrorism, he said:

9.46 am

Paul Flynn (Newport, West): I congratulate the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key)—perhaps he would prefer to be known as robertkey.com—on obtaining the debate. It is extraordinary that, over the years, so little attention has been paid to the continuing bloodshed and disasters in Sudan. We should say a word of gratitude to Anglican and Catholic priests and others, and to the charities that have constantly tried to raise the issue. A few years ago, an Anglican minister spent a week fasting in Whitehall to draw attention to Sudan's plight.

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As the hon. Gentleman explained, that country of some 25 million people has lost at least 2 million and possibly 3 million killed in the warfare, and about 4 million are internally displaced—refugees in their own land. It is a country of at least 25 different tribes or nations that has experienced continuous civil war since 1983. There were other wars before that and 40 internal conflicts over tribal rights, such as those to water, are also going on. One suspects that the Government in Khartoum, whose main interest seems to be spending what money they have on armaments, are deliberately encouraging the tribal conflicts by supplying arms to those who are interested in keeping the warfare going.

It is becoming a familiar story throughout Africa and in many parts of the world that, where the stomachs are empty, the weapons are shiny and new. Sudan's Government stated that the recent incident in which a helicopter fired on a queue of people waiting for food aid was a mistake. I assume that that means that it was the wrong queue; I do not know what the intended target was. That is just one small example of completely gratuitous bloodshed. It has nothing to do with any aim of that Government or of anyone else, but it is part of the eternal tragedy that causes that nation such immense suffering.

I shall not detain hon. Members, but I must draw attention to the optimism that now exists thanks to the brave words of President Mbeki and initiatives from the rest of the world, especially the New Partnership for Africa's Development, which he introduced. He talked about a future for Africa that we would all like to believe in, but, in the light of recent experience, we are depressed about the prospect of achieving it.

We must give attention to the issue, both in Parliament and in the country, and many hon. Members have repeatedly tried to raise interest in it through Foreign Office questions and early-day motions. Hidden calamities have taken place in East Timor and in Cambodia, when the world was not looking, and it was a matter of cold luck that the world noticed what was happening in Ethiopia. It just so happened that Michael Buerk had a weekend off and a spare camera crew, so he went on an excursion to Ethiopia. The moving film that he produced roused the conscience of the world.

Sudan is virtually unknown on the political landscape and the landscape of public opinion. There would be no reaction if one mentioned Sudan, but an immediate reaction if one referred to tragedies that are taking place even further away, but which seem to happen in the corner of our living rooms because the television cameras draw our attention to them. However, because the interests and nostrums of the news media are different from ours, a series of tragedies has been largely ignored by the public and by the Government.

Perhaps there is a reason for that. Some young, ambitious foreign correspondent from one of our national newspapers might say to his editor, "We must do something about Sudan and print an article. Give me 10 minutes to explain what is going on." By the end of the 10 minutes, the editor, confused by the history and the complexity of events, would turn away and say, "I am publishing a newspaper, not an encyclopaedia." That is one main reason for that impenetrable country—both geographically and because of the alien nature of the situation there—being largely ignored.

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I make one suggestion. Perhaps the Foreign Office should consider intervening in a special way, because the agenda is controlled not by the Department for International Development or the Foreign Office, but by the perception of the press and the attention given to the situation. I am not saying that there is any malign reason behind that, but certain areas of the world interest us because we understand them, and few people understand the continuing disasters in Sudan. Should not the Foreign Office be obliged to draw attention to the situation and to provide publicity? Should it not have its own camera teams? Should it not be saying, "There are terrible things happening in the world. We are dealing with the ones that MPs and others bring to our attention, but we know that probably one of the worst continuing crises is taking place in Sudan, which is forgotten and ignored."?

Should not there be an obligation on the Department for International Development and others not to react to the situation as it is presented to them, but to draw attention to it and make a film for television, as Michael Buerk did, to ask, "What are our priorities? Are they what is before the public eye or those of need?" That would be a worthwhile intervention.

It is good to see several MPs in the Chamber—for one debate on Sudan, there was not a single Member of one main party here—and good to see that interest in that country is gathering. I hope, however, that it has resulted not because of oil or because the only superpower in the world regards Sudan as a suitable place to fight out battles between the two opposing camps that are currently developing in the world.

In his final remark, robertkey.com referred to inaction. There is inaction that one likes to see, because there is such a thing as stability in the world. When the President to whom he referred came to power, there was stability between North Korea and the rest of the world. Rapprochement was being built up between North Korea and South Korea, but the new President effectively wrecked that.

Iran has changed its policy substantially over the past five years and it was moving closer to becoming an acceptable member of the family of nations. The Iraqi situation was relatively inert. Some 10 years ago, Iraq was belligerent, threatening and making weapons of mass destruction. It was as dangerous then as it is now, possibly more so.

In relation to the so-called axis of evil countries, therefore, there is an advantage in having stability in the world. The great danger of saying that inaction is not a possibility is that we are likely to replace a dangerous but stable situation with a highly unstable, perilous one.

I conclude by begging the Minister and Parliament to consider the dreadful history of Sudan, which seems to be a country filled with endless tragedies.

