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1 Apr 2008 : Column 174WH—continued

Unfortunately the international community has still not risen to the challenge; the hon. Gentleman made that point absolutely clear. Darfur is not Britain’s responsibility; it is the world’s responsibility. Sadly, we
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have yet fully to come to terms with the mistakes that we have made in the past, and we have not learned from those mistakes.

As always, and as I have already said today, my starting point is that this is not just a conflict about Darfur. Anyone who knows anything about Sudan will be worried about the comprehensive peace agreement and the way that it could be threatened by the conflict. There is a lot of evidence that, within Sudan itself, tensions within Kordofan are beginning to rise. The all-party group hopes to go to the east of Sudan sometime later this year; we are always threatening to go to the east of Sudan, but we never quite get there. There are worrying indications that the east of Sudan is not at all settled and that the situation could easily spark into conflict.

On the plus side, I welcome the Government’s support for the appointment of Sir Derek Plumbly, the retired British diplomat, to head the assessment and evaluation commission, which is charged with overseeing the comprehensive peace agreement, or CPA. We must not ever lose sight of the fact that there is a wider game going on within Sudan at the moment.

I would like to concentrate on Darfur and Chad for the moment. All the evidence is that the fighting is now worse than ever. We have a lot of evidence that the Sudanese Government are increasingly using fixed-wing aircraft, supposedly to try to deal with the insurrection on the ground. Recently, we have received information that the towns of Suleia and Sirba were completely destroyed. That type of destruction is completely new; we have seen villages razed before, but now we are seeing towns being ransacked and ravaged. The civilians are now being driven further afield, into the Jebel Moun area, where they are trapped by Government forces. We also now have evidence that both the Justice for Equality Movement, or JEM, and the Sudan Liberation Army, or SLA, are beginning to get military hardware and are bombing civilians too.

John Barrett: I thank the hon. Gentleman, the chairman of the all-party group on Sudan, for giving way. Would he agree that the amount of arms and support—both military and financial support—that the rebels on the ground have appears to be clear evidence that the Sudanese Government play an active part in worsening the situation, that they are financing those rebels, and that they are therefore part of the problem rather than part of the solution?

Mr. Drew: The Sudanese Government certainly are part of the problem, but, as I have said before, they have to be part of the solution. On that point, I do not know how many hon. Members saw the recent “Unreported World” programme on Channel 4, in which the programme makers went to talk to the Arab militias. Those militias clearly stated that they received their arms from the Sudanese Government. Arming them was not a great success, inasmuch as they then fought the Sudanese Government, but then again only the Sudanese could come back and join forces with the Sudanese Government. However, the important point is that the arms are coming through Khartoum, although, of course, they are mainly supplied through China, which has a key role to play.

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So, on the ground the situation is pretty depressing; we cannot think otherwise. I suppose we must hold out some hope that the recent peace agreement between President al-Bashir and President Deby has some chance of success, but I would like to know what the Government are now doing to encourage the two Presidents and to explain to them that they must get a ceasefire in place and pursue an active peace. It will be interesting to see what the agreement made on 13 March can yield.

The amount of fighting on the ground is depressing in the sense that it is not at all clear who is supplying whom with arms or what the outcome of the conflict could possibly be. I well remember that, about four years ago, in the early days of the conflict, we had a visit from one of the representatives of the SLA. One never knows whether such representatives have any real link to the fighting that is going on at the front. However, Baroness Tonge and I quizzed this person on what they wanted to get out of the conflict—if they had started it—and it was not at all clear what they wanted. That is part of the problem: the objectives of the rebels and the Arab militias are not at all clear, apart from the fact that this conflict could be seen as the first water war. Therefore, to try to sue for peace is increasingly difficult.

I do not know how many hon. Members heard him, but it was good when the all-party group on China got China’s special representative to Darfur, Liu Guijin, to address us. It was good to see that, for the first time, the Chinese were at least aware of their responsibilities, and that they were less than inscrutable—in fact, they were pretty blunt—about what they felt they had to do on the ground. Whether they can do it—or indeed have already done it—would be interesting to find out, and the Government may want to say something about that.

