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4.25 p.m.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): My Lords, I begin by congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Winchilsea and Nottingham, on choosing this subject for debate. He is absolutely right to say that it is often forgotten. But it is certainly not forgotten by the Foreign Office and the ODA, as I hope to demonstrate, despite the fact that he was critical of me, as is his right.

However, at the beginning I wish to say to your Lordships that we must be realistic in what we demand of the United Nations and in what can happen. I am beginning to believe that there are some parts of the world where people, quite frankly, do not want to stop

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fighting, whatever is done by others outside those groups. The sufferers are the women and children and some of the men who genuinely do not wish to fight.

Therefore, let us have a reality about the situation before we get into the "something should be done" mode, which is all too easy to do. However, we must find out what will be appropriate and what will work at a reasonable cost. When I say "a reasonable cost", I mean that I am not unwilling to spend money on peacekeeping; in fact, I am extremely willing to spend money on conflict prevention and resolution. But let us understand that sometimes the costs that will be put upon the giving nations, which may still be thrown back in their faces by the warring nations, may be too great for the giving nations to continue providing. We need to have that very firmly in our minds.

The noble Earl's remarks concentrated almost entirely on the subject of the Western Sahara, and I shall spend most of my speech dealing with that. However, I assure your Lordships that at no time has the United Kingdom played anything but a thoroughly active role in the United Nations Security Council's discussions on conflict resolution and prevention. The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, mentioned that, following my right honourable friend the Prime Minister's speech in Cape Town in September, the Foreign Secretary, when he addressed the General Assembly, encouraged the international community, working with the Organisation of African Unity and the United Nations, to set up a structure of support systems running from early warning and preventive diplomacy through to humanitarian and peacekeeping deployments on the ground. I shall return to the detail of how that has been received and taken forward in a few moments.

First, I turn to the Western Sahara with regard to which I have more sympathy for the plight of the people who are suffering so greatly than perhaps the noble Earl realises. We have supported the United Nations Secretary-General's efforts, especially through the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara--that is MINURSO, to which your Lordships referred--in order to secure implementation of the settlement plan agreed by the parties on 30th August 1988. Your Lordships may say that that is a long while ago but the problem has always been achieving the acceptance of all the parties to the necessary measures to bring about that referendum. I shall update the House on that in a few moments.

There are some 300 military and police observers in the UN mission at present, but there have been very regrettable delays in implementing the plan. There have also been grave difficulties in securing the agreement of the parties to hold the referendum. In August this year, the process of identifying those who have registered to vote in the referendum was launched. We have been monitoring very carefully what has been going on since that process was launched.

Perhaps I may make two observations about the referendum. First, we attach considerable importance to the speedy resolution of all the remaining obstacles and to holding that referendum on the future of the territory as soon as possible. We have repeatedly urged all parties

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to co-operate in that aim. We were most disappointed that the parties have allowed the latest timetable to slip. We hope that further delays will not occur, although from some news I received just before coming into the Chamber, it seems that that may be in vain.

As one of the Security Council's Group of Friends of the Western Sahara, we have sought to facilitate the UN's preparations for the referendum. It is, therefore, of prime importance that the procedures are hastened along. Before I came into the Chamber today, I was told that the referendum will be held in 1995. However, we are now told that it may not be held until the summer for one good reason in the eyes of the UN Secretary-General, Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali. He is quoted as saying last Thursday that the referendum planned first for January 1992, and then later postponed to February 1995, will be organised next summer because he wants 20 new bureaux to speed up the population registration in order to end the conflict. That has much to do with the very notable anxiety about last-minute Moroccan voter applications, about which the noble Earl and other noble Lords spoke.

We are seeking to ensure that the UN's identification commission has sufficient manpower to be able to identify all those who have applied for inclusion on the voter list for the referendum, including those whose applications were only submitted by Morocco shortly before the deadline of 25th October. I believe that to be the reason for the requirement of 20 extra bureaux to be opened in addition to the two already in operation in Laayoune and in Tindouf in south-western Algeria where so many of the Western Saharan people are at present in camps. That has come about since Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali toured the area last month and is being done in an effort to ensure that all those who should vote are, indeed, registered to vote.