9.55 am

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) on introducing the debate. He is the lead Member in the diocese of Salisbury, which has put tremendous emphasis on raising public awareness of the plight of all

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people in Sudan. In my constituency, half of which lies in the diocese of Salisbury and the other half in Winchester, the parish of West Parley and the parish of Ferndown have been in the forefront of the campaign to raise public awareness.

The Rev. Charles Booth, rector of the parish of West Parley, has sent me several letters, as have some of his communicants, about the problems in Sudan. In a typically Christian spirit of generosity, they write of their concern for all the peoples of Sudan, regardless of faith allegiance, whose lives are blighted by the civil conflict. They established Ash Wednesday, which was 13 February this year, as a designated diocesan day of action.

There is widespread public concern, not only because of the civil conflict and the number of people being massacred and persecuted, but because of the increasing evidence that some of that is religiously motivated. Christians are writing to me in growing numbers to say, "We are a Christian country. Why are we not standing up for Christians who are being persecuted worldwide on a much larger scale than Muslims?" From the figures, we can see that as many as 100,000 people a year, over 20 years, may have been massacred in Sudan because of their religious beliefs.

One would have thought that, at a time of increased worldwide awareness of and concern about religiously motivated conflicts, the conflict in Sudan would be top of the political agenda. Unfortunately, it is not top of the political agenda in the Department of Trade and Industry. As my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury said, he and I have sent a large number of letters to the Secretary of State. If the matter is important to her, I am sure that she would have responded, and the fact that she has not done so is disappointing. She and her officials must have known about this debate. Normally, by convention, Ministers seek to clear their correspondence on issues being discussed in the House so that people have the chance to consider their response.

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to draw No. 18 in the ballot for oral questions, but sadly my question was not reached and not answered orally. I received a written answer, however, drawing my attention to the fact that the Secretary of State for International Development visited Sudan in January and that the Foreign Secretary's representative was going there this month. I would have hoped, in the light of the undoubted efforts being made by senior Ministers in Sudan, that they would do more to inform the House and the people of this country about their assessment of the situation. We may have a volunteered statement from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on her visit, and that of many others, to the Doha summit, so why can we not have a volunteered statement from the Secretary of State for International Development when she returns from Sudan?

It is vital that the issue be raised higher in public awareness. The diocese of Salisbury motivated my hon. Friend and me and to participate in this debate, which shows how ordinary people can influence affairs of state in this country. I hope that this is not the end of the process, but the start of a major debate and the raising

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of public awareness about an outrageous situation. The persecution of black African Christians threatens to continue.

Dr. Tonge : I appreciate all that the hon. Gentleman says about the persecution of Christians, but we should remember that many people in southern Sudan are of the old animist religions. They, too, are God's children, and we should remember their suffering.

Mr. Chope : I agree with the hon. Lady on that issue. That is the view of my Christian constituents, who have written to me about the matter. We are concerned about all the consequences of the civil conflict in Sudan—the enormous loss of life and the displacement of people.

A six-month ceasefire may have been negotiated in the Nuba mountains, but it is by no means clear whether it is being carried into effect. As with all such things, our problem is not knowing what sanctions will be imposed if those commitments are not kept. There seemed to be a quick willingness after 11 September to lift some sanctions affecting Sudan, but we must consider the question whether the major world powers have been taken for a ride by President al-Bashir of Sudan.

I shall say no more, because I hope that we shall have plenty of time to listen to the Minister's response, which is what the people really want to hear. They want to know what their Government are doing about the problem.

10.1 am

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre): It is a pleasure to take part in this exceptionally important debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) on the admirable way in which he introduced it, and I agree with every word he said. As chair of the all-party group on Sudan, I have been applying regularly for such a debate, as have others, so I pay tribute to his ability in succeeding. I shall visit his website to see whether I can learn how better to manage the procedures of the House.

It is important that we debate Sudan today because there are hopeful signs, but above all because of the desperate and dreadful circumstances there. As we speak, the war rages. It has been going on for at least 35 of the past 46 years. The debate is fortuitous also because the all-party group will visit Sudan shortly after Easter. We all look forward to going to north and south Sudan, and to Kenya, to speak to people based there about their perceptions of the situation. We shall need a certain sense of humility and a desire to learn about, discuss and observe what is going on. Then, we must come back and make ever more forcefully the points that we believe need to be made in respect of the Government's involvement in Sudan.

One might ask why particular Members of the House have an interest in Sudan. The hon. Member for Salisbury displayed his interest and told us of his connections with the admirable work of the diocese of Salisbury. What others have said is absolutely accurate: one would not gain a good understanding of the situation in Sudan by reading the papers. The media cover the desperate circumstances of people living in Sudan about as regularly as they deal with the possibility of there being life on Mars. For most of the media, Sudan is about as far away.

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I am interested in Sudan and became involved because of a constituent who came to me as a refugee from that country. He was an asylum seeker, seeking refuge from torture, oppression, imprisonment and the death of members of his family. He has become a colleague—he works with me in Parliament—and a friend. Lokiden Modi Kenyi is a member of the south Sudan civic forum. Once he gained a certain interest in the circumstances of his country, he assiduously introduced me to his colleagues at that excellent organisation.

