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Helen Jones: Is it not correct that although it is six months since the Security Council agreed to put more than 20,000 peacekeepers into Darfur, very few countries have agreed to supply either troops or police? What can my right hon. Friend do to convince more of
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our allies to support UN resolutions on the ground? When that deployment is finally made, will she ensure that steps are taken to protect the women of Darfur, thousands of whom have been raped when they went out to do normal tasks such as gathering firewood?

Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to one of the most appalling aspects of the situation in Darfur. I understand her concern that there has not been a speedier commitment of forces ready to move into Darfur, but she will appreciate that one reason is that until now, the Sudanese Government have been unwilling to make clear their acceptance of the need for troops. It is difficult in those circumstances to persuade the international community to come forward as speedily as it should, but with our allies, we continue to push for such steps.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Given that the poisonous conflict in Darfur has now spread to Chad and the Central African Republic, and that as the right hon. Lady has acknowledged, foot-stamping by the Sudanese Government has already vetoed one vital United Nations troop deployment to Darfur, what further steps can and will be taken by the international community to rein in that violent barbaric regime, whose diplomatic sorcery is exceeded only by its unrelenting genocide?

Margaret Beckett: As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, because I know that he takes a great interest in these issues, we have appointed a special representative to go and work in the area as a roving ambassador, and the United Nations has recently appointed Jan Eliasson, who was, I believe, in Sudan last week, to make his own fresh assessment of the situation. So further diplomatic efforts are continuing. In fairness, I ought also to say that President Bashir wrote a few days ago to say that he does accept the agreements made at Addis Ababa and the previous agreements, and will now proceed to implement them. We all hope that on this occasion that will be followed through.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): Further to the answers that my right hon. Friend has given, can she say whether we have had bilateral discussions with the French, in particular, and with the Government of Chad, about how we can support the efforts of the international community more specifically?

Margaret Beckett: We have had continuing discussions with a number of allies, including our French colleagues. As my hon. Friend knows, there is concern about the position in Chad. We are pressing all involved to uphold the Tripoli agreement and to stop the fighting that has been occurring on the border, not least through proxies on the border, and to take more concrete steps on the ground to try to re-establish a degree of peace, not least because, as I know my hon. Friend and the House are aware, the last thing we need in the region is to see instability and conflict spreading in Chad, to add to that in Darfur. I can assure my hon. Friend that we are doing everything we can to make progress on the matter.

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Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the situation on the ground in Darfur appears to be the worst that it has been for some time, with humanitarian access at its worst point since about 2004, given the withdrawal of NGOs, and with 200 people reported killed in the week up to last Saturday, journalistic access—for obvious reasons—increasingly rare, many thousands of people in danger of violence, and hundreds of thousands in danger of food shortages? Although I welcome, as the right hon. Lady does, the comments of the President of Sudan, will she comment on the fact that he is also reported as saying at the weekend that UN troops are not necessary, and that there are sufficient forces in Sudan already, from African countries—not a helpful approach to the situation? Given her previous statement last October that “negative consequences” will arise for the Government in Khartoum if the situation continues to deteriorate, will she reiterate that today, and even spell out what some of those negative consequences might be?

Margaret Beckett: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making those points. In some ways he is right about the situation being dreadful and deteriorating, but in some ways it is not quite so bad, in that there is less fighting than there has been. What are particularly dreadful, and must cease, are attacks by the Government themselves, including in the past few weeks attacks on groups who had just agreed a ceasefire with the African Union commanders. That is a chaotic and ridiculous situation. The right hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the implications for the humanitarian effort. I am sorry to tell the House that there are probably fewer aid workers in Darfur now—for wholly understandable reasons; those are very brave people, who go into all sorts of horrendous situations—than for about two years, although there remain quite a number of food stocks. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is aware that we have tried to do everything we can to work with the humanitarian organisations, by helping to organise protected routes and so on. As I mentioned, the UN envoy was in Sudan only a few days ago. The right hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the fact that there is quite a small window of opportunity for the Government of Sudan to show that this time they are sincere in being willing to move forward with the UN and the African Union. If they are not able to do so, consideration of what action the international community can take, such as sanctions, will have to come to the fore again, which is not what anybody wants.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend will be aware of reports that last week some 200 people were killed in clashes between ethnic African farmers and nomadic Arabs in southern Darfur. She will also be aware that the rebel forces have split into many different groups, which seem to spend as much time fighting one another as they do even the Government of Sudan. Would she go as far as to impress on the Government of Sudan the view that this is now not only a question of trying to bring in a force to deal with the normal conflict, but of ensuring that there is security on the ground, so the AU-UN force has to be brought in now, not in the future?