It is not just a question of solving the problems of the election. My noble friend Lord Wise asked me about the future of MINURSO, knowing that it had been considered last March by the Security Council. We believe that it should continue; but, of course, Security Council Resolution 907 said that if the referendum was not held by the end of this year, the future of MINURSO would have to be reconsidered. Since the Secretary-General visited the area, we can now see things in a new light. There is certainly no discussion at present about disbanding MINURSO, and there is the statement about the requirement of 20 new stations to help the registration for the elections. Therefore, I sincerely hope that MINURSO will continue up to the election, but what happens at that point must be a matter for the Security Council.

The noble Earl also asked me about human rights. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, made the point that there have been human rights abuses on all sides, if one may put it that way. I sometimes think that this is not a two-sided contest. We certainly raise human rights issues regularly, whether it be with the Moroccans or with others. In June this year, the Moroccan human rights Minister came to the United Kingdom as a guest of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. My right honourable friend in another place, Mr. Hogg, and human rights organisations, such as Amnesty

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International, met with him. I believe that that was a valuable step forward; indeed, it was something that had never happened before. It was part of our attempt to improve human rights in that area.

We also know that it is not only human rights which are of concern: it is a fact that there have been some further unauthorised troop movements, though not normally anything as serious as was intimated by the noble Earl in terms of a cease-fire violation. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that where there is no stability--and that is what we are really talking about--there is plenty of room for troublemaking, however it occurs.

We have a situation where we are looking towards a referendum next year and where the United Nations is, under quite difficult circumstances, doing its best to help achieve that aim. I know that the noble Earl is disappointed that I have not responded to his requests to put direct help into the area, as set out in a number of letters which I have recently received from him. But there is a very good reason why that has not happened. It is because we are contributing through an already well set-up and running organisation within UNHCR which has earmarked 4 million dollars this current year for assistance to Western Saharan refugees, with a further 4 million dollars allocated for next year. We have made inquiries and they lead us to believe that there is not a need for further resources, but that there may be a need for better organisation. Certainly, the Department of Humanitarian Affairs has airlifted emergency supplies to the camps and provided money for local relief goods purchases following the tragic floods.

If there were a need for further assistance, I would, of course, look into the matter. However, I am told on reliable evidence from those who assess such matters that the current assessment is that we are giving--indeed, as we always have--our full due. We shall continue to do so and, if there is a need for more, I shall be the first to be willing to look at it. I have seen too many disasters in too many parts of the world ever to be able to turn away when there is real need. I believe that your Lordships are aware of that fact.

The debate widened very considerably, especially with the contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. It seemed to me that the noble Lord was trying, quietly, to get in on the back of the noble Earl's Unstarred Question and have that general debate that his noble friend Lady Blackstone was calling for about two weeks ago. But I now gather that the joy of that debate still awaits us. However, perhaps I may turn to the more general points that were raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, and the noble Lords, Lord Redesdale and Lord Judd. I shall deal, first, with the more general points about the United Nations as a whole.

As I said earlier, we have been playing a very full part in the United Nations, both in the Security Council and in all the General Assembly work. We have examined most carefully all the ideas that have been put to us. One of the things that I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, without fear of any contradiction is that Her Majesty's Government have always paid their contributions to the UN on time and in full. I wish that I could say the same for other member states, because

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we are regularly urging others to do likewise. We have certainly never run away from those responsibilities; nor, indeed, shall we.

However, one of the things that we are careful not to do is to rush into every idea when it is promoted without having examined it very thoroughly. For a very long while I have advocated that the United Nations needs to do more in the field of conflict prevention and conflict resolution. It is for that reason that we have been looking for ways of actually operating in that mode, particularly in Africa where so many of the conflicts seem to take place these days.

The idea which has been around for a long while of the United Nations standby forces has not found support among the United Nations' member states. That may be, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, intimated, due to the question of funding and the fact that there has not been a serious review of the finance to support the jobs within the United Nations. As yet we see no sign of that happening quickly.

