Darfur

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 19th February 2008.

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Photo of Chris McCafferty Chris McCafferty Labour, Calder Valley 2:30 pm, 19th February 2008

What assessment he has made of the political situation in Darfur; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Sustainable peace in Darfur can be achieved only through the political process under United Nations and African Union leadership. But fighting between Sudanese forces and rebels makes the situation increasingly complex and the consequences for civilians increasingly dire. We call on the parties to uphold a ceasefire and we are supporting attempts to reinvigorate the political process. We are also pushing for the accelerated deployment of the UN-AU force.

Photo of Chris McCafferty Chris McCafferty Labour, Calder Valley

I thank the Minister for that reply. Given the necessity of helicopter units to the UN-African Union Mission in Darfur and the Government's preparedness to underwrite the costs to other countries of donating helicopter assets, has the Minister had any dialogue with her counterparts in Ukraine and Russia about that possibility?

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

As my hon. Friend says, the issue of helicopters is enormously important. The UK convened meetings in New York on 16 and 30 January in support of the UN to discuss approaches to generating helicopter units for UNAMID. The representatives of more than 20 countries attended that meeting. My noble friend Lord Malloch-Brown also visited New York last week to press for rapid effective deployment of UNAMID, and those issues were raised then.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

Although the Minister's answer is welcome, does she realise that Ethiopia has managed to find five helicopters for Darfur whereas the UK Government, the US and all the NATO and EU countries have not managed to provide a single helicopter? Are not the people of Darfur entitled to ask what has happened to the Government's many promises of help and support? I asked a similar question to the Foreign Secretary six weeks ago, and he told me he shared my sense of urgency. Is it not time that the Government acted urgently, got the helicopters deployed and did not leave all the efforts to American actors and film directors?

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not recognise the huge effort from the UK to support the mission, as well as the substantial financial support that is being offered. We have lobbied hard to close remaining gaps in helicopter provision. We have targeted Egypt, South Africa and the central European states, including, as my hon. Friend Chris McCafferty mentioned, Ukraine, as well as Bulgaria and Slovakia. The issue is that the helicopters need to be suitable for the circumstances and the terrain in Darfur. We need those helicopters, and it is important that we keep trying to get them as soon as possible.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

Too many people have suffered too much for too long with too little done to help them in Darfur. Given that foot-stamping by the Sudanese Government has thus far acted as an effective veto on the necessary AU-UN troop deployment to the region, will the Under-Secretary of State tell the House, on a scale of one to 10, what she reckons is the likelihood that that necessary deployment will take place before the genocide of Darfurians has been completed?

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I know that the hon. Gentleman rightly takes a great interest in this issue, and we share his concern about the slow process of deployment. Some 10,000 people—7,000 of them troops—have already been deployed to Darfur, but we want more to happen, and more quickly. We have concerns about the Sudanese Government blocking part of the deployment, and we continue to press them about that. We also have concerns about the rebel groups' failure to take part in the political talks that must take place alongside the peacekeeping process.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Chair, Children, Schools and Families Committee

My hon. Friend's response to the earlier question was a little bleak and depressing for all of us who care about the continuing misery in Darfur. Is there no way ahead? Is there not even a way to have an intelligent dialogue with the Chinese to try and break the deadlock in Darfur?

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My hon. Friend raises an important point. The Chinese special representative for Sudan and Africa will meet my hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East later this week. Let us be clear: the Government are providing a great deal of support for the process. We have made available £1 million to the AU-UN joint mediation support team, and we are the second largest bilateral humanitarian donor to Sudan.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Given that only 9,000 of the promised 26,000 peacekeeping troops have been deployed in Darfur, and that more than 250,000 Darfuris have had to flee their homes in the past 10 months alone, does not the Minister accept that we need rather more than warm words and further meetings, and that our Government must show diplomatic leadership? Will the British Government now press for further sanctions against the Sudanese leadership if they continue to block the deployment of the full peacekeeping force? In addition, will our Government seek to impose an air exclusion zone so that the Sudanese can be prevented from using their aircraft to attack their own people?

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I do not accept the views that the hon. Gentleman is putting forward. We are taking a lead on the matter, and pressing very hard for a full deployment. As I am sure that he recognises, it is very important that other countries in the international community play their part and get involved. Further sanctions are, of course, an option, and tougher measures may be necessary if the Government of Sudan and the rebel groups continue to fail to co-operate.