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Lord Avebury: My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. As regards allegations about the supply of weapons to the OLF and the aid alleged to have been given by the Eritreans to General Aideed in Somalia, does she really believe that it is plausible that Eritrea, with its back to the wall and facing the possibility of another enormous offensive, would divert sadly needed weapons from the front at home to adventures in a foreign land thousands of miles away?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, it is not really what we believe; it simply emphasises the propaganda battle--although one does not want to say that--in the region. There are allegations and counter allegations from both sides. That is why we have said that the need for balance, care and judicious management of this delicate situation is of prime importance.

Your Lordships will know that prior to the conflict we judged all defence export licence applications for both countries against the criteria announced by the Foreign Secretary on 28th July 1997. Following the outbreak of fighting on 6th May 1998, we considered all applications for both countries against our commitment not to issue a licence if there were a clearly identifiable risk that the intended recipient would use the proposed export aggressively against another country. We also reviewed all extant export licences for both countries. We revoked four licences for Eritrea. There were no similar extant licences for Ethiopia. Therefore, throughout, our approach to both countries has been balanced.

Ethiopian forces retook Badume on 27th February. This was followed by Eritrean acceptance of the framework agreement. But fighting continued until the start of the rainy season in late June. We are most conscious that the rainy season is now over and that is

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why we highlight the need for caution and delicacy at this stage if the situation is not to degenerate into something more acute. However, I am happy to assure the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, that we will do all we can to encourage both sides to engage in the peace process.

At the Organisation of African Unity summit in Algiers on 14th July this year, both heads of state accepted the modalities for the implementation of the framework agreement. The incoming chairman of the organisation, President Bouteflika of Algeria, was tasked with continuing the mediation effort. He appointed Ahmed Ouyahiya, a former Prime Minister of Algeria, as his special envoy.

As your Lordships know, Mr Ouyahiya visited the region from 4th to 9th August and presented both sides with technical arrangements for implementing the framework agreement. This document added flesh to the bones of the framework and modalities agreements. The technical arrangements include an implementation timetable. They recommended a formal cessation of hostilities followed by the establishment of a neutral commission to determine the position of each side prior to the start of the conflict on 6th May 1998 and therefore where each side must withdraw to. A United Nations peacekeeping mission would then be established to oversee the redeployment of the forces from both sides, starting with Eritrea. Civil administrations that were in place prior to the start of the conflict would be restored, followed by demarcation and delimitation.

This time, it was Eritrea which accepted the proposals in full and Ethiopia which sought clarification. The Ethiopians assert that certain elements of the technical arrangements are inconsistent with the earlier agreed documents. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, made mention of some of those. In particular, it insists that it cannot accept a cessation of hostilities without assurances that Eritrea will withdraw from all areas taken by force. It claims that the absence of such an assurance would amount to rewarding an act of international aggression.

The technical arrangements are non-negotiable. But Mr Ouyahiya is currently working to find a formula that is acceptable to both sides. He has the trust and co-operation of both sides and we believe that this process offers the best chance for peace.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked whether we would publish details about the movement of peace troops. We are aware of the movement of troops and weapons on both sides of the border. It is true that the rainy season has stopped, but that is why it is even more important to tread carefully now. Negotiations are delicate and it would only damage the chances of peace to publish the negotiations, as the noble Lord suggests. We have not seen Mr Ouyahiya's report, which is for the use of the mediators and the parties engaged in the process. Her Majesty's Government want to do nothing which will undermine the good work that is currently being done with the parties.

In recent weeks, we have made very clear to both sides the consequences of a return to fighting. The Secretary of State for International Development

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spoke to Prime Minister Meles of Ethiopia on 13th October and to President Isaias of Eritrea on 19th October. She urged both leaders to seek a peaceful solution and stressed the negative impact that the dispute was having on development efforts.

The Secretary of State for International Development also held a meeting with the Algerian Ambassador to London to convey the UK Government's full support for Algerian mediation efforts. The World Bank and the European Union have advised both governments that there will be no funds for new projects and programmes until the border dispute has been settled peacefully.

The United Kingdom and other bilateral donors support this line and have applied the same principles to their own development programmes. Most bilateral donors, including the United Kingdom, are completing current commitments and continuing to provide humanitarian assistance. But we will not agree any new funding proposals for either Ethiopia or Eritrea until peace has been secured.

I can give a few details on the current assistance to Ethiopia and Eritrea, but I shall do so briefly. The United Kingdom assistance to Ethiopia in 1999-2000 is expected to be £7.5 million. The main sectors we are working on are agriculture/food security, rural roads and support for the police training college which has an emphasis on human rights. In addition, we are supporting rehabilitation projects through international non-governmental organisations. That touches on the issues raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley.

Like most other donors, the Department for International Development is completing current commitments, but not embarking on new ones. In addition, in 1999 we have given £2 million to provide food for people affected by drought. All that is emergency assistance provided by agencies such as The Save the Children Fund.

The Eritreans take a robust view of aid conditionality and accordingly our aid programme to Eritrea is relatively small. It consists at present of a small grant scheme of £250,000 supporting projects in education, health and other sectors which help poor people. We have also been giving emergency support. We provided £150,000 in response to the 1998 United Nations consolidated flash appeal for Eritrea for the World Health Organisation's emergency health assistance to those displaced by the fighting. I am pleased to say that as recently as last night--to respond to questions in relation to intent--at a meeting with our ambassador, Mr Meles reassured us that Ethiopia is continuing to work with the Algerian mediators to secure peaceful resolution of the conflict. Those are hopeful signs.

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I turn to the question of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. He raised the plight of asylum seekers who have suffered a great deal as a result of the dispute. The noble Earl made a good point in relation to the working together of departments. Your Lordships will know that the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office work closely together. That is an issue for the Home Office, but I am sure that it will look carefully at the noble Earl's suggestion.

The Government's policy towards the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict has been entirely consistent with our commitment to human rights. We have pursued a balanced policy which offers the best chance of peace. Peace, stability and respect for human rights in the Horn of Africa are our goals. I make that point in particular in response to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, and indeed, the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. Our efforts to secure a full and binding UN arms embargo, our swift implementation of the bilateral arms embargo and our criticisms of both governments over their treatment of civilian populations and prisoners of war demonstrate our commitment to achieving those goals.

We are extremely concerned at the humanitarian impact of the conflict. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, more than 38,000 ethnic Eritreans have been expelled from Ethiopia since July 1998. We have made clear to the Ethiopian authorities that we deplore that policy. Unlike Ethiopia, Eritrea has still not allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross access to its prisoners of war. We have raised the issue with the Eritrean Government and have urged them to grant access to all prisoners. Although Eritrea has not signed the Geneva Convention, we expect it to respect it. We welcome the fact that the OAU proposals specifically deal with deportees and other groups affected by the conflict.

We, along with the rest of the international community, have consistently supported the Organisation of African Unity process since the start of the conflict. We remain convinced that that is the correct policy. It is vital, in our respectful view, that both sides understand that the international community is united in support for the Organisation of African Unity process. The slightest doubt will weaken the chances of peace. We have heard calls for condemnatory statements and for punitive action against Ethiopia. However, such statements would achieve nothing and would almost certainly be counter-productive. We are convinced that punitive action against either side now would trigger a return to brutal warfare which would be disastrous for the people of both Ethiopia and Eritrea. I commend the support that all noble Lords have given to our efforts in this regard and I express our gratitude for it.

        House adjourned at twenty-six minutes before nine o'clock.

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