HC Deb 21 November 2001 vol 375 cc304-6
5. Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury)

If she will make a statement on her recent meeting with the Presidents of Uganda and Rwanda. [14150]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short)

My recent meeting with the Presidents of Rwanda and Uganda was fruitful in reducing tension between the two countries. The two Presidents talked through the causes of the rising tension, then signed an understanding committing them to discourage dissidents from organising in each other's country and to undertake not to interfere in each other's internal affairs. They agreed to set up mechanisms to monitor the implementation of the agreement, with the UK acting as a third party. The Prime Minister joined the talks for a time. The agreement has begun to be implemented and tensions are already reducing.

Mr. O'Brien

As the Secretary of State will be aware, peace in the Congo is vital to the stability of Rwanda and Uganda; indeed, the refugee crisis in north-western Tanzania would be exacerbated if the conflict took root. Can she assure the House that she is looking carefully at discussions on aid to Rwanda and Uganda to help encourage their Presidents not to allow their tensions over the Congo to get out of hand?

Clare Short

I share the hon. Gentleman's concerns. If we are to get better development in Africa, we need to resolve a lot of conflicts. The conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country as big as western Europe, is sucking in six neighbouring countries. A mineral-rich country, if properly governed, could be an engine of growth and development in Africa; it is essential to implement the Lusaka peace accords.

Rwanda is currently in the DRC because people responsible for the Rwandan genocide are still trying to get back to Rwanda and complete it. It is essential that we encourage the Kabila Government to pursue disarmament of those negative forces so that we get peace and development for the whole region. However, I agree that we must prevent tension between Uganda and Rwanda from rising, as that could drive the whole process backwards.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

In considering the great problems in Rwanda, will my right hon. Friend explain what other help is being given to east African countries like Tanzania, which has a huge refugee problem arising from the disturbances in Rwanda and, of course, in Burundi?

Clare Short

As my hon. Friend said, Tanzania has many refugees—300,000, I think, or something similar. A desperately poor country is playing host to lots of refugees because of the conflict in Burundi in particular and instability in the great lakes region in general. Tanzania has recently being doing well on reform; its completion date for debt relief is due to go to the boards of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank today and is likely to be approved. Despite its refugees burden, Tanzania, I am glad to say, is moving forward; the United Kingdom is supporting it in its big reform efforts.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

Does the Secretary of State not share our concern about the recent United Nations report which said that the increase by the Government in aid to countries like Rwanda and Uganda was being used to ensure that those countries did not spend money on the services that the Government should properly be funding, and asked whether those savings were being mis-spent on funding warlike approaches? Is there not a genuine concern that UK taxpayers' money is being misused for war? What is the Secretary of State going to do about that?

Clare Short

I am glad to inform the House that there is no such concern. The House should be proud that after—[Interruption.] It is difficult to hear what is being said in the Chamber. After the terrible genocide in Rwanda, during which nearly 1 million people were killed in the course of a few months by machete, under orders, and the UN was withdrawn rather than acting to protect the country, there was a massive refugee exodus and the country was left with nothing.

The UK has been engaged in helping Rwanda to rebuild its national institutions and to drive forward reconciliation. Rwanda needs an end to the war in the Congo. It therefore needs the disarmament and demobilisation of the forces of the genocide, which are trying to get back into Rwanda to complete the genocide. We all need to put pressure on all the parties to implement the Lusaka peace accords—including the Kabila Government in Kinshasa, who are arming and supporting the forces that are invading Rwanda and Burundi and holding back the peace process.

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