HC Deb 10 July 1996 vol 281 cc385-7
3. Mr. Turner

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had with his EU partners about the situation in Burundi. [35163]

Mr. Rifkind

We and our European partners are deeply concerned about the situation in Burundi and support the efforts of ex-President Nyerere to negotiate an agreement between the parties.

Mr. Turner

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. He will be aware of the atrocities and genocide taking place in Burundi. Some 100 people a day are losing their lives and 150,000 people have died in the past three years. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that the British Government will take firm action in support, and with the support, of the international community? Will he guarantee that they will not allow Burundi to suffer the same fate as Rwanda suffered and that we shall have international action now?

Mr. Rifkind

No one could be indifferent to the hundreds of thousands of people massacred in Rwanda. We are all conscious that comparable risks exist today in Burundi. That calls for effective preventive diplomacy to try to anticipate those concerns. At this stage, we must take action by both diplomatic and other means to ensure that such ghastly atrocities are not repeated. Much good work is being done, and the United Kingdom will certainly play its part in the diplomatic and other efforts currently being made.

Mr. Wilkinson

Is it not a sad fact that Burundi cannot look to the EU for effective succour? Is not the EU's projected draft budget for humanitarian and food aid set to drop by 1 per cent. this year, whereas the projected budget for Commission administration will rise by 5 per cent., the Mediterranean countries' budget will rise by no less than 48 per cent., and the common agricultural policy, which keeps out the food of primary producing countries, is set to rise by 2.48 per cent.? Those are hardly the priorities that will help Burundi.

Mr. Rifkind

I agree with the general thrust of my hon. Friend's point. Burundi's main requirement at the moment, however, is not economic help but help of another kind. I endorse the view that the European Union must readjust its priorities to the real needs of those it tries to help.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

The Foreign Secretary is right when he says that Burundi's needs at the moment are not economic, but may I remind him that, when Rwanda drifted into genocide, the world stood back and let it happen? Words are not enough in this case. The Foreign Secretary has already given some credit to the efforts of former President Nyerere. Do the British Government actively support the peace initiative of the Organisation of African Unity and the possibility of a military force entering Burundi? What practical steps are Her Majesty's Government taking to ensure that, at United Nations level, practical action is taken that will make a real difference on the ground? In Rwanda, such action was lacking.

Mr. Rifkind

We welcome the action of any responsible persons or organisations that might help in this process. We believe that any major international initiative should be under the authority of the United Nations, but there are various ways in which that authority could be provided.

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