|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
"In Somalia, al-Qaeda members faced the same challenges that plague western interventions (extortion, betrayal, clan conflicts, xenophobia, a security vacuum and logistical constraints)."
So that is not to deny that we should be concerned and worried about the points that the hon. Gentleman made. All I am saying is that as it may be quite a mixed picture, we need to understand that, because if we do, we are more likely to be able to deal with the problem. As the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) said, if we engage with the groups that do not have the virus, that are not contaminated, we are much more likely to be able to build up the civic society, the coalitions and the groups that can eventually take power and prevent the people whom we jointly are concerned about from having the effects on our security that we all fear.
This is always a case of trying to get a detailed understanding. My knowledge of Somalis in this country is that they have a very different approach to Islam from, say, Pakistanis, Iraqis or other Muslims whom I meet. Their main approach is the Sufi tradition, which is not exactly strict in its doctrinal beliefs, to say the least, and has a mystical orientation. It is very different from the sort of Islam that we see elsewhere. Again, it is important to understand those differences, so that we analyse the intelligence effectively for our policy.
Colleagues have talked about a number of issues within the horn and rightly made it clear how those all interlock. We cannot view one dispute in isolation; they all interlink, which is one reason why the situation has been so complex over the years. Inevitably, however, we do focus on individual disputes, and one major issue that has been talked about this morning is the border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Past decisions have not been implemented, there appears to be a stalemate, and the way forward is unclear. It seemed at times that the hon. Members for The Wrekin and for Islington, North were representing slightly different points of view on that, and that is exactly as it should be. There may well be different tensions about who is to blame. Is it the Eritrean Government looking at their own people domestically and allowing the dispute to perpetuate because it suits their domestic political agenda, or is it the Ethiopians? I do not know.
What I do know is that the external powers, although they often have not been as helpful as they should be in their interventions, may have a role to play in this matter. Obviously, President Clinton had a bad experience in respect of Somalia when he was President, but I understand that he had a role in the finalisation of the Algiers agreement. Perhaps there is an external, world-renowned leader-it may be an African leader-who, through the AU or the UN, could take more initiative on the dispute, because although there are tensions preventing it from being reconciled, many of the people whose comments I have read for the debate suggest that should we get a resolution of the border dispute, many other benefits would flow from that. It is not just the border dispute that would be solved, but many other issues.
Mark Pritchard: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again; he has been very generous. We have to distinguish between my comments on and view of the Eritrean Government and those on the Eritrean people, who are a wonderful, innovative, adaptive and creative people. However, do not the incursion into Djibouti, the ongoing dispute between the Eritrean Government and Djibouti-something that has been ruled on by the United Nations itself-and the intransigence and the reluctance on the part of the Eritrean Government to understand and abide by the will of the international community give some insight into how the Eritrean Government respond even when there is that dialogue and that instruction from the international community?
Mr. Davey: Absolutely. There is great force to that argument. I am not trying to take sides with the Eritreans or the Ethiopians; I am just pointing out the complexity of the matter. As always in such disputes, a blame game is going on. In those circumstances, often external figures-from the UN, the AU or individuals-can play a role. I hope that the Minister will give us some indication of Foreign Office thinking on whether that is something it will be pushing for.
Jeremy Corbyn: The hon. Gentleman will recognise that the border dispute between Eritrea and Ethiopia was referred to international arbitration and that both sides agreed in advance that they would abide by the decision. None of us was party to that decision, but a decision was made and a border was delineated. The tension would be reduced a great deal if both sides accepted that decision and moved on. Otherwise, the matter becomes a cause célèbre, the situation will become worse and the isolation, particularly of Eritrea, will become even greater.
Mr. Davey: I do not disagree with that. Clearly, although that arbitration has taken place and the ruling has been made, it is not being implemented. One therefore has to try to work out how we can get the two sides to try to implement it. I am not suggesting we move away from that decision, but there needs to be a protest because, at the moment, there is stalemate. Given it is the Minister's job, I want to hear from him whether the British Government are doing anything to try to break that stalemate or whether they are just sitting back and saying, "A judgment was made a few years ago. That should be abided by, but it is nothing to do with us." I hope we will hear something on that from the Minister today.