Furthermore, we must not underestimate how important it is to see the Arab element of this conflict. We go on about the Sudan Government, and about the rebels, including the SLA, JEM and various other fragmented groups, but the Arab militias are increasingly part of the solution, as well, of course, as being a significant part of the problem. We have this phenomenon now of “jundi masrool”—my Arabic is not very good, but I am sure that Hansard will get that right—which are Arab groups, particularly around Nyala, that are threatening to attack the Government of Sudan.

I talked about the Channel 4 programme and the groups appeared on that. They are threatening to attack the Government, because they believe that they have not been compensated by Khartoum and that they have been used, misused and abused by Khartoum. It is worrying that those people are swapping sides, effectively as mercenaries, so we need to do some capacity building among the Arab groups.

When we visited last year, we attended an interesting meeting between Salim Ahmed Salim and various EU representatives, and Arab groups. It was clear that the Arabs felt that they had been left out of many of the discussions and attempts to bring the conflict to an early end. We must not give them a justification to continue fighting by allowing them to feel excluded.

We could talk endlessly about the conflict and the dire security situation, but I want to move on to some of the solutions. We must ensure that the force personnel are up to scratch, because the figures are depressing. This force should be on the ground. We have to be realistic: this will not be a duck shoot. We will need
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brave people to put themselves on the front line not knowing who will attack them, but if we cannot get the 26,000 personnel, we are doomed. I know that the Government cannot provide front-line forces, but they could provide genuine back-up. What are they doing to persuade the nations of the world that they must make a contribution? The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East talked about helicopters, which are crucial, because mobility is key. People need to be moved about. I think of previous occasions, on which very brave people, particularly Nigerian peacekeepers—

Mr. Tom Clarke: I would like to thank—as we all would—my hon. Friend for his marvellous work in this field, as well as for his other parliamentary activities. Does he recall that I recently put down a question to the Ministry of Defence about helicopters? I was told that, even allowing for helicopters awaiting repair, there is a supply that could be made available, although I have not heard whether that contribution has been made. Does he feel that there is sufficient coherence across Departments for us to make the contribution that we all want to be made?

Mr. Drew: I agree. We need not only helicopters, but helicopters that will do the business, and I am a bit worried that we are searching the world for helicopters, some of which might not be fit for purpose. We need those helicopters in place soon with people to go in them. Will the Minister tell us what those figures are, what we can expect over the coming months and—dare I say it—who is paying for it? Everyone says that money is not a problem, but if that is the case, what is the problem? We need to know who is subscribing and whether they are subscribing what they said they would or whether there is a shortfall.

John Bercow: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Drew: I shall give way to my hon. Friend.

John Bercow: I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman, whom I too regard as a friend, for generously giving way. I have a distinct sense that we have seen this all before—I shall not use the French expression in this Chamber. Does he recall, that in May 2006, when Westminster Hall was temporarily relocated, he and I took part in a debate on Darfur answered by the then Secretary of State for International Development, the right hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Hilary Benn)? There was talk of the deployment of an intended 20,000-strong force, which we hoped would be fully deployed within a matter of months, and certainly by the autumn—that was in May 2006. Is it not risible that only one third of the force—at best—has been deployed 22 months later?

Mr. Drew: Of course, it is. The worry is that if we go in with lesser numbers, which I fear might happen, we will not only put people in an invidious position but put their lives in danger, which of course will be the result of further delay. Nevertheless, we need to get on with this, so I hope that the Minister will at least give us the truth, if not more positive news.

A peace process is needed to underline the efforts being made. As we know, the problem with the Darfur peace agreement was that it did not work on the ground,
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partly because the rebel groups were split among themselves. Some of the biggest problems on the ground are being caused by Minni Minnawi’s forces, who actually agreed with the peace deal, because apparently their people were unrewarded, and who, therefore, have been acting as a completely mercenary force. We need to know what has happened to the ceasefire and who is talking to whom. It all seems to have gone very quiet amid all the shuttling around. I know that everyone is waiting for Abdul Wahid to come out of Paris, but as far as I can see he is not going to. He might be popular in the camps, but his unwillingness to search for a ceasefire and a lasting peace is a problem.

