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Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I should point out to the noble Baroness that I did say that a few countries in Africa are democratic.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am most grateful to hear that clarification. If I misheard the noble Baroness, I apologise for any implicit criticism.

The whole issue is also a priority for this Government. I can reassure the noble Earl that there is commitment to address Africa's problems and that that commitment is real. I should point out to my noble friend Lord Hughes that the approach of Her Majesty's Government towards central Africa, especially in relation to Angola, will remain robust in responding to their testing problems.

We very much support the IGAD peace process in Sudan and welcome the role that the Churches are playing in the drive for peace in the region. We welcome in particular the efforts being made in Sudan. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury is right to highlight the contribution being made and the challenges being faced today by the Churches. We all need to join the race for peace. Her Majesty's Government welcome all runners to join this marathon from wherever they hail.

We, Her Majesty's Government, are playing our part. The attendance at the Africa/Europe Summit in Cairo this week by both my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and my honourable friend Peter Hain demonstrates the importance that the Government attach to the region. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for alluding to their statements as evidence of their, and the whole Government's, determination on this issue.

We also agree with the emphasis placed on conflict prevention by the noble Lord, Lord Joffe. It is a fundamental element in our foreign policy worldwide--nowhere more so than in Africa. I can reassure the noble Lord and confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that the proposed legislation will seek to include the brokering of arms.

Many noble Lords rightly concentrated on one issue that dominates Africa today; namely, the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The DRC is the major challenge facing Africa, the United Nations and the international community. The conflict is damaging the Congo and all the countries involved. The costs are extremely high in terms of human lives, physical destruction, impoverishment of already desperately poor people and abuses of human rights. There are more than 1 million people internally displaced in the DRC and more than 100,000 have fled across the border and become refugees in Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and now Congo Brazzaville.

But there is good news. The framework for peace is there. In the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement, the Burundi Peace Process and the proposed International

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Conference on the Great Lakes we have credible formulae for lasting peace. So our aim must now be to help implement the Lusaka Agreement, to support the Burundi Peace Process and to work with African, United Nations and our European partners on the preparation of the international conference.

However, if Lusaka is to work, the parties must show their commitment to it. Recent reports of increased fighting by all sides are a major threat to Lusaka and to the possibility of the UN deploying. We have expressed our concern and exerted pressure on all those concerned to choose peace and show renewed commitment to Lusaka--the best chance that we have for peace. It is a war no one can win and everyone can lose. The parties must stop fighting or there will be no UN observer force and no UN peace assistance mission.

We, along with the international community, will maintain the pressure on all parties to implement the agreement, pointing out that their interests will not be served by prolonging the conflict and instability in the region. There is no military solution. Negotiated peace provided for by Lusaka is the only solution. Everything rests on its successful implementation.

In the Security Council and with the rest of the international community we shall continue to drive the peace process forward, both through political and diplomatic support, but also practical assistance. We shall not shirk this enormous challenge.

I understand noble Lords' concerns, particularly those expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, as regards the peacekeepers. I hope that noble Lords will be comforted by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1291 of 24th February, which authorises the expansion of the UN force in the Congo to 5,537 military personnel. It is a clear demonstration of the Security Council's readiness to provide practical support for Lusaka and help resolve the conflict.

But deployment can only be, and must be, an operation which helps the parties implement an agreement to which they themselves are fully committed. We cannot force compliance. The deployment of troops will not in itself guarantee peace and security for the DRC and other countries in the region. There are other issues which we are addressing.

First, if there is to be peace, it is vital that there is an open and inclusive national dialogue on the future of the DRC to arrive at a new political dispensation and national reconciliation, as provided for in the Lusaka agreement. This must get under way quickly. The UK has already provided £25,000 to fund the dialogue. Sir Ketumile Masire, the facilitator, has accepted our offer to provide him with a technical adviser. I hope that I can reassure noble Lords by telling them that the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo have apologised for the confusion which cut short Sir Ketumile's recent visit. We understand that he will return to the region shortly.

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Secondly, along with our EU partners, we must prepare for an international conference on the Great Lakes region. Although the conference will not be launched until Lusaka has been properly implemented, we believe that it is valuable as an incentive to the parties to move forward.

Thirdly, we are encouraging the parties to develop a plan for the successful disarmament, demobilisation, reintegration and relocation (DDRR) of the armed militia groups active in the region. This is critical for the successful implementation of the Lusaka agreement and for lasting peace in the region.

We have set out the main principles which should underpin any successful DDRR programme, and presented them to the parties. Our aim now is to encourage them to take this forward with the UN. The success of the process is dependent on the political commitment of all the parties involved in the peace process.

Fourthly, we fully support the proposal for the establishment of a panel of experts to investigate the illegal exploitation of DRC's natural resources. These are being used by all sides to help fund and sustain the war and this is robbing future generations of Congolese of the resources to build a stable future. The international community needs to ensure that commercial dealings in DRC's natural resources are legal; and that the people of the DRC, not private individuals, are the ones who benefit.

Fifthly, in line with all these actions we are also tackling the humanitarian situation in the DRC. We remain concerned about violations of human rights and humanitarian suffering on both sides of the lines, including acts of incitement to ethnic hatred and violence. The difficulty in helping the victims is gaining access. We are pressing the UN to take a firm lead in negotiating access for humanitarian agencies. We all know that a great deal of humanitarian suffering has been caused by this conflict. International donors, including the UK, are providing assistance. Since the war began, the UK alone has committed £1.7 million in humanitarian assistance to help people affected by the conflict. This assistance has been provided through the United Nations and non-governmental organisations.

We have called on the government of the DRC and on the other belligerents to provide the necessary security guarantees for international NGOs so that they can work in those areas hardest hit by the conflict.

We deplore what is happening in Zimbabwe. We are pressing the government there to abide by the rule of law. As noble Lords are aware, land is an emotive issue in Zimbabwe. We have consistently said that we would support a land reform programme that is transparent. The Department for International Development has decided to support land resettlement through non-governmental channels. We shall make available up to £5 million over the next three to five years.

We have considered carefully whether it would be appropriate to call for the suspension of Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth, but we have judged that, despite the seriousness of what is happening today in

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Zimbabwe--the farm invasions and other matters--that is not appropriate. Noble Lords will be aware that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary met President Mugabe in Cairo on Monday and that we have raised our concerns. We look forward to receiving the Zimbabwean delegation here.

Many noble Lords have touched on other issues. Perhaps I may say quickly to the noble Lord, Lord Rea, that we have good news in regard to Ethiopia and Eritrea. We understand that the government of Ethiopia are now in a position to accept the OAU peace package in its entirety and that a peaceful resolution may be in sight.

So far as concerns Burundi, I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside, that we are providing practical and political support for the Arusha process and the associated peace-building efforts. We are willing to contribute further funds to the Arusha peace process if it proves necessary. Nelson

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Mandela's appointment has greatly encouraged us all. Those of us who heard him speak today will have been heartened by his words.

We have shown our commitment to the quest for peace and we will continue to do so. The UK, along with the international community, will support Africa in its efforts to manage and resolve its crises. In the DRC we have provided political, diplomatic and financial support. We stand ready to help to implement all aspects of the Lusaka agreement--the national dialogue, DDRR--and to address issues such as the exploitation of the DRC's resources by both sides. Our vision is of a democratic and prosperous DRC, at peace with itself and with its neighbours.

Ultimately, though, we understand that the best and most lasting solutions to the continent's crises will be those fashioned and honed by Africa itself. But Britain will do all it can to help.

        House adjourned at seventeen minutes before ten o'clock.

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