We have a huge Sudanese diaspora in this country, and one in eight of all displaced people in the world are of Sudanese origin. The vast range of people from northern and southern Sudan living in this country whom I have met impressed me with their bravery, integrity, commitment to their country and desire to return there. It can be heartbreaking to hear their descriptions of how this country has helped them, although they are desperate to return to their own country and to have what the hon. Member for Salisbury rightly refers to as self-determination. A referendum on self-determination is at the heart of an overall deal that could create conditions for peace, development, increased respect for human rights and justice in Sudan.

We have already heard the facts: about 2 million people have died in the past 18 years as a result of fighting or its consequences; generations of children in Sudan, particularly in the south, have never had sustained opportunities to access basic education, health care, clean water or adequate food; and 4.5 million people have been driven from their homes. Those are desperate circumstances and they should command our attention.

The hon. Member for Salisbury is right that this country has a moral responsibility towards the people of Sudan. Under British colonial rule from 1898, we fused north and south Sudan, creating an amalgamation of territory and people. In 1956, we finally let them get on with it, and we are seeing the consequences now. It is clear that there is a direct need for this country to become further involved in any way it can to help to resolve the appalling circumstances in Sudan.

There is a link to 11 September, as Sudan was Osama bin Laden's haven before he transferred to Afghanistan. If we do not deal with the barbarous circumstances in countries such as Sudan, we know the consequences for countries such as the UK and the United States, which, before 11 September, comfortably assumed and complacently hoped that they were insulated from them. We must engage much more with the peace process and recognise the need to develop both respect for human rights, justice and democracy and a referendum on self-determination in Sudan.

There are signs that we are making progress. We can see them in the number of people from Sudan who are making their way to this country, the ecumenical forum that has been referred to in recent weeks and visits from, among others, a previous Prime Minister of Sudan, Sadiq al-Mahdi, the leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Army, John Garang, and the Governor of Khartoum. The Danforth initiative has been extremely important, as has the visit by the Secretary of State for International Development, who addressed a packed

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meeting of the associate parliamentary group on Sudan a few weeks ago on her visit and her hopes for peace there.

Many of the 70 or so Members from both Houses who are in the group were present, and well over 100 Sudanese people packed into a Committee Room, desperate for knowledge and eager to hear of any prospects of peace. The Sudanese people whom I have met hold the Government in the highest regard for wanting to engage further with Sudan, and the Sudanese people in that Room were pleased by what the Secretary of State had to say. Since 11 September, our Prime Minister has engaged with Africa and the new Africa-led economic policies for African development, and Alan Goulty has been appointed special envoy to Sudan. Such developments give us hope that we can make great progress.

According to a Christian Aid report, the Sudanese Government gain $1 million of oil revenue a day. Co-incidentally, $1 million a day goes to fund their armed forces and involvement in the war. Sudan has about 2 billion barrels of oil reserves, mainly in the south. That tremendous resource could be used to aid the country's economic development and to improve its education services and health facilities. British companies are involved in exploiting the oil, as are Swedish, Canadian, Malaysian and Chinese interests.

Our Government have a moral responsibility to become further engaged in Sudan. A peace process and a referendum on self-determination would be in the interest of all its people, who could see the benefits of oil and be given debt relief and further development aid. By joining the community of nations, from which they are excluded, they could play an important part in the desperately needed development of the continent of Africa. The boundaries of their country could be decided by democratic mandate rather than colonial imperatives. They could be part of a country that respected all religions, whether Islam, Christianity or traditional African religions, without seeking to impose one religion on all the people.

The Government should use the levers available to them much more effectively. British investment in Sudanese air traffic control systems—they support airfields from which Antonovs, helicopter gunships and other instruments of oppression operate—is a disgrace. Although there is a case for development aid, especially in some southern parts of the country, I am not sure that the aid from the European Union, especially for the northern parts of Sudan, helps the cause of bringing everyone to the peace table. I am sure that more pressure could be exerted through the Department of Trade and Industry on oil interests in Sudan and allied countries.

The Government have an important role to play in Sudan. The circumstances are desperate, and Sudan is one of the most difficult countries in the world to develop. There is, however, hope for the future, and I look forward to the Minister's response.

10.15 am

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West): I congratulate the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) on initiating the debate. As the hon. Member for Newport, West

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(Paul Flynn) said, we cannot simply follow where the media decide to send their cameras, when countries are in the news today, or are politically sexy, so everybody cares about them. The hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) asked why people were interested in Sudan—but not one constituent has contacted me about it, and I have had no correspondence about the well-being of people in Sudan since I was elected last year. It is our duty as Members of Parliament to discuss issues and countries that the media ignore, and to encourage them to follow up relevant stories. Issue and events are no less serious because they do not happen to be in the news.

One such event, which was described as a mistake, took place recently. Twenty women and children were killed at a World Food Programme drop. Survivors said that one gunship circled overhead while another opened fire, hovering so low that the crowd could see the gunner's face. Rockets were fired into the drop zone and into a nearby village, while those who ran for cover were machine-gunned. It was the second attack on a WFP aid distribution in 11 days. Had such an attack been made on British or American citizens, there would have been a huge outcry, and calls for military intervention. The number of people killed is not too dissimilar to the number of American soldiers who died in Mogadishu—an event that had ramifications around the world.

