Somalia

– in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 9th November 2004.

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Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Shadow Minister, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs 2:30 pm, 9th November 2004

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to further the peace process in Somalia.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, my colleague, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister for Africa, Chris Mullin, met the Somali transitional president in Nairobi on 20 October and the head of the Somaliland authorities in Hargeisa on 23 October. He encouraged both parties to engage in an early dialogue with each other to reject military solutions to the resolution of differences and to demonstrate a commitment to mutual respect, reconciliation and peace.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Shadow Minister, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs

My Lords, I warmly welcome the efforts that Mr Mullin has made in the region in his visits to Somalia and Somaliland, and in his press conference with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and President Abdullahi Yusuf in Addis Ababa, but are not new efforts required in the light of the aggression by Puntland, the former territory of the president, against neighbouring Somaliland and the occupation of part of that territory by the militias? What steps will either we or the international community take through the United Nations Security Council to put an end to this aggression?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his kind words about Chris Mullin, which are well deserved. On 29 October we received reports about the outbreaks of fighting on the border between Somaliland and Puntland, to which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred. Staff at our embassy in Addis Ababa are urgently trying to clarify what the situation on the ground really is. We urge both sides to show restraint and to cease hostilities. As for the international community, I understand that the United Nations believes that it is important to stay engaged on this issue and to support the transitional federal government, and it is seeking to do so through appropriate channels.

Photo of Baroness Rawlings Baroness Rawlings Shadow Minister, International Affairs

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that Somalia's mothers, because of all the troubles, are suffering an alarming healthcare crisis? According to the World Health Organisation, obstructed labour in childbirth, with its side-effects, accounts for a third of all maternal deaths. Even UNICEF estimates that as many as 97 per cent of the women are affected. Can the Minister say what steps Her Majesty's Government are taking to address this issue?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right. Instability combined with the difficulties of the climate mean that Somalia suffers from some of the worst socio-economic indicators anywhere in the world. The malnutrition rates for children are running at around 15 per cent and the child mortality rate is one in four, which is extraordinarily high. The Department for International Development is in the final stages of drawing together a country engagement plan which identifies a number of areas on which to focus, including health and education, issues around HIV/AIDS and the all-important issues around conflict prevention, which often are the root cause of some of these difficulties.

Photo of Baroness Falkner of Margravine Baroness Falkner of Margravine Liberal Democrat

My Lords, in light of the Minister for Africa's commitment of 22 October to help to disarm Somali militia, have Her Majesty's Government asked the United Nations for an investigation into reports that Abdullahi Yusuf has imported weapons from the Yemen, contrary to the UN embargo?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I do not believe that a direct approach of that nature has been made, but, as I am sure the noble Baroness will understand, the fact that Somalia has been without an effective, functioning government since the fall of Siad Barre in 1991 means that many parts of the country have been largely anarchic and that there are frequent outbreaks of violence. It is very difficult to tell what is going on the ground; indeed, we do not have a mission there because there has not been a recognised government for so long. Issues surrounding terrorism and the way in which the country may attract the passage of illicit weaponry are very much at the top of the agenda of my honourable friend Mr Mullin.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, in pursuing the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, does the Minister agree that conflict, the violence and the communal fratricide taking place in Somalia, Sudan, the Congo and throughout that part of Africa have already been responsible for the deaths of millions of people and for the destabilisation of the region? Does she further agree that unless we can stop the flow of arms and weapons into that part of the world, development will be almost impossible and that poverty, AIDS relief and all other related questions will be extraordinarily difficult to tackle while conflict remains unresolved?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I strongly agree with that; indeed, I spoke yesterday at a conference dealing with the way in which we might restrict the flow of weapons around the world, including the small arms that cause so much damage. Sometimes we tend to concentrate on the big weaponry, but it is often the small weapons that do so much damage. Somalia is a particular case, simply because it has had no functioning government for so long. Given that there has been a change with the transitional government, there may be a way forward. There does at least seem to be a willingness to engage and a possibility of real dialogue in future, both between the factions within Somalia and with Somaliland. The noble Lord is quite right—conflict prevention runs at the root of these issues.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Shadow Minister, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs

My Lords, given that the peace process in Nairobi was not complete, will the Minister consider asking the African Union whether it might invite the faction leaders to a meeting in Addis Ababa or elsewhere at which they might agree on a new measure to halt all fighting so that President Yusuf could return to his own country?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I did not catch the first part of the noble Lord's question, but I think that he was saying that the peace process was not working. I take issue with that, if that was the purport of his question. We believe that the current transitional federal government may offer one of the best chances for some time for moving forward on the peace agenda. My honourable friend Mr Mullin, when he was in the region, felt that in Somaliland real progress was being made and he also felt that the willingness to engage among the leaders of Somalia that he met gave some hope that these issues would move forward.