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David Miliband: Yes; my hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. He will also appreciate that a major contribution will be to ensure that complementary strategies are pursued on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border. The fact that the new Pakistani
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Government have made a commitment to ensure that they tackle terrorism on their side of the border is the sort of activity that will help the Afghans, and get us out of the Afghan-Pakistan blame game, which has too often typified relations between those two countries.

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): Can the Foreign Secretary outline whether there are any plans to allow the Territorial Army personnel who are currently serving in Afghanistan to join in the commemorations of the centenary of that fine and upstanding organisation?

David Miliband: I have to apologise to the hon. Gentleman because I do not know the answer, but I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence writes to him as soon as possible with the answer to his question.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): How does the Foreign Secretary account for President Karzai’s hostility to British political advances in Helmand province when our troops are fighting so bravely there to defend his interests?

David Miliband: I have discussed President Karzai’s alleged hostility with him directly on three occasions. He denies any hostility and insists that he has been misquoted in the allegations that have been made against him. He also insists that he has nothing but admiration for the commitment of British forces, and that of the British people in supporting the role of British civilians and British armed forces in that country.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that it is important that the Department for International Development works more closely with British military forces on the ground? It is a widely held view by all those who have served in Afghanistan that the Department for International Development, although it does a good job, could do much more if it would swallow the nonsense about not working with people in uniform.

David Miliband: I have talked in Helmand to soldiers and representatives of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development. I do not want to associate myself with the hon. Gentleman’s allegations but I want to take collective responsibility for the activities of FCO and DFID staff. There is no question but that we need to ensure better civilian-military co-operation. I hope that he agrees that the appointment of a civilian head—as it happens, from the FCO—of the Helmand provincial reconstruction team, who takes office next month, will be the symbol of the proper, high quality civilian-military co-operation that he and I agree is essential.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): The Foreign Secretary knows about the complexities of co-ordinating policy in Helmand. What is the Foreign Office view, especially given the new appointment, of conducting negotiations with those elements of the Taliban who may have been active in violence but are now prepared for a more peaceful solution? How will he persuade President Karzai of the importance of such a subtle approach?


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David Miliband: The position is clear and shared by President Karzai and the British Government. I sat with the US Secretary of State in President Karzai’s office in Kabul in February, discussing the reconciliation programme. I describe it as a reconciliation programme rather than a negotiation programme for the simple reason that those members of the Taliban who are willing to live by constitutional rules are welcome to do so, and the Government of Afghanistan will bring them into the political system. In that sense, it is not a negotiation—the red lines are clear. Recent evidence from Musa Qala shows that there is a genuine opportunity to bring members of the Taliban, who are not ideologically convinced but make a contingent decision about which side to back, into the mainstream and persuade them that that is where they have the most stable and prosperous future. We are determined to do that.

China

5. Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): If he will make a statement on the UK’s relations with the People’s Republic of China. [204799]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Meg Munn): In light of the recent devastating earthquake in China, I am sure that I speak for the House in extending our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of all those affected. I commend the Chinese Government for their rapid and efficient response to the crisis.

Our relationship with China is strong and growing. The Government believe that engagement with China is firmly in the UK’s national interest.

China’s development offers opportunities for co-operation and advancement on key global challenges. Our engagement allows us to tackle all issues with China, including human rights and internal reform.

Alistair Burt: I am sure that the House would wish to be associated with the Under-Secretary’s sentiments about the Chinese earthquake. The earth’s fragility has been awesomely demonstrated through the recent tragic events in south-east Asia, as has the need for the world to rely on itself and our mutual dependence for aid and assistance. Does the Under-Secretary believe that, in the medium term, those events might help China revisit its obligations on issues such as carbon emissions? Much more urgently in the short term, does she believe that China’s experience of tragedy today will ensure that it urges the Burmese Government this afternoon to do all they can to allow aid and assistance in immediately, given that it is waiting on the borders and needed to deal with Burma’s tragedy?