People are hardly aware of the problems in Sudan. As has been said, a camera crew in Ethiopia opened the eyes of the world. We should therefore congratulate the hon. Member for Salisbury for raising the issue here today. One advantage of debates in Westminster Hall is that everyone present is interested in the subject. As a new Member of Parliament, I must say that that is not always the case in the main Chamber.

Today, I would like to hear that Britain can and will play its part, that inaction is not a possibility and that we shall work in partnership with our European allies and through the United Nations. It is also imperative that there are observers on the ground to see what is happening. There have been stories—I do not know whether they are true—about slavery, and about children in Sudan and bordering areas being abducted to serve in the military. It is important that we find out exactly what has happened so that we can concentrate on the issues that must be dealt with.

The appointment of the special representative is welcome, but Britain cannot make progress alone, and we must work with others. An end to the hostilities is obviously a top priority, but there are also people who have no food in their bellies, and it is our responsibility to spread the word about such issues as much as possible. We must pressurise the media, so that people at home and abroad are more aware of the problems out there.

10.19 am

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): I join others in paying tribute to the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) for bringing this issue to the attention of the House. I also pay tribute to the Bishop of Salisbury and to dioceses and parishes across the country for keeping the subject alive very effectively; without them, it would have disappeared without trace. Indeed, it was my church—St. Anne's on Kew Green—and a fellow

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parishioner who worked for Christian Aid, that helped me to go to southern Sudan three years ago, six or seven months after the famine. The media paid attention to the famine—they always pay attention to dire events, but never to anything less extreme.

Ever since I went to Sudan, I have been tabling questions, trying to call debates and having meetings, but without getting very far. I share the hon. Gentleman's frustration with the "Not me, guv" attitude in the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development. One hopes that that attitude has come to an end with the visit of the Secretary of State for International Development. I saw her yesterday and she was obviously enthusiastic and determined to find a solution to the problem.

I shall describe what I saw and experienced on my visit three years ago. The situation has not changed since then—that is what is so awful. I went to Turelei in Twic county in the Bahr al-Ghazal area, which suffered the worst of the famine. It is difficult to describe the poverty in which the people of that area lived. They had straw huts and straw stockades around groups of huts—until raiders from the north came and burnt them down, which is a regular occurrence. I suppose that it is lucky, in a way, that the huts are built of straw, because it is easy to put them up again. Everything that those people possess, including their animals, cooking utensils and any clothing that they may have, disappears during those raids. They have nothing.

In the little enclave where I stayed for two days and two nights, there were two huts, two cows, a few dogs, a goat and about 30 human beings, but although the people there were treating honoured guests from the British Parliament, there was hardly any food to eat. We had a little bit of dried fish, because the floods had just subsided and they had managed to catch some fish. Southern Sudan is often flooded for half the year and arid for the rest of the year, so the only chance of getting protein is when the floods come. There was also sorghum wheat bread, which is inedible to people with western tastes, as it scratches and hurts when one swallows it. Apart from the okra soup, which is awful—I do not recommend it—that was about it for the food.

Those people still faced starvation a year after the famine ended. For example, the women told me that they were desperately worried because they were no longer menstruating. I introduce that subject because it is interesting to me as a medic. Girls who suffer from anorexia nervosa, which is enforced starvation, do not menstruate after a while. The women in southern Sudan had been starving so long, through none of their own fault, that the same thing happened to them. That shows how starving they are.

Things have not changed. The people of that area live on the edge of survival, they are bombed by the north, and when the floods go down, raiders come on the wonderful train that runs from the north to a place called Wau in southern Sudan, full of Marahaleen armed to the teeth. Those are unofficial paramilitaries of the Sudanese Government, who are not paid but are allowed to loot, take slaves and destroy, everywhere the train stops. When I was there, the news came through, "The train has started moving—beware, the attacks are going to start again." That is a terrible situation.

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Three years ago the SPLA—the Sudan People's Liberation Army—was fighting the Sudan People's Democratic Front, so there was civil war in southern Sudan. Thankfully, a peace agreement has been brokered between those two forces and there is much better co-ordination of activities in southern Sudan—but, boy, are those people tired of war. That terrible situation has been going on since 1956.

In the area that I visited security has improved, but the problem has shifted to western Upper Nile, where the oilfields are. As we have heard from some hon. Members, the situation is repeating itself there, with a scorched earth policy. The oil is flowing, but at what cost?

Mrs. Annette L. Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole): Does my hon. Friend agree that oil is one of the biggest obstacles to the peace process?

Dr. Tonge : I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Nothing is more important than what is done with the oil. As the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) said, the revenues are being used to make war when they should be making the people of Sudan comfortable, well off, well fed and well housed. Instead, they are just making things worse, as the excellent "Scorched Earth" document published by Christian Aid showed.

One of the peace initiatives brokered by Senator Danforth was to bring peace to the Nuba mountains. That is great news for the people there, but it has released the soldiers on both sides to go to western Upper Nile and swell activities there. There are so many problems surrounding oil, and I am sad to say that British firms, such as Weir Pumps in Scotland, are involved in the extraction of oil. I wonder what advice the Government have given them.

