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Mr. Ingram: That is exactly what we are doing. We are training up many people not only in Iraq, but in neighbouring countries. We are bringing together the best experience from countries with a good knowledge of the Arab community and of how best to interface with it, as well as imparting our forces considerable experience gained from Northern Ireland, the Balkans and elsewhere throughout the globe. Of course, the terrorists will always go for the softest targets because that is the very nature of their planning and approach. As the security forces build their capabilities, they will become less soft and more able to look after themselves. I guess that the attacks will decrease over time because the response to them will be much more effective.

Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South) (Lab): The Minister will know from his experience in other circumstances that one important distinction between a peace process and a terrorist movement or tyranny is a willingness to be held strictly accountable to international law. Does he have any intention of ensuring that British troops' activities will be answerable in the International Criminal Court? When does he expect to be able to tell the House that all those held by coalition forces will have access to legal representation, a trial in a court of law and unrestricted rights of access by the International Red Cross?

Mr. Ingram: There are a lot of implications to my hon. Friend's question that do not quite stack up. The International Red Cross has free access to our facilities, and has produced a number of reports. It continues to monitor the situation, and we continue to respond, if necessary, to its comments. There is no doubt in my mind that the Government have consistently applied a high standard of international law for years and even decades. We set an example to the rest of the world in the conduct of operations in the many countries in which we find ourselves, which is why many countries want to work alongside us when we deliver peacekeeping initiatives. I wish that my hon. Friend would reflect on
 
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that for a moment and pay tribute to the 55,000 British personnel who have served in Iraq, instead of blackening their name every time he asks a question.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton) (Con): One of those personnel is my brother-in-law, who was on leave in August and told me about the good work that the British armed forces are doing in Iraq. Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to my local regiment, the Cheshire regiment, for their work? I agree that we must stay the course, but is he satisfied that the British Army is in a position to deal with a sudden upsurge in violence in, for example, Basra, similar to that with which the Americans have had to deal in Najaf?

Mr. Ingram: I pay tribute to the Cheshires and all the other regiments that have served in Iraq, as well as those that will serve there in future, as I have done time after time. Whether we are capable of meeting any upsurge in violence depends on its scale, but alongside that we must consider the international community's willingness to deal with the problem. There are a considerable number of international troops—admittedly, they are predominantly from the US and the UK—but in the past British troops and forces have shown the capability to deal with violence if it flares up. Yes, I think that we would be able to deal with any known increase in violence.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): A young TA member, Sergeant Jones, told me on Friday of the unpleasant task that he had to perform with colleagues: uncovering a mass grave. Will my right hon. Friend consider, however unpleasant it is to do so, collating all that information in a single document, as there appear to be some people, particularly in the media, who do not understand the nature of the regime that has been toppled?

Mr. Ingram: There were many acts of barbarism, and we have probably only discovered the tip of the iceberg. My hon. Friend makes a useful and interesting point, and I should like to reflect on it to see whether we can collate information to help us achieve a better understanding of the problem.
 
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Sudan

4.3 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the situation in Sudan. Before I do so, however, I should like to say something about Beslan.

This morning, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, I signed the book of condolences at the Russian embassy to express our horror at the barbarity that befell the innocent children, women and men of Beslan, our profound sorrow at the grief of all those who lost loved ones, and sympathy for the injured. No cause justifies such bestiality in any circumstances. What happened was simply evil beyond reason or excuse, and we stand with the Government and the people of Russia at this terrible time of suffering.

I return to the issue of Sudan. After the House rose for the summer recess on 30 July, the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 1556, which demanded that the Government of Sudan disarm the Janjaweed militias and apprehend and bring to justice their leaders and associates. The resolution further called on the Sudanese Government to facilitate international relief; to establish credible security conditions for the protection of the civilian population and humanitarian aid workers; and to resume political talks with dissident groups from Darfur. The Security Council imposed an arms embargo on the militias, including the Janjaweed, and endorsed the deployment of international monitors to Darfur, under the leadership of the African Union. The resolution was backed by the threat of sanctions in the event of the Sudanese Government failing to comply with its provisions. The Secretary-General of the United Nations was mandated to report back within 30 days on that compliance.

I visited Sudan one week before that deadline, on 23 and 24 August, to assess the situation for myself and to urge the Sudanese Government to comply fully with the terms of resolution 1556. In Khartoum, I met the Sudanese President, General al-Bashir, the Foreign Minister, Dr. Mustafa Osman Ismail, and other Ministers and political figures, along with the UN Secretary-General's special envoy, Jan Pronk, and representatives of non-governmental organisations. In the talks, I stressed to the President and to the Foreign Minister the international community's grave concern at the situation in Darfur, and the importance that we attached to compliance with the resolution and with the plan of action that the Sudanese Government had subsequently agreed. While there, I obtained undertakings from the Sudanese Government that visas would be issued to staff from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

On my visit to el-Fasher in northern Darfur, I went to the Abu Shouk refugee camp, where I was given a tragically familiar account of atrocities and of attacks by armed militias that had forced people to flee their homes. The refugees spoke to me of their continuing fear of returning home until, and unless, their security was guaranteed. Abu Shouk is one of the better-run camps in the region, but many thousands more displaced
 
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people across Darfur and in neighbouring Chad still receive insufficient assistance, or in some cases none at all.