The all-party group recommended not only that we get the security situation right, but that we continue with discussions, which have much to do with what is happening on the ground. We invented this wonderful term: the Darfur-to-Darfur dialogue and consultation. Those of us who know a lot about Ds know that it means different things to different people. However, it would be good to know how much time and money have been invested to get the various groups talking to one another. Someone has to ensure that people are willing to talk and engage with one another. There is news that Mohamed Sahnoun is being talked about as the new joint chief mediator. It would be helpful to know if somebody is in place, because at the moment it is not clear who is leading the mediation process.

John Bercow: I think that we all agree that we urgently need decent negotiations leading to a proper peace, but I am concerned about whether there is an incentive for the Sudanese Government to pursue peace, if they feel emboldened and wealthy enough to continue with their activities. The hon. Gentleman referred to China recognising its responsibility. Does he agree that the Chinese Government could demonstrate their acceptance of responsibility by agreeing to a trust fund with oil revenues, which otherwise would accrue to the Sudanese Government, being put in some sort escrow account until a peace is secured?

Mr. Drew: That is absolutely right, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, there is also the Government of South Sudan, so it would be a devil of a job unpicking who gets what. Sanctions must be applied, because what else can we do? The regime in Khartoum either lives in denial for some of the time or is part of the reason that the conflict continues.

We want evidence that the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur force can be properly subscribed to and is about to be launched properly on the ground. As we, sadly, approach the fifth birthday of the conflict, we must look at what is happening on the ground and at the political solutions that have to be found, which appear to be as far away as ever. It will come down to much effort on the part of various Governments and the fact that we must offer people money and resources to persuade them to stop fighting, which will become longer-term commitments. To those of us who visited the south last year to see what was happening, it was depressingly clear that so much of the budget goes to the military, and we must prevent that from happening in Darfur. That money must go into education, health and capacity building, not into arming the police, because we all know what the repercussions of that would be.

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I am afraid that the situation is very gloomy, so I hope that the Minister will be honest in stating that we are no nearer a solution, and speak the truth so that we at least know what direction we are going in. We just have to persuade the world not to lose interest in Darfur and to get on and do what it has to do.

10.9 am

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): I shall be as quick as I can, because many other Members wish to speak. I was in Darfur at the beginning of December last year, and saw the displaced persons camp at El Fashir—there were 10,000 more people in that camp than there are in my constituency. The local governor, or walid, assured us that things were hunky dory and that there was no violence any more. He said that kidnappings were down, there were no more beatings on the ground and that everything was going in the right direction. The reality, of course, was quite different. We were told by innocent people in the camp that they were beaten up the night before by men wearing boots, which means they were Government militia.

John Bercow: Regarding the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the walid, he will recall that in the old days, tractor production was up in the Soviet Union.

Mr. Llwyd: That is on a par with the kind of assurances that we were given. What we saw was an absolute abomination. Yes, there was clean water and food and there were limited medical supplies, but the situation there should not be tolerated for much longer by anyone in the Chamber or anywhere else.

When I was there, I had the pleasure of meeting a young Nigerian army colonel who headed up the African Union force. He was quite firm about what he required, and told me that he had inadequate troop numbers at under 6,000—he obviously needed far more. He talked about the 100 camps for displaced persons in Darfur, and the lack of heavy calibre weapons and helicopters, which we have discussed. Such equipment would enable the disruption of or interference with Government militia attacks.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) on securing the debate. The point has been well made that there are only two or three roads in the whole of Darfur. Time and again, when people want to explain their inactivity, they say that Darfur is as large as France. That may be, but whether it is larger or smaller than France does not make the situation any easier on anyone’s conscience; it simply makes the point that we need aerial intervention. The young colonel said that his work could be 10 times more effective with such intervention. He also said that water is a problem in some places, as is the delay in paying mission troops, which rather surprised me.

The colonel said that the killings—or genocide, as Colin Powell described it—had subsided, but that the situation is far from happy. He referred to the UN support, including the light support package, the heavy support package and the hybrid force, and said that the situation continues to be unpredictable. There is open
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conflict between signatories of the comprehensive peace agreement and non-signatories, and the Janjaweed continue to operate. He said that the Government of Sudan need to remove the 6 pm flying curfew so that medical and other emergencies can be tackled. People dealing with such emergencies need to fly at night, and the Sudanese Government need to facilitate the movement of equipment and personnel, and to fast-track visas for that purpose. I asked him how long ago he had made those requests, and he replied, with a great deal of sadness, “A very long time ago.”

