Sudan: United Nations Peacekeeping

– in the House of Lords at 11:28 am on 2nd February 2006.

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Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, the United Kingdom welcomes the African Union's recent agreement in principle that the AU's mission in Darfur, AMIS, should be handed over to the United Nations. We are urging the AU to take that decision as soon as possible to allow the UN to begin the necessary planning. AMIS has been a success in difficult circumstances. We will continue to support AMIS during the remainder of its mission and to do what we can to facilitate an early and successful handover to the United Nations.

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Spokesperson in the Lords, International Development, Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and welcome the action by the Secretary-General to bring Sudan very much back on to the international agenda. Killings and rapes are continuing as we speak. What are the implications of the establishment of a UN peacekeeping operation for the African Union's role in peacekeeping? Will that continue? What will happen elsewhere on that? The involvement of the AU in such a way was a very welcome development, even though it was clearly insufficiently funded and insufficient in Sudan. Are the British Government contemplating any contribution to the UN peacekeeping force? If so, what form would that take?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, the African Union itself and its sub-regional rapid response military units are in a stage of good development. That is certainly true of western Africa and the SADC countries in the south, although not, for obvious reasons, the Horn of Africa. I do not think that the African Union feels that it has done less than it should or that it feels slighted that the United Nations will take on a greater role. As to the composition of United Nations troops in the event of a blue-hatted operation taking over, there has been no decision about that, including from the United Kingdom.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour

My Lords, is the Minister confident that the United Nations has fully learnt the lessons of the tragedy of Rwanda in 1994? In any event, will not the major component of any UN force continue to come from the region? Is that not appropriate? What continuing form of assistance—technical, logistical and training—do we propose to give to the African Union?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, everybody has learnt from the tragic lessons of Rwanda. There is no doubt in my mind that the preparation of the African Union, at continental and regional level, has drawn on those lessons. I also share the view that a UN force is bound to have a significant contribution from Africa; I cannot imagine how it would work on any other basis. In all of these cases, the development of those forces will be assisted by logistics, training, good command and control and, indeed, the European Union trying to ensure that that is funded.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs, Deputy Leader, Parliament, Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, is there a peace to keep in this situation, where there has been the most hideous bloodshed, which appears to be continuing? Secondly, could the Minister clarify the UN role in this? Mr Kofi Annan delivered a fine address here in London on Monday evening, which perhaps the Minister heard, in which he mentioned these points. Many people felt that the African Union itself already had a UN mandate, so that the proposal for a new UN force would presumably embrace some of the activities of the African Union. Are they completely separate operations? Has the African Union really decided to hand the whole thing over? I think that this needs clarifying, because many people, myself included, are very confused.

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, I hope that I can assist with some of the confusion; I shall certainly try. The peace is very fragile and the position in western Sudan, in Darfur, has deteriorated even more so since the beginning of 2006. There has to be a solution, not just in peacekeeping on the ground but in the political negotiations in Abuja. That is vital. This will only be finally resolved by a political solution. The UN is playing a role in Abuja as, of course, is the African Union. I feel that AMIS, which was mandated by the African Union itself, was a mission that could be handed over, given its mandate, to the United Nations. I hope, from my experience of Sudan, that the mandate will be adapted slightly to ensure that United Nations forces, were they to be introduced, could pursue the objectives of peacekeeping more vigorously than the African Union has been able to.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Spokesperson in the Lords (With Special Responsibility for Africa), Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Civil Liberties), Home Affairs

My Lords, does the noble Lord think that the mandate should be extended to allow the UN force to pursue aggressively the elements of the militias that are still taking out villages and raping and killing civilians in the region? Furthermore, can the noble Lord say where the 20,000 troops needed for the mission are to come from, bearing in mind that we are now scouring Europe to provide enough troops for the ISAF 9 mission in Afghanistan? Is it possible that the African Union troops who are already there will form the core of the new UN force? If so, could they not be provided with the extra funds and logistics, the lack of which has hindered the effectiveness of their operation so far?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, it is too early to speculate about where the troops will come from, but I accept the proposition that anything that we can do to assist the African Union further to improve its operations—command and control, logistics, lines of supply and so forth—needs to be done now. In any event, there will be a period during which the union continues to be the key force. That, I think, is how we have to look at it.

On the question of the mandate, many argue from the justifiable position that the mandate currently in place could be far more fully exploited and to beneficial effect. I have just observed that it could probably benefit from some further modification. I would be happy if I could tell the House that the current mandate was being fully utilised, because it certainly permits the pursuit of those who are involved in making active and aggressive attacks on civilians.

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench

My Lords, will the Government seek to establish a no-fly zone over Darfur? Could that not be quite easily enforced from existing airfields in Chad using a small number of aircraft?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, the Government of Sudan by agreement are not deploying their Antonov bombers any longer. There are helicopter movements, broadly speaking because there are no roads and that is the only way in which troops can be moved around at all. We are trying to encourage the Government of Sudan to move their own troops to stop the Janjaweed militias going around and murdering people as well. A delicate balance needs to be struck. However, at the moment it would be difficult to suggest that anyone could seriously or securely use Chad. The present aim is to ensure that further conflict does not break out in Chad and then spill across all her neighbouring borders.

Photo of Baroness Tonge Baroness Tonge Liberal Democrat

My Lords, can I inject a sense of urgency into this? The terrible suffering of the people of Darfur has gone on for almost two years, while the international community has dithered about what to do. How long will it take to set up a UN force, if it is agreed, and what will happen to the people of Darfur in the mean time?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, I accept that the international response has not produced the outcome for the people of Darfur that we all wish to see, but it is not right to say that there is no sense of urgency or that too little has been done in many respects. This is the first major African Union exercise of its kind. It is a great credit to the union, particularly in the establishment, for example, of viable policing in areas where there are displaced people. Some real successes have been gained. However, I accept that those successes are not adequate, and it is consideration of the problems that leads to the conclusion that the United Nations has to take a more direct role, along with the African Union's acceptance of that conclusion.