Meg Munn: The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made that point when he spoke to his counterpart in China just before this Question Time. I understand that China is now requesting international support for the situation. We know that the position in China is much better than in Burma. There is much more infrastructure and the Chinese Government are much more capable of supporting people. We know that the situation in Burma is dreadful. Without the help and support being readily offered by the international community, many more people will die. We will continue to urge China, as well
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other countries in the region, to make those points to the Burmese Government. This is not a political issue; it is a humanitarian issue. On climate change, we are in discussions with the Chinese on the development of technology. We will continue to work on those issues, which affect us all and on which we need that international co-operation.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): The Foreign Secretary has used strong words on the subject of Burma and the responsibilities of other countries, such as China, to assist in getting humanitarian aid instantly—not in a few days—to Burma. The United Nations has established the principles of the right to intervene and the responsibility to protect. We chair the Security Council; surely we can do more than we are now.

Meg Munn: We will support any and all activities that will take the matter forward and get that aid into Burma. It is clear that the US and the European countries on the Security Council are ready to move the issues forward. We are pressing to get that aid in. What is important is not just the physical aid, which is already under great pressure, but the need for people who can distribute it. There are development workers on the ground, but they are not disaster relief experts. We need disaster relief experts there. Burma needs to let those people in now.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): The Minister has just told the House that the Government’s relationship with China is strong and growing. Will she also tell us what action the Foreign Secretary has taken in expressing our concerns to the Chinese Government that that arms shipment should never have been sent to Durban? It was only as a result of the brave decision of the dockers in Durban that that shipment did not go to Zimbabwe, where it would have been used by a vile regime.

Meg Munn: I am sure that we all applaud the stance taken by the dockers in preventing that shipment, which demonstrates the importance of civil society acting in such situations. We on the Labour Benches support the role of trade unions in that. We are working for an international arms embargo to Zimbabwe and will continue to do so.

Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): Following the previous question, will we use our good offices with China to express the disquiet felt throughout the House and the country about China not only training but arming regimes all across Africa?

Meg Munn: We need to recognise that China can choose to play a positive role in the world, too. We know that China is putting a great deal of aid into Africa. We of course express our concerns about human rights and negative actions, and through our engagement with China we are unable to do so better.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): I add the condolences of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru to the people of China on the terrible circumstances of the earthquake. The Minister used the same words as the Red Cross in Beijing today to describe the response there—the Red Cross said that it
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was “swift and very efficient”. Should the Burmese Government not pursue the same course of action? What will the Minister and her EU colleagues do in concrete terms to persuade them to emulate the Chinese approach?

Meg Munn: Of course—that is exactly what should happen and that is what we are doing. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development is at the EU Development Ministers meeting doing precisely that. The problem is that the Burmese Government are failing to grant visas for the aid workers to enter. The world is ready to help. This is not a political situation; it is a humanitarian disaster. The Burmese Government need to grant those visas and let people in, so that they can begin to save lives.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I shall shortly visit Taiwan to attend the inauguration of the new, democratically elected President of that country. What pressure are the Government bringing to bear on the People’s Republic of China to live in peaceful co-existence with its small neighbour and to remove the 1,000 missiles that are directed from mainland China towards Taiwan?

Meg Munn: It has been Government policy for a long time to support a one China policy, and our position on Taiwan is well known and has not changed. However, we certainly look to both sides to avoid unilateral measures that raise tensions across the straits, and we will continue to engage in confidence-building measures. In that respect, I support what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Bosnia (EU Accession)

6. Mr. Don Touhig (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): What recent discussions he has had with the EU high representative to Bosnia on Bosnian accession to the EU. [204800]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy): I met High Representative Lajc√°k on 18 March in Sarajevo. I discussed with him the key reforms needed for Bosnia to move towards EU membership and reaffirmed the UK’s support for his efforts to uphold the Dayton peace agreement.

Mr. Touhig: Following the welcome demonstration by the Serbian people in Sunday’s general election that they want closer links with the European Union, will my hon. Friend ensure that the accession of the Balkan countries, and of Bosnia in particular, remains a high priority in the European Union, so that we can help to contribute to bringing peace and stability to that still-troubled part of Europe?

Mr. Murphy: My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct to say that the result of the election in Serbia was a clear demonstration of the continuing European aspirations of the population of that country. We should acknowledge and celebrate that fact. He is also right to say that the area is recovering from the vile ethnic cleansing of recent years. The United Kingdom Government will do all that they can to support the expansion of the European Union into the western Balkans. It is also in our strategic self-interest to do so.
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Ms Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): My hon. Friend will be well aware that the priorities of the people of Bosnia are focused on job creation and on securing further improvements in their standard of living. What contribution does he think that members of the EU could make towards ensuring that the voices of the people of Bosnia are properly heard by their Government at every level?

Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend is right. The real need for economic development was made clear to me when I met representatives of the Bosnian, Croat and Serb communities in Bosnia. The signing of the stabilisation agreement with the European Union over the next few weeks will be crucial as it will send a clear signal that all 27 EU countries are willing to support Bosnia’s development and economy. In return, Bosnia will of course have to undertake significant structural domestic reform.

Somalia

7. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the UN and other international organisations in the process of peace and reconstruction in Somalia. [204801]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Meg Munn): We support reconciliation talks, arranged by the special representative of the UN Secretary-General, due to begin this month, between representatives of the Somali transitional Government and the opposition Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia. We remain very concerned by the general humanitarian and security situation in Somalia. We are working hard within the UN Security Council for improvements, including a new resolution addressing the political, humanitarian and security needs.

Tony Lloyd: I am sure that a United Nations Security Council resolution would be very welcome, but does my hon. Friend not agree that the world has neglected Somalia, to all our costs? We know the lessons of the failed state in Afghanistan, and we are aware of the potential for Islamic radicalisation in Somalia. Because of our resident Somali population, Britain of all countries has a huge interest in creating stability in Somalia. Can we ensure that the EU addresses the lack of capacity of African agencies such as the African Union, and that we now put real effort into bringing this internal conflict to an end?

Meg Munn: I know that my hon. Friend has long taken an interest in this area, and he is absolutely right to point out the importance of the European Union in this regard. I am pleased to be able to tell him that the EU has done a great deal. It has contributed €15 million to the African Union mission, and it is engaging with the Opposition. It has contacts within civil society to try to develop its role in the country, and it is responding to the humanitarian problems that arise there. I am sure that we will continue to press for this engagement through the European Union as well as through the United Nations.


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Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): The Minister will be aware that the African regional press testifies that food prices in Somalia are skyrocketing, which means that families have to buy less food or less nutritious food, leading to malnourishment and malnutrition. Does not that present a massive task for the international community and the World Food Programme? Will the Minister share with the House the results of the welcome summit that the Prime Minister recently held at No. 10 on the rises in international food prices? As has been said, Somalia will become a humanitarian disaster area if the international community does not act in the near future.

Meg Munn: The hon. Gentleman makes some important points and I appreciate the tone in which he does so. We are giving a lot of humanitarian aid to Somalia; we are the second largest bilateral donor. Of course, the humanitarian situation will improve only if the political situation improves. A genuine political process is under way and we have to put our support behind it. In view of the history of Somalia, it is easy to be discouraged, but for precisely the reasons that the hon. Gentleman raises—the concerns of the population and the continuing pressure of rising food prices—we must ensure that this political process moves forward, if at all possible, in order to bring about greater stability in the area.

Darfur

8. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): If he will make a statement on the political situation in Darfur. [204802]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Meg Munn): There has been little movement in the Darfur political process because of fragmentation among rebel groups and continued violence. The Prime Minister has offered further UK support for international efforts, including a meeting in the UK, if it would help revitalise the process. We are exploring the scope for this with the United Nations, the African Union, Sudan’s neighbours and international partners, the Government of Sudan and movements in Darfur.

Mr. Swayne: The Secretary-General’s most recent report states that in, one month alone, the air raids of the Government of Sudan have killed 200 civilians and displaced 10,000. Their impounding of vital equipment, blocking of the deployment of contingents and withholding permissions for 15 helicopters have resulted in less than a quarter of the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur forces being deployed. Is it not time that we had a serious review of the sanctions regime?

Meg Munn: We rightly discuss Darfur and Sudan every month at parliamentary questions and it is, of course, extremely disappointing and frustrating when the situation does not improve. Indeed, it is a matter not just of the aerial bombings by the Government of Sudan but of recent incursions by rebel groups that have made the problem even more difficult. The fighting must stop and the talking start. Sanctions might have a role to play, but the serious issue is the need for the fighting to stop so that proper talks can begin.


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Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the warrants issued by the International Criminal Court in respect of events in Darfur should still be pursued—and pursued urgently?

Meg Munn: Yes, I agree that they should be pursued. We need to do everything we can to bring about peace in Darfur, and securing proper justice and the end of impunity is part of that process.


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