There have been some initiatives. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development process, which has not yet been mentioned, was much scorned. When I was in Turelei I met a group of men called "the intellectuals". They told me that the IGAD process was useless—just a talking shop for politicians. They said, "Politicians are like monkeys: the higher they climb up the coconut palm, the more backside they expose."

Senator Danforth has been involved with some other initiatives. He thought that it was important to protect civilians from military attack, and called on the Sudanese Government to do so—but attacking civilians around the oilfields is one of the strategies of the Sudanese Government. As the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre knows, that is what the Government do to drive people from the area in order to get at the oil. So there is no success on that front, and we have already heard about the accidental attack on the food queue in Bien on 20 February.

Senator Danforth also set up a commission to investigate the question of slavery as between the south and the north, as well as the subject of child soldiers, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett). Some NGOs have been involved in redeeming slaves, but when I was in Sudan there was much worry about those activities, because it was felt that a good business was being developed involving taking slaves, selling them back to

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Christian Solidarity Worldwide and then using the money to buy arms for soldiers. The international community must investigate that.

Aid has been mentioned, but it is no good giving aid to the Government of Sudan in the present circumstances because the aid does not go to the people in the south. As I have said until I am blue in the face, southern Sudan is a very big area. At times parts of it are at peace, and some education must be provided in those areas. Generations of children are growing up without any education. I was told that all they need is the odd teacher, some slates and some chalks. They can hold schools under trees, and do not need schoolrooms or fancy equipment. That would be so valuable and would keep what children are left occupied, because one of the problems for children in war is that there is nothing for them to do, as well as nothing for them to eat.

Human rights observers are needed. We need monitors in the Nuba mountains to monitor the ceasefire and ensure that the war in that area has really stopped. We need safe havens for civilians. Southern Sudan is a big place and there should be internationally monitored safe havens where people can go while the horrible situation is sorted out.

The biggest problem of all, which has been mentioned by many hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West, is the sharing of oil. An accommodation must be reached between the north and south of Sudan on who owns the oil and who benefits from it.

Last week the all-party group on Sudan met John Garang, who is an engaging man and the leader of the SPLA in southern Sudan. I did wonder how often he visits southern Sudan, but he is clearly trying hard to pursue a peace process. He thinks that the two problems are oil and the fact that the south do not want Sharia law imposed on them—they would prefer self-determination. Time and again we come back to the point that the self-determination process is prevented by the problem of oil. We also met bishops from southern Sudan, who seemed depressed. They said:

On my wrist I wear this old bracelet made of cartridge cases—the only freely available commodity in southern Sudan. It was given to me three years ago by a woman in Turelei, and I was made to promise that I would keep it on my wrist until Sudan had peace. I have a horrible feeling that I shall go to my grave wearing it, if the Government do not pull out all the stops and get a peace process going in Sudan.

10.31 am

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton): I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) for securing a debate of special importance to all hon. Members. He went into great detail, and all those in his constituency who take an interest in Sudan, and anyone else who heard him, will be impressed by his mastery of the issue.

The civil war in Sudan has been raging for many years, at a terrible cost to human life and in human suffering. It has brought destruction and poverty to an

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already economically vulnerable country, and has raged for too long, apparently unnoticed or—even worse—deliberately ignored by too many in the international community.

The only hope for that blighted country is a ceasefire followed by a determined internationally supported drive for peace. I pay unqualified tribute to the churches in the south-west and their friends in Sudanese churches for championing such an important agenda for peace. The impetus that they have created will serve to advance a cause that will save the lives of many thousands of Sudanese in years to come. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury has received several letters from his constituents as a result of that link, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), who has taken a close interest in the issue and is firmly committed to championing an agenda for peace in Sudan, has received letters too.

The civil war has too often been neglected by Governments and the media. It is seemingly little understood, and perhaps some have thought it easier to ignore. I could not disagree more. We have a moral duty to do what we can, and if we have any interest in regional stability we should clearly see the political imperative to act.

The many attempts to simplify the conflict in the Sudan and characterise it as a religious war between a Christian south and a Muslim north fail to address the causes of the underlying tensions and conflict. Economic issues that revolve round the distribution of resources, concerns about exclusion from the political process, desires for self-determination or at least inclusion, and religion, all play a part in creating a complex mix of motivations and tensions. The concentration of power and wealth in the hands of small competing groups of elites—as can be seen in other countries—has deepened the resentment and the economic, political and religious divides in the country.

An underlying problem in finding a solution is the multiplicity and shifting nature of each group's agenda. On one hand there is the Government—the National Islamic Front under President al-Bashir—and on the other there is the National Democratic Alliance, the largest component of which is the Sudan People's Liberation Army. Each group has its own agenda, be that dominance of the country and exploitation of oil revenues or independence and secession from the state of Sudan as we see it now.

Into that mix can be added other groups, including, importantly, the Churches. Every one of those groups must be willing to participate in a peace process in good faith and be willing to work on reconciliation and building a better future for the country. At the moment none of the warring parties seems committed to the cause of peace, except when it feels that its fortunes are on the wane. We must all work to change that outlook. The sustained concentration of an international effort and negotiations is needed.

