Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:59 pm on 15th January 2004.

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Photo of Baroness Rawlings Baroness Rawlings Conservative 1:59 pm, 15th January 2004

My Lords, I warmly congratulate my noble friend Lady Cox on securing this timely debate on the situation in Sudan, and add my tributes for all the marvellous work that she does to those made by other noble Lords today. As I said before, and I will say again, it is especially important that we discuss the situation in Sudan regularly, because, as many of your Lordships have pointed out, it is extremely volatile and is subject to almost weekly change. There is no doubt that everyone is delighted by steps towards peace in a country that has been dominated by a civil war for the past 20 years. We welcome the agreement to share government revenues, particularly from oil, as we heard from the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, as well as the planned new authority in the south of the country.

The situation in Sudan has come a long way. We congratulate all those involved in bringing the agreement about. For the Islamist regime now to say that it is prepared to allow more freedom of religion and to let the south hold a referendum on succession in six years' time, along with power sharing, is a significant shift. However, there are still vital issues that, if left neglected, could undo all the progress made so far. I speak of the regions ignored by the agreement. First, the agreement fails to express clearly how the marginal areas of the Southern Blue Nile, the Nuba mountains and the Abyei will be governed, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. What steps are being taken to ensure that these area interests are represented and will come under the new authority? Of course, the most significant of ignored regions is Darfur, as mentioned by my noble friend Lady Cox, and most other noble Lords.

Conflict in the three states of Darfur in western Sudan has brought a huge humanitarian crisis to the Chadian border. Fighting continues in this region, which is excluded from the agreement signed the other day. According to the UN World Food Programme, it has caused the displacement of around 1 million people, about 95,000 refugees, including up to 30,000 during December, who have fled fighting between the forces loyal to the government in Khartoum and the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement, as well as tribal and ethnic clashes.

The UN has recently launched an emergency appeal for 11 million dollars to cover the food needs of 60,000 of the most vulnerable Sudanese refugees. Will the Minister tell us what contribution HMG will make to this fund? What other support are they providing to try to prevent worsening of the humanitarian crisis? As well as the refugees in Chad, there are 1 million internally displaced people. Killings and damage to land contribute to this year's poor agricultural production, despite earlier promises of a satisfactory yield. The situation in the south of Darfur is apparently especially precarious due to the desert environment of the area.

On Monday 12 January, the UN reported that the needs of the Darfur region could not be met due to insecurity. A spokesman said that only 15 per cent of the people are in areas accessible by the UN. The prolific supply of small arms, increased banditry have led to a complete breakdown in law and order on the ground. Meanwhile, the UN Children's Fund has reported growing numbers of displaced children working as domestic labour, prostitutes and beggars. It has been reported too that the Sudanese Government are not fully protecting the lives and property of relief workers in the Darfur region, let alone its citizens. This will be the end of the tentative steps to peace in Sudan unless it is immediately addressed. I hope that the noble Baroness will tell us in winding up what Her Majesty's Government are planning to do about the continued problems in Darfur and its integration into the rest of Sudan.

Christian Aid, among other NGOs, has expressed a particular concern regarding the effective verification and monitoring of the agreement, including ceasefire arrangements. There are still unconfirmed reports of fighting in south Sudan, including attacks on the oil fields. Will the Minister tell the House what action or plans Her Majesty's Government are undertaking to support the monitoring of the situation, and what measures are in place to bring parties to account if they do so breach the agreements?

Now that there is an agreement in at least part of Sudan, what measures are being taken to implement and support a thorough survey of the condition of the country? We are particularly worried that the devastating spread of HIV/AIDS, the displacement of large numbers of people, and the rape that tends to accompany warfare, will have created ideal conditions for the further rapid and widespread transmission of the virus. This support, as we have seen, can significantly affect a country's ability to get back on its feet.

I have touched on but some of the main points surrounding the situation in Sudan as a whole. Darfur continues to be a critical issue that cannot be ignored. It undermines the great steps forward taken in the current agreement, and places at risk the future development and reduction of poverty in the country as a whole.