HC Deb 10 February 1998 vol 306 cc128-9
4. Rev. Martin Smyth

What assessment he has made of progress of negotiations in Sudan. [26432]

Mr. Fatchett

The resumption of peace negotiations—on 30 October, in Kenya—between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Army under the sponsorship of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development is a significant step forward in the search for peace in Sudan and an end to the suffering of the Sudanese people. We understand that the negotiations focused on the two central issues of self-determination and the relationship between state and religion. Unfortunately, the talks were suspended on 11 November and are due to resume in April.

Rev. Martin Smyth

I appreciate the Minister's response. With him, I welcome movement in the negotiations but regret their suspension. Does he agree that there is also need for the Government to try to develop Sudan's infrastructure—particularly in the southern, western and northern parts of Sudan—and to ensure that aid sent by aid organisations outwith the country get to the places for which it was designed?

Mr. Fatchett

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is a need for that infrastructure development and a need to ensure that aid reaches those who are desperately in need. The best circumstances in which we can achieve those objectives will be achieved by ensuring that there is a peace settlement between the warring parties, which is why we have supported and will continue to support the IGAD initiatives.

Mr. Flynn

Has the Minister seen today's report by the charity Christian Solidarity International stating that tens of thousands of Christian children are held as slaves in northern Sudan? Is it not in itself a tragedy that the wars in that country, which have killed more people than have died in Rwanda, are unknown because they have not been observed by television cameras? Is it not time that we acted, in so far as we can, to use our influence in the area to establish peace and elementary standards of human rights?

Mr. Fatchett

My hon. Friend is right in saying that the events which he describes and which have been described by various organisations are a tragedy. The holding of young children by forces in the north of Sudan is more than a tragedy—it is an evil practice which I am sure that every hon. Member will condemn. I assure him that, through IGAD, we will do all that we can to help the peace negotiation process, which is crucial for everyone living in Sudan.

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