I also visited the headquarters of the African Union ceasefire monitoring mission in Darfur. AU observers told me that they judged that the ceasefire between the rebels and the Government of Sudan is largely holding, and they also said that there had been no aerial bombardment of civilians by the Sudanese Government since the end of June, but they also judged that there were still repeated attacks on civilians and credible reports of continued atrocities.

The UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, reported last week to the Security Council on the extent of Sudan's compliance with resolution 1556. His report found that the Sudanese Government had taken some steps to comply with the resolution and with the action plan. Security has improved for refugees in some limited areas, additional police have been deployed and disarmament has begun. Talks between the Government and the rebels opened on 23 August in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, facilitated by President Obasanjo of Nigeria. Mr. Annan said that access restrictions for humanitarian relief had been lifted, and that the humanitarian situation was improving, although conditions in many of the camps remained poor. The Sudanese Government had committed themselves to a policy of no forced returns of refugees, and human rights monitoring and investigations by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had begun.

However, Mr. Annan's report also found that

most critically, on the question of security.

The House will wish to know that an atrocities documentation team led by the US State Department has recently returned from Chad, where it interviewed 1,200 refugees in camps concerning allegations of atrocities. In the past two days the US Government have shared some of their evidence with us. We are examining that and other evidence carefully. All this is extremely disturbing and further highlights for the international community the urgency of ensuring that all the evidence is systematically examined by an international commission of inquiry, to establish what international crimes have been committed, and by whom.

The Security Council is today discussing its response to the Secretary-General's assessment of the situation, and we hope that a decision on a new Security Council resolution will be made later this week. In the Security Council, the UK is calling for clear benchmarks detailing what steps the Sudanese Government must now take towards meeting their responsibilities and resolving the conflict, but the rebels too must abide by their commitments by ending violations of the April ceasefire.

In making our proposals for a new Security Council resolution, we shall press for an expansion of the African Union monitoring mission—we always work with the AU itself—to help stop the attacks and create a safer environment for civilians. We must get both sides to engage constructively in the political talks in Abuja, which alone offer the prospect of a sustainable solution.
 
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Alongside the international effort to resolve the crisis, we are working hard with the UN, NGOs and our international partners to improve the humanitarian situation for the people of Darfur. Now that access for aid workers has improved, we need to get in as much help as possible and ensure that the UN agencies and NGOs have the capacity to deliver aid to those most in need. Some 500 international NGO staff are now in Darfur alongside 3,800 local workers. That is a significant improvement over recent months, but it is still not enough with the rains continuing to worsen the plight of refugees.

We also seek to consolidate support for the AU and its monitoring mission. The UK provided £2 million at the start of the mission in May, the first assistance from any donor, and the European Commission has provided a further €12 million. We continue to provide logistical support, including helping to fly in 155 Nigerian force protection officers over the past few weeks. The Government have made it clear that we are ready and willing to do more to support both the AU's current mission and an expanded operation, as and when it deploys.

Moreover, we must not let the pressures from the crisis in Darfur distract the Sudanese Government and the Southern Peoples' Liberation Movement from concluding the peace talks in Naivasha aimed at ending the 21-year civil war in the south. A settlement in that conflict would be an important achievement in itself, and it could provide the blueprint for a political settlement in Darfur. Much progress has been made so far in those talks and the parties have concluded a political framework agreement, but the talks must now reach a quick conclusion. Once, and only once, security and a political settlement are established across Sudan as a whole—north, south, east and west—the international community stands ready to ensure that all Sudan benefits from a long-term peace dividend. The EU has some €400 million waiting to be spent on long-term development, and the UK has already pledged £150 million, or €250 million, over the next three years for similar long-term aid.

The situation in Darfur has rightly shocked the world. For our part, we are determined to do everything we can to resolve the humanitarian disaster and help secure a political settlement across the country as a whole. We have had a special representative in Sudan, who works with our ambassador, concentrating on the peace talks for the past two and a half years. We are the largest cash donor of aid, having already provided £65 million—almost €100 million.

The Secretary of State for International Development has visited the country twice, in December last year and in June this year, and today he is in Nigeria, where he has been discussing the situation with President Obasanjo and working hard with the parties in the peace talks to try to get them to agree the next stage in any settlement. Our Departments are working closely together in a special joint Sudan unit, and the Minister with responsibility for Africa will go to Sudan next week. We continue to press our European Union and international partners to do more, as I did last weekend at a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers.

Ten years ago, the world turned away from the horrors of Rwanda and Bosnia, and we all know the appalling results. We cannot do everything in Sudan,
 
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but we must do everything that we can to ensure that that vast country can at long last enjoy peace and stability, which have evaded it for so many years with such catastrophic consequences.


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