The hon. Member for The Wrekin rightly brought Sudan into the debate. Given this is an historic year for Sudan, he was right to do so. The peace treaty was signed five years ago, but it has not been fully implemented. There are elections later this year and one of the referendums is next January. The hon. Gentleman will know that there will be other referendums regarding the border disputes between the north and south of Sudan, and that consultations are going on. There is no doubt real danger that war and conflict could break out on a large scale. Clearly, conflicts are breaking out on the peripheries, particularly of south Sudan. If one talks to the southern Sudanese, they will blame the Government in Khartoum for festering that.
I was recently at a very interesting rally called Beat for Peace. I talked to a group of Sudanese people in a church and it was interesting to note that, although they were from the west, east, north, south and centre of Sudan, they were committed to work together as a diaspora for peace. They want the British Government and others in the international community to play an important role this year in trying to put pressure on the Sudanese Government-although they are difficult and I am sure that the Minister will remind us about that-to make sure that elections and referendums are conducted properly and openly. We need to ensure that there are international monitors and that support is given to those processes. I hope that those very difficult tensions can be resolved through a more democratic and peaceful way.
Given what is at stake and that the oil wealth over the border in southern Sudan is a huge bone of contention, these are clearly not easy matters. Also, given that Khartoum is still, I believe, not doing what the international community asked it to do in Darfur, it is often difficult to engage with the Sudanese Government. Clearly, those are tricky things and I do not make light of them. However, while I am touching on Darfur, will the Minister update colleagues on the state of helicopter provision for the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur? Over the past two years, I have asked the Foreign Secretary that question on several occasions and have not had a proper answer. The western powers, including Britain, put money aside to ensure that the helicopters needed to help implement international resolutions in Darfur are there, but as far as I know, relatively little progress has been made.
Mark Pritchard: I am not necessarily saying that I disagree with the hon. Gentleman's central point on the better provision of air lift transport from whatever quarter for Darfur, but will he tell hon. Members from where he would source those helicopters within the United Kingdom?
Not from the United Kingdom. What lies, quite rightly, behind the hon. Gentleman's intervention is the fact that we cannot afford not to provide helicopters for our troops who are engaged in conflict. When I met the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon to talk about the issue, I suggested that he put pressure on the British Government and others to use the funds that the Government had been putting into a pot to get helicopters from countries that had spare ones, such as Ukraine, the Russian Federation and others. It is clear from talking to people in the industry that those countries have spare helicopters that could be keyed up. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is not just about providing
the helicopters; there are the pilots-you need more than one per team-the mechanics and the spare parts. This is therefore a complicated logistical exercise, but the British Government and others have nevertheless said that the money would be there, and that has never been denied. However, as far as I know-I would be delighted if the Minister proves me wrong-they have never used the money to underwrite deals with countries that have helicopters and which would not, of course, give us them for use in Afghanistan or elsewhere.
I want to finish with two points. First, in this debate about the conflicts in the horn of Africa, let us remember the ordinary people there and the humanitarian crisis that the vast majority of them face as a result of conflict. I hope that the Minister will tell us what work is being done through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development or international agencies to ensure that we protect civilians and meet the humanitarian challenge as far as possible. We are all realistic about the ability of Britain and the wider international community to end these conflicts any time soon, but that does not detract from our responsibility to help those who are caught up in them and who suffer as a result. I hope that the Minister will say something about that.
My final point is one that I should perhaps have mentioned earlier, although I am sure that colleagues will agree with what I have to say. Given the piracy that we have seen, particularly off the Somali coast, we should remember Paul and Rachel Chandler, who were taken hostage on 23 October. The Minister may want to give us the latest information that he has about them. He may have read reports that they gave an interview to an ITN reporter, in which they said that they would be killed if the money that had been demanded was not handed over by 24 January. Obviously, we hope and pray that that has not happened, and we would all be grateful if the Minister can give colleagues an update on the situation.