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Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend is right to express concern about the fact that there seem to be even more splits among the rebels, and fighting within and between different rebel groups. That suggests that unless we can soon make more progress in pushing forward the peace agreement and encouraging the rebel groups who had not previously signed to do so, the administrative situation could deteriorate from where it is now. As he says, that makes the situation urgent as well as dangerous, and we will continue to work with our colleagues in the United Nations to try to see what can be done to help to resolve it.


5. Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): If she will make a statement on the situation in Somalia. [115405]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Margaret Beckett): After some years of lawlessness and little effective government, an historic opportunity now exists for a sustainable solution to Somalia’s difficulties. We are working with Somalia’s transitional institutions and our international partners to help to stabilise Somalia through early deployment of a security force, to restore governance through an inclusive political process, and to rebuild Somalia through increased international assistance.

Mr. Robathan: Following directly on from stability and international assistance, what is Her Majesty’s Government’s position on the recent American air strikes in southern Somalia?

Margaret Beckett: The hon. Gentleman will know that there is concern about some of those who have been active in supporting or pushing terrorist activity in that part of the world. I am afraid that action sometimes has to be taken to stop those activities.

Ann McKechin (Glasgow, North) (Lab): Given that many fear that the clan-based warlords will simply reorganise themselves and continue the insecurity that Somalia has faced over the past 16 years, what steps will the international community take to foster reconciliation among the various clans so that we can tackle the long-term reasons behind the insecurity and violence that has blighted that country?

Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend is right to identify those concerns. As I said to the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), we are encouraging the transitional Government towards an inclusive political process, because we feel that that could help. There is a fairly widespread view in the international community that, paradoxically, recent events in Somalia have created a better opportunity for such moves than has existed there for quite some time. My hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East has recently been in Yemen and Kenya talking to other people who are taking a great interest in these issues. We are doing what we can to seize the opportunity that recent events have created.

Mr. Speaker: I call Mr. Walker.

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Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) is far better-looking than me—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] That is what he tells me, but I do not believe him.

Further to the Foreign Secretary’s comments on the security force on the border between Somalia and Kenya, can she give the House an assurance that the quid pro quo for the Ugandan defence force’s involvement will not be to turn a blind eye to the creeping move against freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Uganda?

Margaret Beckett: No; absolutely not. We welcome Uganda’s willingness to help resolve the situation in Somalia, but Uganda is not the only country in the world about which we continue to have and express concerns regarding some of its domestic policies, while welcoming its involvement in some international efforts.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Will the Foreign Secretary reconsider her earlier reply to the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) about the American air strikes in Somalia? Does she not accept that the United States performed a wholly illegal act, which will make the position worse? Several people killed as a result of the air strikes were nothing to do with Islamic Courts but innocent civilians who happened to be in the area. Does not she acknowledge that that makes the situation in Somalia far worse, rather than bringing about the necessary peace and reconciliation process to put an end to the misery that has been the life of most people in Somalia for at least the past three decades?

Margaret Beckett: I certainly accept my hon. Friend’s final remarks that a peace and reconciliation process is important for the long term. As I have already said in answer to several other hon. Members, we intend to encourage the transitional Government to undertake a political process that is as inclusive as possible. However, I stress to my hon. Friend that it has long been public knowledge that extremist elements have operated as part of Islamic Courts and that al-Qaeda has operated in Somalia for some time. That poses a threat to people in Somalia as well as the wider international community. I take the view, which the Prime Minister expressed last week, that there cannot be a safe haven for international terrorists.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that there is a short window of opportunity in which to establish a self-governing, stable democratic state in Somalia, which is a hugely important strategic area of the horn of Africa? She referred to the international stabilisation force that may be established today. What dialogue has she held on the matter with the international community? Does she agree that the force must have sufficient combat strength and an adequate mandate, and that there is a genuine danger of Somalia descending into a fundamentalist Islamic state if sufficient action is not taken in good time?

Margaret Beckett: I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s opening remarks. Yes, of course there is a danger, but it
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has existed for quite some time. One reason for sharing his wish for speedy action to move in and support the Government in Somalia is that it is perhaps less of a risk now than it has been for a considerable time. We are very anxious to secure a force that has sufficient strength and the right kind of mandate. On dialogue with the international community, as it happens I was discussing the matter only this morning with the President of Tanzania. Our officials were heavily engaged in the international contact group and played a key role in trying to help broker and reach agreement. I therefore assure the hon. Gentleman that we are conscious of the need for speed as well as effectiveness, and we will do everything that we can. No one wants a security vacuum in Somalia, not least because of the dangers to which he and I referred of extremist elements there.

Democratic Republic of Congo

6. Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): What her assessment is of the prospects for reforming natural resource extraction in Democratic Republic of the Congo. [115406]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): Unfortunately, exploitation of natural resources in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been a driver of conflict when it could and should be a driver for development. Any sustainable solution will involve tackling corruption and ensuring responsible investment, effective and fair taxation and better control over borders and the resources themselves.