One of the great problems to be overcome in attempting to create a successful peace process is the lack of unity of purpose and co-ordination—and a degree of that must be achieved. At the moment, various sporadically active peace initiatives are under way. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development—IGAD—process, which has already been mentioned,

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and the Egyptian-Libyan efforts are just two of the most notable. Although the intention of such initiatives may be worthy, they often end up competing with one another, allowing the warring parties the opportunity to play them off against each other while no genuine progress is made towards peace.

An extra-regional negotiator of international stature is required to take the lead and become an over-arching influence, bringing together the various initiatives currently being pursued. Co-ordination and involvement by all interested parties, internal and external, is essential. The appointment by President Bush of former Senator Danforth marks an important step forward by the United States in recognising that it has a role to play in conflict resolution in Sudan.

I particularly welcome our Government's appointment of Mr. Alan Goulty as special envoy to Sudan. In Mr. Goulty we have an able, knowledgeable and dedicated diplomat, who we all hope will be able to play an important role in creating and moving forward a peace process. It is reassuring that the Government have been able to find such an able envoy in our diplomatic service and have not felt the need to look outside it. His seniority and skill ideally equip him for the task. For the sake of the many whose lives are at risk, we wish him well. We urge the Government to give their continuing support and attention to his efforts. I hope that the Minister will confirm that they will not just dump him in it and leave him to get on with it.

I do not intend to suggest a detailed prescription to remedy Sudan's ills, which I must leave to those better informed than I. I shall make a few observations, however, on which I am sure the Minister will comment. In the first instance, a ceasefire, or at least a moving apart of the two warring factions, is required. Any subsequent deal must be constructed to incorporate mechanisms to share the country's wealth and oil revenues equitably. I shall come on to those in a moment. It should build a secular democratic Sudan and allow religious freedom. Any negotiations should closely and carefully examine the various suggestions being made about a referendum on independence, self-determination for the south, or a federal solution allowing each region much autonomy in law making. I do not presume to advocate any one of those solutions at this early stage in the process, but they seem to form the agenda that matters.

In passing, I must mention the attack that the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) made on the idea of air traffic control. Things are bad enough already. Every country needs infrastructure, and the thought that planes would be bumping into each other would do nothing for Sudan's international reputation. It was a mistaken attack, although I accept that the hon. Gentleman believes that the system is used for military purposes only. It is not; it is also used for civilian purposes, and people will not fly to Sudan if they do not have confidence in the infrastructure that keeps them safe.

Mr. Dawson : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman recognises that there is a huge problem if those control systems are being used to aid the repression of, and the attacks on, civil populations that we have heard about.

Mr. Duncan : Yes, but I think that the hon. Gentleman is attacking the wrong target.

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I would be failing to present the whole picture if I did not touch on oil exploration and development in Sudan. As everyone in the Chamber admits ,the revenues that that industry generates and their use cannot be divorced from recent developments in the country. The NIF Government see oil as the factor that will give them the decisive advantage in the war against the NDA and the SPLA. Development of the proven oil resources in Sudan began in about 1999, and the Government's expectation was that the resulting revenues would allow them to purchase a significant enough military advantage to secure victory. On the other hand, the SPLA has focused its campaign on damaging the oilfields as a means of hitting the Government's revenues.

There are some—we have heard their argument today—who have called for international pressure on the Sudanese Government to stop oil production altogether and stop the development and exploration of the fields. They point out that essentially, oil is fuelling the war. Although I fully appreciate that view, I suggest that we should focus instead on bringing pressure to bear on the Sudanese Government and the oil companies to channel the revenues raised from oil into education and health rather than armaments. Effective mechanisms to monitor the use and equitable sharing of those revenues should form part of any peace deal.

Cutting oil revenues altogether would only be a step towards the creation of equal misery. What is the point of that, when distributing the wealth responsibly would be a much better option? The revenues from oil represent the best hope for Sudan's long-term prosperity and a means by which it could lift the condition of its people. We should be wary about irresponsibly undermining that potential. In fact, the oil in Sudan generates an impetus for peace. First, the keenness of the Sudanese Government to secure access to western markets for their oil means that they are working to end their isolation and build better international relations. Being receptive to a peace process is an important aspect of that. Secondly, so long as the Government have income from oil, they do not, we hope, need to have recourse to alternative income from terrorist or extremist groups, as happened during the 1990s.

The churches of the south-west, through their strong links to churches in Sudan, have done a great service in drawing attention to that country at such a crucial time. Where the current British Government have—until now—stood back a bit from taking an active role, the Church has been energetic and focused. It is encouraging that the Government are now according this issue a much higher status, and it is important that they work with the Churches and all the parties to the conflict to advance the agenda for peace. A co-ordinated determined international approach has the potential to lead to peace in a war-ravaged country, and we must seize the opportunity that the current international situation has opened for us.

