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12. Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): What recent assessment he has made of steps taken by the Sudanese Government to resolve the crisis in Darfur. [190327]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Chris Mullin): I visited Darfur last month. The situation remains extremely serious. Despite some progress on the humanitarian side, the Government of Sudan have not done enough to improve security. Ceasefire violations by rebel and Government forces continue. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister discussed those issues last week with the Sudanese President. We have made it clear to the Sudanese that they will be judged by their actions and not by their words.

Mr. Llwyd: I thank the Minister for that response. I welcome the Prime Minister's intervention in the Sudan
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and the five-point peace plan that was tabled. Does the Minister share the concern of many, including Amnesty International, that the proposed increase of African Union monitors, although welcome, leads to concern that the mandate and the capacity of those monitors should be strengthened to enable them to do a real job of providing security?

Secondly, what efforts are being made to ensure that UN human rights observers are increased in their numbers and properly resourced to carry out their responsibilities?

Mr. Mullin: I share the hon. Gentleman's concern, especially with regard to making the UN monitoring force more effective. We want to see it expanded and we want also to see the mandate strengthened. These issues are under discussion. We want to see the number of human rights monitors increased. We have been giving logistical support to the African Union as and when that is needed. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman appreciates that there is a capacity issue. For example, we helped to fly in some of the Nigerian troops.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): My hon. Friend will know that Sudan is the ninth largest country in the world and that it is the largest country in the world that is not currently a federal state. Looking at the medium term, both in terms of Darfur and other parts of Sudan, what assurances can my hon. Friend give me that the UK Government are pressing the Government of Sudan to implement the peace agreements that were signed in Kenya this April, which included the establishment of a federal government in Sudan, which would go some way towards preventing certain crises such as Darfur in future?

Mr. Mullin: We believe that a settlement between the north and south of the country could provide a template for a settlement, eventually, in Darfur and in other parts of this tragic country. I am glad to say that the talks at Naivasha, in Kenya, resumed on 7 October. We are fairly optimistic that they will reach a conclusion. We are making it clear to all parties that we want to see progress. It is urgent that there is progress if we are to see a long-term solution to the problems of Sudan.

Charles Taylor

14. Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby) (Lab): What representations he has made to Nigeria with respect to the arrest of Charles Taylor. [190329]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Chris Mullin): We believe that Charles Taylor must be called to account for his crimes, preferably before the special court in Sierra Leone. We have made representations to this effect to President Obasanjo. We remain grateful to the President and his Government for their role in diffusing the crisis in Liberia.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: I am grateful to hear that answer from my hon. Friend. Charles Taylor is a notorious individual who is responsible for the murder and mutilation of thousands of people. I for one would be delighted to see him before a special court, which the
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British Government have played a crucial role in establishing in Sierra Leone. What is my hon. Friend seeking to do to bring the other perpetrators of great injustice in Liberia to account, and preferably before a hearing in the special court?

Mr. Mullin: The number of indictments issued by the special court is limited, but they include Mr. Taylor. As my hon. Friend may be aware, trials have already started, and we are anxious that progress is made as swiftly as possible. It is essential, if there is to be peace in west Africa, that the culture of impunity that has prevailed in the region for many years is brought to an end, and we regard the special court as a means of achieving that.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Would the Minister impress on the Nigerian Government the fact
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that if Nigeria is to punch its full weight as the regional power it will be largely judged on its actions regarding Charles Taylor? Bringing him before the court in Sierra Leone is urgently necessary.

Mr. Mullin: Nigeria will be judged on a wide variety of actions, not least the positive role that it has played in Sudan and the AU, and on other issues. We must recognise that Charles Taylor is in Nigeria only because President Obasanjo resolved a difficult problem facing Liberia at the time. That country was facing a real crisis, and his decision to get Charles Taylor out of the country brought it to an end. We must acknowledge that before we go on to discuss what should happen to Mr. Taylor in future. The indictment against Charles Taylor, however, is for life. It will not go away, and the sooner he is indicted, the better—that is the Government's position.
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12.31 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 Iraq.

I know that I speak for the whole House in offering our condolences and deepest sympathies to the family of Kenneth Bigley. Throughout their ordeal, the Bigley family have conducted themselves with the greatest dignity, courage and strength. I also want to pay tribute to the dedication and professionalism of all those who worked to support Mr. Bigley's family and to try to secure his release—our officials in Baghdad, Bangkok and London, police officers from Merseyside and the Metropolitan Police Service and, if I may make a particular point, the Muslim Council of Britain, which was indefatigable it its work to try to secure his release. I thank the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), as well as the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) who, because of a bereavement, cannot be present today, for the restraint and co-operation that they and their parties showed throughout.