Stability and prosperity in the DRC will have a huge impact on not only its 60 million inhabitants but the peace and security of the whole central African region. That is why we supported the election process to the tune of £35 million and why we have increased our bilateral support to £62 million this financial year.

Mary Creagh: I thank the Minister for that reply. Before its eight-year civil war, Congo was among the world’s top producers of copper, cobalt and industrial diamonds—vast mineral wealth that should now be put to the service of the people of Congo, most of whom live on less than a dollar a day. Will my right hon. Friend work with his counterparts in the European Union to put pressure on the Kabila Government to reform the mining and logging sectors in Congo to ensure transparency in them?

Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend makes a number of important points. It is important that the DRC has already signed up to the extractive industries transparency initiative and the Kimberley process. We will continue to support the implementation of both those policies, as we will support the Congolese national committee charged with taking forward the implementation of the EITI. We are also seeking to help to promote responsible business behaviour in the private sector, and to improve the livelihoods of the many Congolese small-scale miners engaged in the extractive industries. As far as forestry issues are concerned, we are financing a study and a series of round-table discussions with non-governmental organisations and industry to develop new and innovative models for sustainable forest use in the DRC. We will
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also contribute to a multi-donor trust fund which provides support for improving governance in the DRC forestry sector.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Is the Minister concerned about the growing influence of the People’s Republic of China in African countries, not least the Democratic Republic of the Congo? The natural resources with which countries such as the DRC are richly endowed are of growing interest to the communist Chinese. Does he feel that that will be helpful to the development of such countries?

Mr. Hoon: The People’s Republic of China is responsible for a huge amount of the world’s manufacturing industry these days and has legitimate reasons for engaging in trade in Africa and other continents. Concern has been expressed, however, about the extent of the influence that follows on from that legitimate trade, and we keep that matter under constant and close review.

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): Reforming natural resource extraction and other reconstruction measures in the DRC will require good governance and parliamentary scrutiny. Given our Government’s strong support for the recent democratic process, which the Congolese acknowledged to us when we were there and since then, will my right hon. Friend commit the Government to continuing involvement with the democratic process in the DRC, including giving strong support to strengthening the civil institutions and to making it clear that an effective parliamentary scrutiny role must be given to the opposition, who should not be excluded from parliamentary positions or commission chairs? Otherwise, we might find the country slipping back into conflict.

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question. The figures that I gave to the House earlier show that the United Kingdom was the largest single donor in assisting in the monitoring process, and I am grateful for her participation in that process. The United Kingdom was also the largest European supporter of the DRC in the last financial year. It is clear from the constitution that there is no specific role for the opposition in the DRC, but following the election, President Kabila said that he would be willing to provide an opportunity for such a role to be developed. The United Kingdom Government will offer expertise and assistance on the role of the opposition, and the Opposition in the United Kingdom, having long experience of that role, might wish to assist us in that.

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): I welcome the Minister’s acknowledgement that the DRC has signed the EITI and the Kimberley process. Signing is one thing, however; enforcing is something different. Will he give me an assurance that this Government and the European Union will ensure not only that those initiatives are extended, secured and supported but that any accusations of malpractice or trading in conflict resources by EU or British companies are thoroughly investigated and exposed, so that there can be no opportunity for the country to break down into conflict again or for the warlords to get revenue from conflict resources?

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Mr. Hoon: The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I alluded to the matter earlier. The DRC has signed up to those initiatives, and it is important that they are now delivered. The United Kingdom Government are engaged in supporting a committee that has been established in the DRC and charged with the responsibility for delivering those initiatives. We need to ensure that we can offer the necessary expertise and support to the Government there to ensure that those policies are carried through.


7. Jane Kennedy (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab): What recent contact there has been between the Government and the Government of Syria; and if she will make a statement. [115407]

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): The British embassy in Damascus maintains regular contact with the Government of Syria. Our ambassador met President Assad of Syria and Foreign Minister Muallim on 7 January. The Prime Minister’s foreign policy adviser, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, visited Syria in late October 2006. He reiterated the Government’s hope that Syria will revise its policies to play the constructive role in the region that the international community expects.

Jane Kennedy: I am grateful for that statement, but would not my hon. Friend be well advised to be cautious in approaching Syria, given the real concerns about its border to the east with Iraq, which insurgents and weapons are believed to cross, and suspicions surrounding its involvement to the west in Lebanon, where political assassinations are believed to be attributable to the Syrian Government? One can, however, imagine Syria playing a constructive role which would bring enormous relief to the region—for example, by offering a less warm haven to the political leadership of Islamic Jihad and Hamas in Damascus.

Dr. Howells: I read with great interest a publication to which my right hon. Friend put her name recently, in which she reminded us that former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak once said:


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