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4. Helen Jones (Warrington, North) (Lab): What steps he is taking to encourage African states to send more peacekeepers to the Darfur region.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Chris Mullin): We are in close touch with the African Union and other members of the international community about the AU mission in Darfur. We fully support the AU's decision to expand the mission from 500 troops to more than 3,000. In recent weeks, approximately 400 additional troops have arrived, and a further 400 are expected shortly. The UK is providing more than £14 million to aid the mission's expansion.

Helen Jones: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. Given the urgency of the situation in Darfur, can he tell the House what discussions have taken place on broadening the AU mission's remit? Has he had any discussions with our EU partners about the support that they could provide for the mission? Rather than bemoaning the fate of the people in Darfur, can we not encourage people to get on with doing something about it?

Mr. Mullin: On the last point, a number of our EU partners are already making substantial contributions. For example, the Dutch and the Germans are providing the AU force with communications equipment, and the Canadians—I accept that Canada is not in the EU—are providing helicopter support. With all due respect to my hon. Friend, the mandate is not the primary problem, as the existing mandate does give commanders the discretion to protect civilians. The principal problem is establishing a ceasefire between the parties, so that there is security on the ground. Once that is done, we can begin the process of returns and of helping people to rebuild their lives. Ultimately, of course, the need is to build a political solution, and the way to stabilise the situation on the ground is to start deploying these troops. If the mandate needs to be looked at again, we will do so.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab): This is another great tragedy for Africa. People are very concerned about it, and my constituents have been raising money to help the civilian population in Darfur. The Minister will recognise that until we secure a ceasefire and start working towards a political solution, the situation in Darfur will remain another blot on the name of Africa. We must give whatever support we can to Darfur, and to the other African countries, in order to solve the problem there.

Mr. Mullin: I would not wish to understate in any way the gravity of the situation in Darfur. The priority is to get the AU mission up to full strength and then to get it properly deployed.
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I continually hear reports of the situation in Darfur, often on the BBC, as if only one party—the Government of Sudan—were involved. In fact, there are two parties and, according to the UN special representative, Mr. Pronk, the rebel forces have been responsible for a greater number of violations than the Government side over the last two months. In October, the rebels were responsible for many ceasefire violations and in November, again according to Mr. Pronk, they aggressively violated their commitment to the Abuja protocols. It is important for people to bear it in mind that there are two sides to the dispute. It is a very complicated one and both sides are behaving badly, but we do ourselves no service in improving our understanding of what is happening there if we continually pretend that it is all due to the Government of Sudan. That is not the case.

Mr. Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness) (Con): It is clear that the situation in Darfur is continuing to deteriorate, with human rights violations, rape, murder and massive population displacement all occurring. Only yesterday, two Save the Children workers were killed. The Nairobi Security Council resolution has been severely criticised by aid agencies as a big step backwards. When will the UK Government put sufficient pressure on UN Security Council members to enforce a no-fly zone, upgrade the AU force from monitoring to peacekeeping, impose an arms embargo on all sides and agree that the atrocities are genocidal, thereby ensuring immediate international action?

Mr. Mullin: We are keeping up constant pressure, within the UN and elsewhere, but the primary difficulty—and the primary objective—at the moment is to get the AU force properly deployed. Until that happens, we cannot even talk of a meaningful ceasefire being enforced. That is the first thing that we need to do. If we need to look at the mandate and other issues mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, we will do.


5. Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy) (Lab): What joint action is being taken by the EU to assist the political situation in Ukraine.

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): Following the initial agreement, brokered by High Representative Javier Solana and the Presidents of Poland and Lithuania—a good example of Europe's common foreign policy in action—the EU and the UK are now calling on all parties to work for a free and fair repeat of the second round of the presidential election, which is taking place on Boxing day, on 26 December, this year.

Mrs. Williams: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Will hon. Members from the House or representatives of the other place be present as observers during the re-run of the presidential election on the 26th of this month?

Mr. MacShane: I pay tribute to our distinguished colleague and friend of all Members, my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George),
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who was present during the first election and contributed to the outlining of many aspects that had gone wrong. The UK is doubling the number of its observers for the re-run of the second round on 26 December. Our ambassador in Kiev informed me today that Terry Davis, our former right honourable friend who represented Birmingham, Hodge Hill—now the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe—was there yesterday. That will also contribute to the effort to ensure that the second round election is free and fair. Any hon. Members who would care to spend their Boxing day in Kiev should get in touch with me.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): Is the Minister content that the EU's near neighbourhood policy is robust enough to deal with the particular challenges that will be faced by the Ukraine in the months and years ahead? Does he agree that it is important for the EU to prioritise political and economic aid, especially to eastern Ukraine in order to avoid feelings of marginalisation there?

Mr. MacShane: Yes, I agree in general terms with that point.

Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome what the Minister said, but does he accept that the best help that Europe can give to the democrats in Ukraine is to make clear the long-term relationship that we see Ukraine having with the EU? If we do not provide clarity about the relationship and Ukraine's eventual membership of the EU, we are likely in the long run to dash the hopes of the millions who have been demonstrating for democracy in the streets of Kiev.

Mr. MacShane: It is undoubtedly encouraging to see so many people demonstrating all over Ukraine in favour of the country having a much closer relationship with Europe, and I wish that Conservative Members would learn the odd lesson from that. What counts is that Ukraine has a positive relationship with Russia and its western neighbours. It now borders three EU member states. Kiev is one of the cradle cities of European culture and civilisation. I assure my hon. Friend that the Government will have talks with our European partners to develop further that positive European relationship with Ukraine.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): Hon. Members of all parties are united in their desire for free and fair elections in Ukraine. The role of British election monitors there will be crucial in that process. Does the Minister understand the personal sacrifice being made by those British citizens who have volunteered, at their own expense, for that important task? Will he show some Christmas spirit and undertake to fund the travel and accommodation costs of people giving their time to achieve a positive outcome? So far, getting sufficient numbers of people to sign up has been a real problem, because they have to meet those extraordinary costs at this time of year. Will the Minister help?
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Mr. MacShane: I am very happy to look at that. The UK contributed £23.7 million to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. We have spent £3 million already on helping to create the environment for more democratic elections. We have also spent £600,000 directly on the 2004 presidential election. I admire the fact that Britain is the nation with the greatest presence there. I cannot offer to underwrite every person who wants to go to Kiev but, if the hon. Gentleman wants to spend Boxing day in Kiev, I guarantee that I will pay for it myself.

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