The House will understand that there is a limit to the information that I can give about the events leading up to the news of Mr. Bigley's death last Friday. However, at the beginning of last week, an individual approached the British embassy in Baghdad, presenting himself as a potential intermediary with the captors. Messages were exchanged with the hostage-takers in an attempt to dissuade them from carrying out their threat to kill Mr. Bigley, but at no stage did the hostage-takers abandon their demands relating to the release of women prisoners, even though they were well aware that there were and are no women prisoners in British custody in Iraq. These communications were fully in line with the Government's long-standing approach to kidnapping—while ready to receive messages from kidnappers, we cannot negotiate with them. Kenneth Bigley's family in Liverpool and his wife in Thailand were kept fully aware of our communications with that intermediary.

On Friday afternoon, the intermediary provided us with proof beyond doubt that Ken Bigley's captors had carried out their threat to kill him. On Friday evening, I travelled to Liverpool to convey our sympathies and condolences to Mr. Bigley's family. Kenneth Bigley was a decent man who was in Iraq for no other purpose than to earn his living by working for the benefit of the Iraqi people. His capture, the ordeal imposed on him and his family, and his murder were acts of utter barbarism. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Bigley's family and friends.

I should now like to turn to the report of the Iraq survey group on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction which, as the House will be aware, was published last Wednesday, 6 October. The full text of the report is available on the internet, and I have attached to the written text of my statement, which is available now in the Vote Office, the Iraq survey group's "Key Findings".

The report concludes that by the mid-1990s, Iraq was essentially free of weapons of mass destruction, but it goes on to describe a sophisticated and systematic campaign by Saddam Hussein to bring down the United Nations sanctions regime and to reconstitute his
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weapons programme. It shows how Saddam Hussein subverted the oil-for-food programme in order to reward people

The report goes on to state that the

It continues:

I should like to give just one more example. The report says that the

in 2003—

The report provides chapter and verse as to why the policy of containment was not working. Indeed, in July 2000, as it makes clear, the ruling Ba'ath party newspaper Al Thawra

and in August 2001 the Iraqi Foreign Minister claimed that United Nations sanctions efforts had "collapsed". Saddam Hussein's regime was dedicated to deceiving the international community, and it was working flat out to undermine containment and rebuild the weapons capability that it had already used on its own people and neighbours.

As the Prime Minister did in his speech at our party's conference, I of course accept that some of the information on which we based our judgments was wrong. But before turning to that, I want to pay tribute to the work of Britain's intelligence services, which is usually done in difficult and dangerous circumstances around the world. Their successes and contribution are necessarily often unsung and unrecognised, but yesterday the European Union recognised a key success from the same people in the British intelligence service in respect of Libya. When we lifted our sanctions on Libya, it was through our intelligence people—the same people who had detected through the same methods the fact that Libya was developing an unacceptable and large programme of WMD—and by ours and others' diplomatic efforts that we managed to ensure that Libya is safe and is brought back into the international community.

The House will recall that the Butler committee concluded, among many other things, that the validity of the line of reporting that included the 45-minute intelligence had come into question. It further concluded that reporting received from a liaison service on Iraqi production of biological agent was "seriously flawed". The House will now wish to be aware that the chief of the Secret Intelligence Service has written to my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor), the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, formally withdrawing those two lines of reporting.
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But I do not accept, even with hindsight, that we were wrong to act as we did in the circumstances that we faced at the time. Even after reading all the evidence detailed by the Iraq survey group, it is still hard to believe that any regime could behave in so self-destructive a manner as to pretend that it had forbidden weaponry, when in fact it had not. It is still hard to comprehend the logic of Saddam's behaviour in resisting UN inspections in 1998, and indeed driving out the inspectors, when he could have demonstrated that he had no weapons of mass destruction. He could even more easily have given the United Nations the full co-operation demanded by resolution 1441—the kind of access and ability to interview key scientists that has now allowed the ISG to reach the verdict that he had no WMD stockpiles, but which UNMOVIC was denied.

