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Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): The Secretary of State is building an outstanding reputation for himself in the way in which he is dealing with the responsibilities of his portfolio. I commend him fully on the prompt emergency action that he is taking.

May I press the right hon. Gentleman on the questions put by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan)? Are the Government of Sudan not responsible for much of the displacement and crisis in Darfur, through the janjaweed militias, which are closely associated with the Government? What further action can be taken by this country, the United Nations and surrounding countries to bring pressure to bear on the Government of Sudan?

Hilary Benn: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. The Government of Sudan do bear the primary responsibility; there is no question about that. As for the best thing that we can do, we must show the Government of Sudan that the world is taking an interest, and that the world—not just some countries, but as many countries as possible—intends to put pressure on the Government of Sudan to live up to those responsibilities, as I sought to do during my visit. Another point that we must make forcefully is that the Government of Sudan have understandably been looking forward, in the light of the negotiation of the Naivasha protocols, to the possibility that they could now unlock support from the international community for the development of their desperately poor country. That is something that we all want, because the people of Sudan have suffered too much, for far too long. However, I said clearly to those whom I met in Khartoum that while the situation in Darfur remains unresolved, the prospects of that happening are remote. There is now a powerful incentive for the Government of Sudan to live up to their responsibilities, because that is the key not only to solving the problem in Darfur but to opening up the possibility of a better future for the people of their country.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I sincerely thank my right hon. Friend for going to Sudan and drawing attention to this scandalous crisis. His analysis of the UN is appropriate. We have been disappointed at how long it has taken for the UN to become fully engaged in the situation.

I am pleased that we are willing to pay for monitors, but does my right hon. Friend accept that we may need to go further, and that there are dangers inherent in providing insufficient resources, as we have seen to some extent in the Democratic Republic of the Congo? We must learn from what has happened in the past, and provide not only funds but the people to bring peace on the ground, because that is the only future that Sudan really looks forward to.

Hilary Benn: I take my hon. Friend's point entirely. One of the most difficult aspects of this crisis is the things
 
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that we do not know. How many people have been displaced from their villages but have not made their way to the refugee camps or the settlement areas? What is their condition? Do they have access to food, shelter and medical supplies? That sense of uncertainty, which I felt very profoundly when I was there, should urge us to ensure that we do all we possibly can. When we pull back the covers and see the full picture, none of us wants to discover that there are people who have been in desperate need. That requires an end to the attacks, because with security comes improved access, and more money from the international system; but it also requires more people on the ground to make things happen. The non-governmental organisations that I met made that very powerful plea, and all those things need to happen if we are going to resolve this crisis.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) (UUP): I join in the tributes that have been paid to the Secretary of State for the work that he has done. In his last response, there was a lack of a real assurance that things are going to move as fast as he would like. Does he agree with me that this House is taking an interest in this issue not, as some cynics say, because we are looking after white interests or particular religious viewpoints, but because the struggle in Darfur is not one that we ourselves have had a close association with? In that context, is it not about time that the United Nations began to mark the cards of Governments and countries such as Sudan? We need to show that we have learned the lessons of Iraq and Bosnia, and to deal with those at the top, who have given the orders to commit acts of savagery on the ground. Nobody can say that planes were launched without the understanding of their Government, and if their air force and army minions can opt out, it is about time that we tracked down the Ministers who are guilty of grievous crimes against humanity, for that is what is really happening in Darfur.

Hilary Benn: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that those who have committed these atrocities should be called to account for what they have done. On action by the United Nations, I hope to speak to the Secretary-General when I have finished answering questions. The UN has an important role to play in ensuring that the attention of the international community remains focused on the situation in Darfur. The UN's voice needs to be heard, adding to the pressure from the UK and other countries on the Government of Sudan, to ensure that they honour their obligations and do what needs to be done.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that during this morning's excellent debate, initiated by the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), unanimous appreciation was offered for the role that my right hon. Friend has played not just in the past week—important though that has been—but since the first signals of this terrible carnage were given? In the light of what he said about the need for pressure on the Government of Sudan, a view that was widely shared in this morning's debate, will he continue to use his influence not only with the United Nations and its agencies—important though that is—but with the influential United States and the European Union?

We note that my right hon. Friend mentioned the European Union's contribution. In the light of political enlargement and of the need for the EU to play the
 
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political role that it is now capable of playing, does my right hon. Friend accept that he will have the full support of the House if he continues to do the very forceful job that he is currently doing, if only because, as the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) rightly said, none of us wants to repeat the terrible mistakes that were made in respect of Rwanda a decade ago?

Hilary Benn: I will endeavour to do all the things that my right hon. Friend has asked me to do. One practical thing that the EU is doing is contributing, through the new peace support facility, to the funding of the African Union's ceasefire monitoring mission. In fact, this will be the first use of that facility, and I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the EU commissioner Poul Nielsen, whose idea it was. It is an intensely practical policy that uses resources from the European development fund to back an African initiative. The other organisation that deserves enormous credit is the African Union, which came up with the idea of the monitoring mission and is putting it together. That is a really good example of Africa beginning to build its own capacity to deal with problems of conflict on that continent. The House should unreservedly welcome that because it means more capacity in the system, and who better to take first responsibility for dealing with conflict in Africa than the other nations of Africa?

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): This crisis and disaster has been known about for months and widely reported for weeks. The Secretary of State says that he is looking for a political solution, but the problem is caused by armed militias, supported by the Sudanese Government. Does he think that the doctrine of humanitarian intervention justifies military intervention in these circumstances, either with or without a United Nations Security Council resolution? I should point out that if the UN fails this test as it failed in Rwanda—whether military intervention is required or not—any faith that anybody has in its ability to deal with crises in which hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people die will be damaged for a very long time to come.

Hilary Benn: I accept the hon. Gentleman's point about this crisis being a test for the international community and for the United Nations, but the latter's ability to respond, as he well knows, is a function of the willingness of its member states to will or support such intervention. That is the dilemma that has been wrestled with for a very long time. We look forward with great interest to the report of the high level panel, established by Kofi Annan last autumn, which is grappling with these issues as we speak.

I should also point out to the hon. Gentleman that there is a negotiated ceasefire as of 8 April. It is difficult to say that it is largely being observed, but it is clearly being observed in places; however, attacks are continuing. We have evidence from Sudan itself of the effectiveness of ceasefire monitoring missions. For example, in terms of the ceasefire that began the Naivasha process, monitors have been doing an outstanding job in the Nuba mountains. There is one person from either side, with transport, including helicopters, and if an allegation is made that something is happening, they go there quickly and sort it out. The
 
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process has been very effective, and given that the African Union monitoring mechanism is now being deployed, the most effective thing that we can do is to give it total support, so that it can do its job of ensuring that the ceasefire actually applies. If the ceasefire applies, circumstances can begin to change.


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