10.43 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Denis MacShane) : It gives me great pleasure to speak in this debate, and I thank the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) for introducing it, because the issue is important. The contributions by my hon. Friends the

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Members for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) and for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) as well as those by the hon. Members for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) and for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) have all been valuable—and they will almost certainly be read on robertkey.com, which will now be my morning internet turn-on. They will also be available on the parliamentary website. The contribution by the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) was most valuable as well. I thank him for the tributes that he paid to Alan Goulty and to the quality of Foreign Office diplomats, who are fewer in number than in many other countries of comparable size, and deliver a big bang for their not very significant bucks. We should be proud of their contribution.

This time last week I was speaking about international policy matters at a church hall in Roundhay, Leeds. Although many of my hon. Friends in other Departments spend more and more of their time travelling overseas, as a Foreign Office Minister I am spending more time travelling in the United Kingdom, explaining the importance of international engagement to our citizens. While I was there, a Mr. Peter Riaak sent me a note asking why the British Government were not intervening to stop the civil war in Sudan. I was able to tell him that I would send him a copy of the Hansard record of this debate, because Sudan is a major parliamentary issue. I should also like to place on record our thanks to those who have consistently raised the issue in another place. If hon. Members care to read the House of Lords Hansard, they will see the replies from my noble Friend Baroness Amos, the lead Minister on Africa in the Lords, who takes the matter very seriously.

That reflects the Government's commitment to engaging with Africa. The Prime Minister recently visited that continent, and the cynical sneering condemnation of his commitment in a large number of our right-wing newspapers—and, I have to say, by many commentators from the left—was deplorable. That cynical indifference to the Government's commitment shames all our political chattering classes and those who spin the cobwebs of comment in the name of the London elite.

The New Partnership for Africa's Development, NEPAD, is an important step forward, and the Government are fully committed to seeing that it works. There is a window of opportunity for peace in Sudan, and hon. Members are right to say that the UK has a major role to play in ensuring that that opportunity is seized. Last month my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary announced the appointment of Alan Goulty as the new UK special representative for Sudan. Mr. Goulty has served there twice, most recently as ambassador, and he will report to both the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for International Development. We are setting up a dedicated unit in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which will be staffed by officials drawn from both the FCO and the Department for International Development. That is part of our contribution to ensuring that Sudan is taken seriously.

The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton, who spoke for the Opposition, referred to the need for Sudan to develop as a secular democracy that respects religious

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freedom. That is profoundly important in today's world, in which we see great clashes between people animated by faith. Everybody of faith believes that whatever they are doing, whether it is missionary work or whether—at times, alas—it is moving to the extremes of protest that can lead to violence, they are doing it in the name of some greater divine being. It is right for the House, which formed its parliamentary strength by defeating the divine right of anybody in authority to speak on behalf of the nation, to say that secularism in international affairs is of prime importance.

Although I join in paying tribute to the Churches, I ask them, too, to remember the need for secularism. Some years ago, as a Back-Bench MP, I was invited to go to Sudan on a trip paid for either by the Sudanese Government or by people associated with Muslim organisations. I refused, because as a British MP I did not want to be beholden to any particular faith or religion—and, while paying respect to all the Churches and faiths in our multi-faith country, I shall continue to stress the need for secularism in foreign relations in my work as a Minister.

Mr. Goulty will engage with all parties to the conflict in an effort to promote the case for peace. The UK will continue to support the Intergovernmental Authority on Development peace process because it is the best chance to bring an end to the civil war through a negotiated settlement. As an active member of the IGAD partners forum, we will step up our efforts to revitalise the IGAD initiative, which both parties to the conflict have agreed to negotiate. We shall also work closely with the Kenyan Lieutenant-General Sumbeiywo, the new IGAD special envoy, who visited London for discussions on Sudan in January.

To answer a point raised by the hon. Member for Salisbury, I should say that the IGAD declaration of principles foresees self-determination for the south, but we should also bear in mind the fact that an absolute fundamental principle of the African Union—formerly the Organisation of African Unity—is that there should be no redrawing of the borders of Africa. We must take that into consideration, but many arrangements allow greater autonomous control over regions, people and communities under an overall Government who permit people to have a sense of controlling their own destinies.

As many hon. Members have said, the new British Government commitment to Africa, and particularly to Sudan, was reflected in the visit by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development from 6 to 11 January—as she is known to the whole world as Clare, for the sake of abbreviation I shall refer to her familiarly as Clare from now on. She was the first British Cabinet Minister to visit Sudan for more than a decade, and peace was at the top of her agenda. Clare discussed the peace process substantively with a full range—

Mr. Duncan : Order, order.

Mr. MacShane : Clare discussed the peace process substantively with a full range—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. John McWilliam): Order. The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) is quite right. Members of the House must be referred to by their titles or constituencies, not by name.

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Mr. MacShane : Then I shall have to refer to "my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood, the Secretary of State for International Development". If my affection ran away with me and left the full parliamentary protocol and rules behind, I beg to apologise, Mr. McWilliam. I am occasionally a mouthpiece for what I really think, instead of behaving according to the full parliamentary rules. I hope that the House accepts my apology.

Dr. Tonge : Perhaps it would be quicker to refer to SID—the Secretary of State for International Development.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The correct shortened version is "the Secretary of State".