The example of Mr. and Mrs. Chandler shows, perhaps in a slightly extreme way, that instability in other parts of the world has knock-on effects for British citizens. That is why this debate is important and why the hon. Member for The Wrekin has done the House a service by bringing it to the Chamber.
Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your benevolent eye, Mr. Gale. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) on raising this important issue. As colleagues have said, this debate in Westminster Hall gives us the opportunity to have a slightly more reflective debate than we often have on the Floor of the House.
The debate is about regional security in the horn of Africa. Like other colleagues, I sometimes hear contradictory views when I talk to people who have worked and lived in the region, be they local people, expats or experts of one kind or another, including those from the aid organisations and the United Nations and officials from the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence. One view is that we should look at this as a regional issue, and colleagues have flagged up the fact that many of the countries in the region are interconnected. One example is the trade and the flow of people between
Somalia and Yemen; if we could only stop some of the flow of arms from Yemen into Somalia, we could make considerable progress. There is also the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea. There is therefore a whole raft of issues that show how the region is interconnected.
At the same time, however, the experts rightly tell us that each area is unique. As the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) said, there are unique elements in their histories and cultures and there are differences in their populations. I suspect, however, that many countries and outside organisations have approached the problem with the idea that one size fits all and that there is one single threat. Here, I probably slightly disagree, on balance, with my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin about the threat from al-Qaeda. There is a threat, but it is much more complex than we sometimes think, so our response should be much more complex too.
Secondly, we should also be aware that we, the outsiders, have often made the situation worse by blundering in, sometimes with the best of motives. The current condition of Somalia, in particular, is undoubtedly due to the activities of many countries, ranging from the United States to European Union countries, including ourselves. It is also due, as hon. Members have pointed out, to the introduction of an Ethiopian force into the conflict. However, we should also be aware that the countries in question have played host to some political organisations that have developed into terrorist activity. Al-Qaeda and other organisations are only too well aware of that.
The issue is crucial; we could have an academic debate, and in another environment and another age I used to enjoy such debates, because one could argue things to a conclusion and go away and have a decent lunch. However, in the business that we are all interested in, which is the rough trade of politics, one must argue things to a decision. As the late Marshal Foch would have asked, what is actually to be done? In particular, what can the United Kingdom do?
The first thing to recognise is that we are talking about a desperate area. Other hon. Members have spoken of the level of sheer political instability-Somalia is effectively a failed state, and although Yemen is not, the experts say it is under enormous strain-the poverty and the number of refugees. The scale of that is vast. Also, for many of the people living in poverty in the area, what we regard as quasi-terrorist activities-piracy and the slave trade, which still goes on-are things that they and their ancestors have been involved in for hundreds of years. Undoubtedly there are people involved in piracy who have a terrorist bent, but we must ask whether, if Somalia had a reasonable Government and there were reasonable prospects for employment, particularly in fishing, there would be piracy on such a scale.
Jeremy Corbyn: In no way do I condone piracy in any form, but does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that piracy started with the inability of the international community to monitor fishing in the area, and that the loss of fishing opportunities, particularly in the Puntland, meant that people turned to a horrible criminal process?
Mr. Simpson: Yes. I would not disagree at all with the hon. Gentleman. Also, the historian in me tells me that an element of tradition is involved. I recall visiting one of the Gulf states, although I shall not say which one, and being invited into a business family that had traditions of trade with the old East India Company-they showed us documents about that-and trading down to the coasts of east Africa. It was a cross-party delegation and a colleague asked the head of the family, "How did your business start?" He answered, "Very simple. We were slavers. We made all our original money from our slave trade activities down the coast of Somalia and elsewhere." However, the hon. Gentleman makes a fair point and I would not resile from it.
Why is this important for the United Kingdom, and what should we do about it? It is important, first, because the region is important to UK national interests. It is an area of strategic importance, and our history and our current strategic concerns mean that we should put, and are putting, a considerable amount of effort into it. Whether we are putting the right effort into it is necessarily a matter for debate. It is also a crucial concern to us at a humanitarian level. The sheer scale of the problem means that public opinion rightly demands that we and our friends should do something.
