Sudan — Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:07 pm on 7 February 2011.

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Photo of Baroness Cox Baroness Cox Crossbench 3:07, 7 February 2011

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their assessment of recent developments in Sudan.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy)

My Lords, the Southern Sudan referendum is a momentous step towards the implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement. A formal announcement of results is expected later this afternoon. President Bashir has today issued a decree accepting the referendum result, which provisionally shows an overwhelming majority for secession. We welcome the continuing commitment of the Government of Sudan. We will support north and south as they work on the remaining comprehensive peace agreement issues. We continue to support efforts to establish a lasting peace for Darfur.

Photo of Baroness Cox Baroness Cox Crossbench

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that very warm and encouraging reply. Would he agree that it is appropriate today to send very best wishes to the peoples of Southern Sudan as they celebrate that overwhelming mandate for independence announced today and to congratulate all who worked very hard to make arrangements for the referendum in very challenging circumstances? Is the Minister aware that the people living in the Nuba mountains or southern Kordofan were offered only a consultation? When I was there last year they said that they were so worried for their future under Khartoum that they might have to resort to war to fight for their own freedom, which would clearly be very destabilising for Southern Sudan. What is being done to address the needs of the people of the Nuba mountains, and especially their concerns about religious freedom, humanitarian aid and their African culture?

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy)

Certainly we welcome all the congratulations coming from around the world on what is the birth of a new nation. The noble Baroness is absolutely right about that, and she is right to point to the outstanding issues that remain. Not all problems have been solved by this referendum, particularly in relation to the areas that have worries about their relationship with the north while they remain politically under northern control. I think that she mentioned-if she did not, she will forgive me-southern Kordofan and the Nuba mountain regions. There are also the Blue Nile regions and the region of Abyei. All those regions desire to have their rights respected-their property rights respected and their political impulses respected-and all of them have yet to see a way through the necessary consultations. Those consultations will be within the framework of the comprehensive agreement, and we will work very hard with the United Nations to ensure that all the rights needed are respected.

Photo of Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

My Lords, will the Minister tell us exactly what part the UK is playing in the negotiations taking place to deal with Sudan's debts of $35 billion? Is it fair that south Sudan should inherit the debt which was incurred by the north of Sudan? Is the Minister aware of new figures which reveal that up to 90 per cent of the Sudanese debt owed to the UK is actually interest?

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy)

These are matters that have not yet been settled. As I said just now, there are a number of practical issues that have to be worked out. I cannot give the noble Baroness the precise detail of where the financial discussions have got to, but obviously, in as far as we are affected in the way that she described, we shall have to work out the best and fairest arrangement between the two countries. We think that these things can be done, but we have certainly not got to the point of solution yet.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, I welcome the historic announcement that has been delivered from the Dispatch Box today. However, will the Minister touch again on the situation in Abyei to which he referred a moment ago, and on the Foreign Secretary's recent statement reflecting on the violence between the Misseriya tribesmen and the Sudan People's Liberation Army and the massive influx of armaments and weapons into that area? Does he agree that a reduction in the armaments levels and the removal of the militias from those areas is perhaps a prerequisite for a lasting peace? Can he also tell us something about the architecture which will be put in place to bring about the right of self-determination of the people of Abyei, who have been excluded from the comprehensive peace agreement and from the referendum?

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy)

I cannot offer the noble Lord an immediate pattern of solution to the situation. As he knows well, and as your Lordships will know, there has been no referendum in that area. There has been a demand for the people of that area to have a say. There are some quite substantial implications in terms of oil resources in the area-about 10 per cent of the oil resources of Sudan as a whole. I can only repeat what I said earlier. We will work very closely with the UN to see that consultations within the framework of the CPA are pushed forward and that the wishes and rights of the people of this region, like those of the other regions I mentioned, are fully respected.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the Blue Nile consultations are going ahead very well but that in southern Kordofan they have not even started? Is there not a difficulty in holding a consultation in a state where the governor is wanted by the International Criminal Court?

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy)

Yes, there are such difficulties, and I do not think that they can be disguised. As I mentioned earlier, there are difficulties in south Kordofan, the Nuba mountains and the Blue Nile region, and we will have to work very hard to see those overcome. I am personally encouraged, as I hope that your Lordships and my noble friend will be, by the tone taken in Khartoum about the outcome of the referendum and by the very substantial willingness of all parties to reach agreement on the very difficult boundary and border issues which any partition-any secession-is bound to raise. These were certainly raised.