Mr. MacShane : All those whom the Secretary of State met admitted that they had a responsibility to engage in serious negotiation, and said that there was now a window of opportunity. She stressed that we stood ready to play our part and press the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army to set out their key requirements for a just peace. She also emphasised the potential economic benefits for all, and the United Kingdom's readiness to engage in development if stability can be achieved.

There has been progress in Sudan this year. We are working closely with the United States special envoy, Senator John Danforth, and his efforts are a marvellous example of United States multilateralism, engagement in the poorest part of the world and a commitment by Washington to nation building. We should pay tribute to President Bush's wise decision to commit multilateral nation-building energy on behalf of his Administration. Senator Danforth held talks in Berne in January with the Sudanese Government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army, with the aim of achieving a ceasefire in the region of the Nuba mountains. We are delighted that the parties reached an agreement under which civilians will be allowed to move freely within the region currently held by the SPLA. Demilitarised zones will allow the Nuba people access to fertile land, and humanitarian assistance will be allowed to enter the region by air.

I suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre that air traffic control systems are like systems of traffic lights. The idea that any country would benefit by not having roads or traffic lights is not sensible. We should be careful about patronising African countries that want to buy the best air traffic control systems.

The Norwegian general who will head the joint military commission helping to monitor the ceasefire has just made a recce visit to the Nuba mountains and we look forward to reading his report. It will be crucial to ensure that the monitoring mechanism is up and running by the end of this month. We are heartened, too, by the agreement of warring parties not to target civilians, and we stand ready to play our part in monitoring the agreement. I hope that the hon. Member for Salisbury will be heartened to know that part of the motivation for the Nuba mountains ceasefire agreement was to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid, much of which comes through Kenya and is provided by Churches and Church-linked NGOs. Those monitoring

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the agreement, whether they are UN-mandated or not, will help to guarantee the safety of the humanitarian effort.

We are concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Sudan, particularly in the south, and continue to urge all parties to give all possible help to the UN and NGOs to ensure speedy delivery of humanitarian assistance. However, the only long-term answer to the suffering in Sudan is a peace settlement that will allow the people to rebuild their lives. Peace in Sudan must remain a priority.

In response to the question asked by the hon. Member for Salisbury, I can tell him that we do not believe that the civil war—it is a civil war, as Mr. Peter Riaak of Leeds pointed out to me last week—is analogous to the situation in Iraq. There is fighting on several fronts, and several parties are involved. Our aim is to support efforts to stop the fighting and to work with international partners to mitigate the awful consequences of the conflict where peace has been broken.

We are concerned about the human rights of all in the Sudan, regardless of their ethnic or religious background, and we regularly urge all sides in the civil war to respect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms. That is reflected in the Foreign Office's annual human rights report. There is no doubt that many Christians and many of other faiths have suffered, and many have been killed, as a result of the civil war. We make representations to the Government of Sudan about individual cases as well as more general issues, and we have a very active ambassador who gets out and about in that country and who is a great credit to the diplomatic service.

We urge all sides in the civil war to respect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, and fully to respect international law. We stay in close touch with Churches in the UK and in Sudan that are working in the north and the south of the country. One of those is the diocese of Salisbury, to whose work I pay tribute. Christians have specific concerns, but thousands of them are able to worship freely each week. The picture is a mixed one. Religious freedom was one of the main topics of discussion at the EU-Sudan dialogue meetings, chaired by our ambassador, in the latter part of last year. As Members have heard, only last week the Sudan ecumenical forum brought together the Sudan Council of Churches, the New Sudan Council of Churches and other Christians. I pay tribute to their work.

The EU-Sudan dialogue deals with some of the issues that the hon. Member for Salisbury mentioned: peace, relations with neighbours, terrorism, democratisation and human rights, including the issue of slavery. We believe that the Government of Sudan have made progress in improving relations with the country's neighbours and in adopting an acceptable approach to counter-terrorism. Progress in the peace process has been disappointing, as many hon. Members have said. However, there has been some progress on human rights and democratisation. The Council of Ministers, or Cabinet, is more broadly based and less dominated by the military. Sadiq al-Mahdi, the former Prime Minister and leader of the opposition Umma party, is now back in Khartoum and has been able to resume political activity. Newspapers are permitted slightly freer expression of political opinion. I have no illusions, but we should not ignore the progress that has been made.

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Abduction is a key issue to which we pay particular attention. At this year's meeting of the UN commission on human rights, the EU sponsored a resolution—

Mr. Duncan : Before the Minister finishes his speech, will he comment on oil and say whether production should continue?

Mr. MacShane : The EU sponsored a resolution on Sudan that set out our concerns about the violation of human rights. We want the Government of Sudan to continue to work with the Committee for the Eradication of the Abduction of Women and Children, which was set up in 1999.

Mr. Duncan : What about oil?

Mr. MacShane : There has been much publicity about oil. My firm view is that Sudan needs more investment, more material prosperity and greater distribution of the wealth generated by its resources. Stopping oil investment and making Sudan poorer cannot be an answer. The DTI gives no particular promotion to British oil companies, but we advise all companies to take into consideration concerns about the political and human rights problems in Sudan.

The final answer must be the continuing international engagement of Britain, Europe and the United States. The Government are pledged to that policy, and I am deeply grateful to hon. Members for making their points in this important debate.

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