Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Armed Conflict (Africa)

2. Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): If he will make a statement on the role of the Government in bringing armed conflict within African countries to an end. [5696]

The Minister for Trade (Ian Pearson): The Government are committed to promoting peace and security in Africa. We work closely with our international partners to tackle conflict and its causes. At the heart of our approach is a commitment to help Africans strengthen their own ability to prevent war and keep the peace. We hope that this will be part of the broader package of support for Africa to be discussed at the forthcoming Gleneagles summit.

Mr. Jack: Anybody who saw the reports on ITN by Neil Connery of the brutal use of conflict by Robert Mugabe to make 500,000 of his own people homeless will understand just what conflict in Africa means. The Minister mentioned the G8 at Gleneagles. So far, efforts by the British Government, European Governments and world Governments have failed stop Mugabe's brutality. May I seek an absolute assurance that the G8 will use all its power and influence to stop the brutal, inhuman conflict in that African country once and for all?

Ian Pearson: I would hope that the whole House shares the Government's disgust at the despicable Mugabe regime and what it is doing to its people. We have protested directly to the Zimbabwean Government, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised the issue at the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 13 June. As a Government, we are committed to doing all that we can to assess the situation. The hon. Gentleman may be
21 Jun 2005 : Column 641
aware that the United Nations Secretary-General announced only yesterday the appointment of a special envoy for human settlement issues in Zimbabwe to study the scope of the recent evictions of illegal dwellers, informal traders and squatters and to assess its humanitarian impact on the affected population. We understand that Mugabe has agreed to that visit, and that it will take place at an early opportunity.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab): My hon. Friend will be aware that about half of the African countries that emerge from civil war fall back into conflict in a short period, because there is no stabilisation force or any mediation forces. He talked about the likelihood of support coming from Gleneagles, but can he say a little more about that? Will it consist of aid to assemble an African Union force along with mediators from the United Nations?

Ian Pearson: My hon. Friend is right. The Commission for Africa report showed graphically that countries that become democratic can slip back into conflict. However, more than two thirds of countries in sub-Saharan Africa have held democratic elections in the past five years, so progress is being made. The way in which the African Union deploys its peacekeeping force is a matter for it to decide, but the Government hope to agree a comprehensive support package at Gleneagles.

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) (Con): It is widely reported that China or Chinese companies have provided Robert Mugabe's regime with radio-jamming equipment, which was used to block independent radio stations during the election. They have begun to deliver 12 fighter aircraft and 100 trucks to Zimbabwe's army at a time when there is a western arms embargo. Can the Minister confirm those facts, and what representations have the Government made?

Ian Pearson: I am not in a position to confirm the hon. Gentleman's claims, but we will certainly investigate any such allegations. Clearly, we do not want the Zimbabwean regime to be supplied with arms from any source, and we would want to take steps and use the influence that we have to make sure that Zimbabwe does not receive weapons to use in the internal repression of its people.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): As my hon. Friend knows, one of the conflicts in Africa that we played a part in trying to resolve is that in northern Uganda, involving the Lord's Resistance Army. Can he bring the House up to date on what progress has been made in bringing that conflict to an end?

Ian Pearson: I am sure my hon. Friend could bring the House up to date. I will draw his comments to the attention of my noble Friend Lord Triesman, who is the Minister with responsibility for Africa, and who I am sure will want to write to my hon. Friend on the issue.

Dr. Fox: First, I am astonished that with the stories about Chinese supplies to the Mugabe regime so widespread, the Foreign Office does not seem to have a line on that or to have investigated. Does not that show
21 Jun 2005 : Column 642
the wider problem with many African states? In Zimbabwe, a brutal and callous dictator wrecks his economy, destroys his agriculture, deliberately makes his own people homeless, and yet is still getting help from outside. Is it not tragic that irrespective of how much debt relief and aid we make available, it will not help many of the people of Africa if we cannot overcome bad governance, especially if those regimes are helped from outside?

Ian Pearson: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that good governance is a core part of the Government's programme, and it is exactly what we want to see achieved in Zimbabwe and other countries in Africa. He raises the issue of humanitarian assistance. It is important that we do what we can to assist those who were affected by the crackdown that has taken place in Zimbabwe. Funds so far have reached over 8,000 families in the form of food, blankets and other essentials, and that is worthwhile. We will continue to express our disgust at the antics of the Mugabe regime directly to that regime. Our posts across Africa are also raising our concerns about Zimbabwe with host Governments who may have some influence on the regime.

Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood) (Lab): A group of Sierra Leonean families in Blackpool have come together to try to form a charity to raise funds to help that country, but they are facing problems in liaising with the Red Cross, the Sierra Leonean high commission and the United Nations. I will write to my hon. Friend about that particular group, but will he look at small local charitable groups that desperately want to help in rebuilding war-torn African countries, and offer those groups advice and help so that they, too, can take part in rebuilding?

Ian Pearson: I am very keen that we do all we can to help Sierra Leone, and great progress has been made. My hon. Friend mentions a number of difficulties. I am happy to meet the charity concerned and to raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): While accepting that the circumstances of no two countries are ever exactly the same, does the Minister see some parallels between what is happening in Sudan and what is happening in Zimbabwe—oppressive Governments abusing the human rights of their citizens, rendering thousands homeless and exposing millions to the possibility of starvation? At Gleneagles we shall talk of lifting people out of poverty. Should we not be considering how we can protect the people of Africa, particularly in Sudan and Zimbabwe, or must we stand by, impotent and frustrated, while their very lives and dignity are taken from them by their own Governments?

Ian Pearson: There are parallels, of course, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman is right to point to the need for protection. Security and protection is a core part of what we want to see achieved. We hope that at Gleneagles we can draw up a comprehensive package that will see more support provided to the African Union. Where the African Union has deployed its forces in Sudan, it has been successful in bringing about a far more peaceful situation. We need to see more of that.
21 Jun 2005 : Column 643


3. Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central) (Lab): If he will make a statement on his discussions with the Iranian Government on its nuclear programme. [5697]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): My French and German colleagues, together with the European Union's high representative, and I met an Iranian team in Geneva on 25 May, when discussion took place under the framework of the November 2004 Paris agreement. The European side undertook to present proposals to Iran by the end of July or the beginning of August. Officials are currently working on those proposals, which will include objective guarantees that Iran's nuclear programme is for exclusively peaceful purposes. They will also include economic and technological co-operation, assurances of fuel supply and a political and security framework.

Mr. Illsley: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his reply. He knows that it is essential that he and his European Union counterparts continue the dialogue with Iran. At the G8 summit, will he take the opportunity to raise the issue of the deal struck between Russia and Iran in February this year on the supply of nuclear fuel rods? Russia has insisted that those rods are returned to Iran to safeguard against enriched uranium being used for anything other than peaceful purposes. Will he seek an opportunity to discuss that matter either directly with Russia or within the general framework of the G8?

Mr. Straw: I shall see my colleague Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, tomorrow, and I hope to have a bilateral discussion with him, as well as seeing him at the G8 Foreign Ministers meeting. Russia is under contract to provide the design of a nuclear power plant at Bushehr in Iran and also to supply it with fuel, which is consistent with Russia and Iran's obligations under the non-proliferation treaty. Enrichment, reprocessing and conversion facilities within Iran are our concern, and the international community remains perplexed about the scale of the fuel cycle programme in Iran, given that the Iranians have only one nuclear power station coming on stream, and all the fuel for it is due to come from Russia.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I fully support the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) in his demand that our discussions with Iran should continue. Will the Foreign Secretary indicate what discussions he has had with those members of the Iranian political scene who recently contested an election and who will appear in the final round? Does he feel that there is sufficient confidence between us to negotiate sensibly and rationally about Iran's nuclear programme? Iran is a very important country in that part of the world; our ongoing negotiations are critical; and I believe that we carry a great deal of influence.

Mr. Straw: I agree with the hon. Gentleman's final remarks. On his first question, our relations with Iran are strictly Government to Government, as they are with any other sovereign member state of the United
21 Jun 2005 : Column 644
Nations, so I have not had discussions with any of the candidates for the presidency of Iran. As the hon. Gentleman knows, last Friday's first round was inconclusive and this Friday's second round is bound to be at least arithmetically conclusive.

Mr. John McFall (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that it is important to emphasise that these are multilateral diplomatic negotiations and not bilateral negotiations? Some countries fear that the negotiations are bilateral and involve the US objective of regime change. It is important to take into consideration the views of countries such as South Korea, Thailand, Japan and even China, so that we end up with a more peaceful world through diplomatic negotiations.

Mr. Straw: The negotiations are, indeed, multilateral. I am pleased and proud that the United Kingdom, France and Germany have taken the lead on the issue. At each stage, our ability to negotiate has been greatly strengthened by the real and effective international consensus, and China, South Korea and other members of the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency have actively backed the resolutions of the board on the next stage of the negotiations.

Next Section IndexHome Page