One of the reasons why the idea of standby forces has not found support is that peace-keeping operations vary so greatly in type, scope, size and the training required that it has not been thought possible to train contingents literally for any eventuality.

It has been with that very much in mind that my right honourable friends have been discussing what more could be done to prevent the conflicts in Africa which the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, and the noble Lords, Lord Redesdale and Lord Judd, described. I agree with the noble Viscount when he says that it is critical to involve the Africans in conflict prevention and resolution. Frankly, if one does not have support from the groups on the ground one does not succeed. One cannot impose troops, ideas or planning totally from outside. One can help and refine ideas alongside people of the nation concerned. It was for those very reasons that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister launched the initiative on African peace-keeping in Cape Town in September.

Why did we do that? We were looking for a way to get the international community to work with the United Nations and the Organisation of African Unity to set up a structure of support systems which would run from early warning, through preventive diplomacy and on to humanitarian peace-keeping and deployment on the ground, as I said at the beginning of my reply.

We have been exchanging information readily with fellow donor nations to see what is possible. In some part that answers the question of the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley. Our objective is a system which works effectively at three levels. The first level would be an early warning system. This would be directed at potential trouble spots in order to decide whether preventive diplomacy needs to be triggered.

The second level would be an institutional framework of preventive diplomacy which would allow the UN and the OAU to provide, together, experienced personnel, equipment and other support which would bolster the diplomatic efforts to prevent conflict breaking out.

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The third level of action would be the development of the peace-keeping capabilities themselves. We envisage that being done through the establishment of peace-keeping skill centres at African staff colleges, through the creation of UN logistics centres in Africa, and some rapid mobile logistics teams which would help to maintain equipment. A great many of the problems which arise in any of those tasks relate to the need to have equipment ready to move and to use. It is so often out of date or badly maintained. The final part of that capability would be the creation of a UN sub-regional support centre whose staff could identify and help to remedy the logistic weaknesses which so often occur.

Were there time I could go through all the countries named by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and talk through the logistic weaknesses, the diplomacy failures and so on. I shall not take your Lordships' time today, but I shall tell your Lordships that the British ideas have been very well received in the UN and OAU. African countries have welcomed them as a practical contribution to enhancing peace-keeping capabilities. Our ideas have also been welcomed by our European partners.

In view of that welcome we decided to hold expert level discussions on our proposals in Accra in Ghana on 14th and 15th November with the African countries, the UN and the OAU. We reached agreement there on the priority areas of early warning, preventive diplomacy and peace-keeping. We are now working further on the detail of those proposals and how best to translate them into practical action on the ground. The next step in that process will be a workshop to be held in Cairo in January.

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We are moving forward with the ideas. Perhaps I may say to the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, that those ideas have very much more backing than anything that has come from any single nation, even the one he mentioned, which might have had an idea which initially found favour in that country.

There are some tragic and preventable situations. There are others which, sadly, are less preventable because people are determined to fight and not to talk peace. That is why the type of comprehensive approach that I have just outlined, with the support of many of the neighbours of those nations which have so many problems, be it in Africa or elsewhere, is important.

I can assure your Lordships that whether it be Rwanda, Angola, Somalia, Nigeria, Ghana or Sierra Leone--and I can make a long list--we keep a watch, day by day, on each of those countries to see when and where we should intervene. There will never be any hesitation if we can do something to prevent conflict breaking out or to help resolve conflict when it has broken out. The United Kingdom will be there.

That is why I can pay a real tribute to Mozambique. Although the situation was rather touch and go towards the end of the election, I am proud to say that the British Ambassador and his staff in Mozambique worked literally day and night to help make sure that the situation was resolved satisfactorily. That is an example of both conflict resolution and conflict prevention for the future.

It is by means of that type of engagement, which we hope we shall see before long in Angola, that we shall create a greater peace in the African continent and elsewhere. But we shall do that only if we lead strongly and thoughtfully and persuade others to follow. That is exactly what we are trying to do.

        House adjourned at thirteen minutes before five o'clock.

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