The area is also of considerable importance to us economically. The potential of these countries to become involved in world trade is enormous. The seas around the area are crucial, given the sheer tonnage of trade that goes through there. Piracy has an impact not only on commercial companies but, as the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) said, on individuals. Indeed, while we are debating the subject, two people face the threat of being killed. Others, not necessarily UK citizens, are still being held.
Mark Pritchard: Does my hon. Friend share my concern that, even in the last seven days, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have said that they will fight so-called infidels on land, in the air and on the sea? Given the history of the area, particularly the USS Cole incident in Yemen, does my hon. Friend share my concern not only about commercial shipping but about the leisure shipping that comes through that part of the region, particularly as cruise itineraries and destinations are published well in advance on the internet, giving plenty of time for preparation? Governments have given little consideration to the risk to cruise shipping, not from pirates who have small boats and would find it hard to board a cruise ship, but from terrorists.
Mr. Simpson: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Cruise ships have been attacked before by pirates and by terrorists. The United Kingdom Government, like all Governments, advise cruise companies about the problem and give advice on security. I suspect that some of the measures that they undertake are not publicised, as many organisations use the internet as we do.
I thought that my hon. Friend was going to mention the fact that we have to give hard-nosed advice to people who merely-may use this expression?-wish to cruise their yachts around that area. There is a significant chance of being captured in that area. Frankly, people should weigh that up. Governments can give their citizens only a certain amount of advice without physically banning them.
I return to my theme, which is what our Government can do and why they should do it. The reason for doing it is, as the hon. Member for Islington, North said, that large minority groups living in the United Kingdom were originally nationals in those countries. Many of them fled here for the opportunity to find security, work and so on, but there is a problem. It involves only a few of them, but some have been radicalised and have returned to Somalia or Yemen either to support violence out there or to take part in international terrorism.
The difficulty for the Government is to get the balance right, providing counter-terrorist support for Governments in the horn of Africa without that support inflaming matters. Now is not the time to debate the problems of Yemen, but the problem for Governments is not only that they are fighting al-Qaeda but that they are fighting two separate conflicts, in the north and the south, in which al-Qaeda is only on the margins.
I have to say gently to the Minister that many believe that the original hype for what was going to be an international conference on Yemen burst like a bubble because, after asking questions, we discovered that it is a two-hour meeting in the margins of a bigger conference on Afghanistan. I do not wish to make a party political point, but I think that many Labour Members were a little surprised about that. It looks more like a public relations exercise. I understand that the Government, the United States Government and other Governments are looking at this as a long-term problem. I commend a Government publication by DFID about a year ago, in which they talked about the need for an integrated approach to the problem of Yemen, involving all Departments, not just those dealing with counter-terrorism.
Mark Pritchard: My hon. Friend is giving way generously. He mentioned Yemen, which is linked to the horn of Africa. On 30 November in the main Chamber I asked the Prime Minister directly, during his statement on Afghanistan-Pakistan, whether he would include the Government of Yemen in the Afghanistan London conference. He was equivocal and did not give an explicit view one way or the other, which I found disappointing. We then had the incident with Abdulmutallab and-surprise, surprise-a phone call was made by the British Prime Minister on 1 January to the Government of Yemen inviting them to London, which came as a great surprise. That is not a criticism of the British Government, but I am concerned about whether the Government have a strategic grasp of the issues involving national security, including in that part of the world.
Mr. Simpson: I think they do now because of the nature of the insecurity in that region and the nature of the threats that we face now. Any Government will come under enormous pressure if, sadly, future terrorist activity against British citizens abroad or in the UK is carried out not by some caricature terrorist looking like a down-market Lawrence of Arabia but by somebody who is, as has sadly been proved on numerous occasions, a second or third generation immigrant from a family living here who has demonstrably had a good education and looks to all intents and purposes like a young man-it is mainly young men-who is fully integrated into society, yet rejects a lot of what the current UK society stands for. There are no easy tricks to deal with that.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|