Even in the few days before the conflict, Saddam refused our offer to meet a handful of tests that would have shown that he had no WMD, such as delivering just 30 scientists for interview outside Iraq, completing the destruction of the illegal al-Samoud missiles or surrendering all anthrax or providing credible evidence of its destruction. Those were just a few questions drawn from the 173 pages-worth of unresolved issues and questions that the United Nations weapons inspectors were detailing four months after the passage of resolution 1441. In the circumstances, deciding to give Saddam the benefit of the doubt would have required a huge leap of faith. We would have had to conclude that all the intelligence—not only ours, but that from many other agencies around the world—was wrong. We would have had to decide, with no evidence, and despite Saddam's resistance to inspections, that he had in fact disposed of his WMD without telling the UN.

Instead, we made the judgment that it would not be safe to turn away and leave Saddam re-empowered and re-emboldened. Although we can now plainly see that some of the intelligence was wrong, I continue to believe that the judgments that we made and the actions that we took were right. Let it never be forgotten that the whole of the international community, including all 15 members of the UN Security Council, concluded from its own evidence, and not from our intelligence, that Saddam posed a threat to international peace and security, and it did not resile from that conclusion in the four months after resolution 1441.

On the current situation in Iraq, I travelled to Iraq last week and met the President, Prime Minister and other Iraqi politicians including Kurdish and other leaders in the north of Iraq, members of the Interim National Council, UN Special Representative Ashraf Qazi and the UN elections team. The elections to be held next January were one of the key themes in my discussions. Logistical preparations are moving ahead: voter registration is in hand, information on the elections is beginning to be distributed and training for national election staff is also on schedule. I stressed to UN Special Representative Qazi the vital importance of the UN increasing its presence on the ground in Iraq in the run-up to the elections. It is crucial that the UN plays its full part in advising on the electoral process in Iraq, a point that I have since reiterated to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
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The greatest difficulty faced by Iraq's Government in preparing for elections is, of course, the security situation, especially in the Sunni areas in the centre of the country where the violence has been concentrated. I was impressed by Prime Minister Allawi's determination to improve security. His strategy is threefold: first, substantive political engagement with Sunni leaders to persuade them that their interests are best served inside rather than outside the political process; secondly, rapid progress on reconstruction to improve people's daily lives; and thirdly, strengthening and accelerating the training of Iraq's security forces so that they can play the lead role in tackling the insurgency.

That approach is, I believe, beginning to pay off, with welcome progress in the Sunni town of Samarra and in the predominantly Shi'a suburb of Baghdad, Sadr city. Falluja remains the most acute concern, and we will continue to support the Iraqi Government as they work to tackle it. However, despite the security situation in some parts of the country, all the Iraqi politicians whom I met, who came from many parties and who included Prime Minister Allawi, were committed to national elections going ahead in January as planned.

Local elections are already being held in the south of the country, and the Iraqi people are showing a real appetite for choosing their leaders and holding them to account, an experience which has not occurred in the living memory of almost every single Iraqi. Successful national elections would deal a huge blow to the terrorists and insurgents who reject the ballot box and who seek to rule with the bullet and the bomb.

It is worth remembering that some—not to say many—warned that security would prevent elections in Afghanistan, and I remember dealing with that matter in this House not many months ago, but over the weekend we saw a huge turnout. In Iraq, although security is of course important for elections, only progress with elections can deliver lasting improvement on security, allow civil society and businesses to grow and enable trade unions, journalists, women's groups and all those denied the right to exist under Saddam to emerge from the darkness of his terrible regime.

It is vital that Iraqis take the lead in building stability and in shaping their political future, but they will continue to need the support of the international community. I therefore welcome the support of the group of Iraq's neighbours for both the Interim Government and an inclusive political process in Iraq, and their efforts to improve border security and stop terrorists getting into the country.

The international community meets in Tokyo tomorrow to review progress on reconstruction in Iraq. Already, projects to rebuild Iraq are employing almost 500,000 Iraqis who were not employed before. Preparations are also well under way for an international conference on Iraq to be held next month in Egypt, which was envisaged by Security Council resolution 1546, and which I shall attend.

The United Kingdom will continue to play a leading role in the international effort to support Iraq. I here pay tribute to the bravery and dedication of all the British personnel in Iraq, military and civilian, which I again
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saw for myself last week. Their work is vital as the Iraqi people seek to defeat the men of violence and to build a peaceful and prosperous future for their country.

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