Zaire

Oral Answers to Questions — Overseas Development – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th November 1996.

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Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham , Coventry South East 12:00 am, 11th November 1996

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what plans the Government have to send emergency aid to Zaire. [1330]

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan , Heywood and Middleton

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what actions he is planning to take in response to the current humanitarian crisis in eastern Zaire; and if he will make a statement. [1332]

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Regional political and security problems are at the root of the crisis in eastern Zaire. Britain is working urgently with regional leaders, the United Nations, European Union partners and British non-governmental organisations to support a ceasefire, and to allow the substantial relief stocks already available in the region to be delivered to those in need. I would have thought that that was of interest to the House.

Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham , Coventry South East

I am sure that the House welcomes the fact that humanitarian aid is beginning to get through to the refugees in Zaire. However, do the Government intend to press for the international tribunal to consider the cases of the perpetrators of genocide? Can the Minister give us more detail about whom that aid is going to?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Late this morning, the first convey got through to Goma. Perhaps it would help the hon. Gentleman and the House if I explained briefly the aims of the Government's policy. A central part of our policy must be the voluntary repatriation of Rwandan refugees. We must work with Governments in the region, not attempt to impose a settlement. If an intervention force is required, we believe that it would be preferable if it were organised under the auspices of the United Nations. We wonder about the time scale, because there is a humanitarian crisis. We will have more information this evening when we get reports from the non-governmental organisations that are in Goma. The lack of information is hampering our ability to make plans at the moment.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan , Heywood and Middleton

I thank the Minister for the reply that he gave my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Cunningham). Does he not agree, however, that any future aid must be given to the civilian population and not to armed gangs? Will he make inquiries, with the United Nations and others on the African continent, to ensure that the aid goes to genuine refugees rather than those armed gangs?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

It is absolutely correct that our aim must be to direct the aid in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests, but the practicalities cause us problems. I do not think that any hon. Member would disagree with the aim of the policy, but how we implement it is a different matter. I had discussions with the President of Tanzania today about that very question. It is a vexed question, because the one thing that we do not want to do is return to the status quo ante—the position before the crisis began. That is what we must try to avoid.

Photo of John Stanley John Stanley , Tonbridge and Malling

Has the Department already introduced a full package of emergency measures, with both a Government component and a component involving relevant British NGOs to the maximum extent, so that, once the security position permits it, the most effective and maximum possible British response can be made?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Indeed. We have given more than £130 million bilaterally since 1993, and more through the European Union. It is important to point out, however, that this is not a cheque-writing exercise. About two months' food for about 1.5 million people is currently being stockpiled in Tanzania and Uganda. It is not a matter of getting enough aid there; it is a matter of getting the aid that we currently have in the region to the refugees themselves.

The position is complicated by the fact that the refugees are scattered—we are not entirely sure where they all are—and by the fact that seven disparate groups are currently fighting. It is not as if we were negotiating with one group, and it is not as if the refugees were in one place. First, we must get our refugees to a safe place; then we must find ways of getting the aid that is already there to those people. It is a logistical problem.

Photo of Sir Peter Emery Sir Peter Emery , Honiton

Will my hon. Friend ensure that, if we accede to any request from the United Nations for the use of a military force to enable the provision of aid, it is clearly understood before we do so what the objective of that force will be, what its command structure will be and, indeed, what time scale will be involved in its commitment? Without that, the exercise will be disastrous.

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We must have clear, achievable objectives; we must have a clear mandate; we must have a clear time scale; and we must have a clear exit strategy. [Interruption.] I hear it said that we have had lots of time to think about it. It is sad that some politicians, and some newspapers, have been painting a terribly simplistic picture of what is in fact a very difficult problem. Not everything that we face can be in black and white: sometimes, in the real world, grown-ups must deal with grey areas that are not as simple as they look.

Hon. Members:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short , Birmingham, Ladywood

Thank you for that.

Does the Minister agree that it is essential that we take urgent action in Zaire, but also that we learn from the terrible mistakes that the world community has made over the past two years? Does he agree that our first mistake was our failure to intervene to prevent the genocide, which would surely have been cheaper than all the humanitarian aid that has flowed since? The second major mistake was to allow the perpetrators of the genocide to control access to humanitarian aid.

Does the Minister agree that we now have three objectives—first, to send food directly to the refugees and exclude the armed militia from the process; secondly, to bring the refugees home to Rwanda—

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short , Birmingham, Ladywood

The Minister has not said all that. This is an important matter, not a matter for heckling.

Secondly, we must bring the refugees home to Rwanda, and provide enough human rights monitors to protect them and give them confidence so that they can return home. Thirdly, we must begin the war crimes trials, so that those who organised the genocide are punished. Does the Minister agree that UN forces are needed only to secure those three objectives, and not for any other purpose?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I welcome the hon. Lady to her position. Her debut is even later than mine. I have nothing particular to add to what I have already said about the Government's objectives except that—and this echoes what the hon. Lady said—we must try to gain the confidence of the Rwandan refugees to go back. Improving that confidence requires action by the Rwandan Government, and part of that is a belief that those who perpetrated the genocide will be brought to justice.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key , Salisbury

Will my hon. Friend resist calls for military intervention and do all that he can to ensure that if military force is necessary it comes from the African continent and that it is, probably, led by the best-equipped and trained army on that continent, that of South Africa? Will he resist to the last calls for British troops to fight their way in and fight their way out?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

On one side the Government are confronted by those who say, "Whatever you do, you must send troops in quickly for humanitarian reasons." On the other side are those who say, "We must not ever send troops in under any circumstances." A military intervention force would be justified if we believed that it could do a specific job. If we think that that can be done safely, taking into account the security of our armed forces, and that there is an ability to deal successfully with this humanitarian crisis, it must be right, if we can do something, to do it.