Following those interesting discussions in Darfur, we returned to Khartoum and met President al-Bashir who said, surprisingly, that everything is fine and that there are no real problems. We specifically asked about the air curfew and the continued beatings, but instead of answering our questions fully, he gave answers that could not be believed. It was a waste of time speaking to him. I should not say that about a person in power, but I could not care less; I believed nothing that he said. In the end, he turned on us, saying, “Who are you western politicians to interfere here? You are in favour of the escapades in Iraq and Afghanistan.” I replied that I had voted against both of those, and said that we were there to ask him questions. The responses were abominable.

The next day, we went to the National Assembly, where we heard the same accusations of interference from the west. It seems to me that they are the only people who are content with the situation. The Sudanese Government are happy for this ghastly stand-off to continue, for those operations to happen covertly and for innocent people to continue to lose their lives simply because it suits them in Khartoum. The official line is that the comprehensive peace agreement was signed and that the west offered $4.5 billion. So far, 16 per cent. of that has been paid, but the west is concerned about the treatment of people in Darfur, so there is a chicken and egg situation. That point was put to them, but they said, “No, the donor powers are in breach of their agreement to pay that money.” Why on earth should the west pay the money when the killing and displacement continues? Why should it pay those billions of dollars, and where would that money go? We were also told that non-governmental organisations were reporting far fewer car-jackings and acts of violence, but when we met the NGOs, we heard an entirely different story.

Although we need to secure a peace agreement at some point, the immediate problem that must be dealt with is that of air power and helicopters. We understand that Ukraine, Russia and even Brazil have helicopters ready. The hon. Gentleman said that if we did not provide hardware, we could provide expertise and back-up. We must urge our Government to do so, because it would save lives and ultimately make it less attractive for Khartoum to sit back and allow the ghastly and deadly stand-off to continue. As always, the ones who suffer are the innocent, and this situation is no exception.

I have kept my comments to a minimum, because much has been said already and I agree with everything that has been said. I hope that the Government will give us some assurances and will not roll out the excuse about Darfur being as big as France, which does not impress any of us. The no-fly zone in the north of Iraq was a damn sight bigger than France, but something
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happened there. I urge the Government to speak to international partners who are able to donate the necessary equipment, and to put in what they can as soon as possible, so that we can avoid further atrocities in that troubled land.

Mr. Eric Martlew (in the Chair): I would like to start the wind-ups at about 10.30 am; there are two Back Benchers who wish to speak.

10.16 am

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Christian Aid used to have a poster that said, “We believe in life before death”. I sometimes think that there could be a poster of Darfur that simply said, “There is hell on earth”. I have four questions for the Minister, which are genuine requests for information rather than an attack on her.

First, when the conflict started, it was thought to be climate-inspired, because of the desert moving across and there being insufficient grassland. There was conflict between pastoralists, who are generally of Arab background, and farmers, who are generally of black African background, which was supported by Khartoum. The suggestion now seems to be that there is a broader, regional conflict between Sudan and Chad—between al-Bashir and Deby. Is that correct? What is the view of the Foreign Office? There have been about six regional peace agreements between Chad and Sudan in almost as many years—most recently, last month—but nothing seems to come of them. Are there various groups within Darfur that are proxy groups to Sudan and Chad, or are Sudan and Chad simply supporting their own teams within Darfur?

Secondly, I want to ask about the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur, which was set up in July 2007 under UN resolution 1769. I understand that of the 26,000 troops who were to be committed, UNAMID is still short of 15,000 African troops, primarily from the African Union. Why have they not been forthcoming? Is it simply because there is a lack of funds to pay for them, or because African countries are simply unwilling to commit those troops? There have been notable exceptions such as Nigeria, but why, in the view of the Foreign Office, is UNAMID so poorly resourced? Given that countries such as Ethiopia have offered helicopters, why has it not been possible to give UNAMID the airlift that is required? Until UNAMID is fully functional, there is no hope of having any peacekeeping mission at all, as those of us who have visited Darfur know only too well. All that one is doing is putting peacekeepers at considerable risk.

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