HC Deb 05 February 2002 vol 379 cc726-8
8. Tony Cunningham (Workington)

If he will make a statement about his recent visit to the Great Lakes region. [30488]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw)

My recent visit to the Great Lakes with my French counterpart, Hubert Védrine, reinforced our joint commitment to the Lusaka peace process. We made clear to all sides the need for progress in enforcing all Security Council resolutions and for full co-operation with the United Nations mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Tony Cunningham

I thank my right hon. Friend for finding the time to visit the Great Lakes area of Africa. I am sure that he is aware that the war that has been going on in the Congo for four years has cost the lives of 2.5 million people. Two million more are displaced, and something like 65 per cent. of the population—that is, 35 million people—are still undernourished. What are the British Government doing to try to bring this terrible conflict to an end?

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those remarks. He is right to draw attention to the scale of the suffering in the Great Lakes region, because this is the world's worst conflict. The genocide and starvation that have been suffered in the region are almost beyond record. We are working very carefully with France and Belgium—which has historic links with the DRC—as well as with the United Nations to see whether we can advance progress on the Lusaka peace process. Indeed, this was the purpose of my trip. There is a clear framework for peace there, and up to now—in fairness to that framework—it has led to a relative ceasefire for the last year.

A great deal more progress has to be made, however, and one of the things that Mr. Védrine and I undertook to do while we were in the four countries that we visited was to see what initial steps could be taken for the safe transfer of 1,800 former rebel troops who are being held at Kamina, in the DRC, to Rwanda. Sadly, we were not able to achieve that while we were there, but if we could do so, we would be able to unblock many of the other problems relating to confidence in military co-operation that lie in the way of a permanent settlement.

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk)

In recognising the need for African countries to assume leadership over pan-African problems, with our help and encouragement, did the right hon. Gentleman discuss the new partnership for Africa's development during his visit? What practical support is he giving to the partnership's goals for conflict resolution, for improved environments for trade and investment, and for better governance in Africa?

Mr. Straw

We did indeed discuss the new partnership for Africa, which will be a major theme of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's visit to west Africa this week. Since 1997, this Government have done a huge amount to advance a strategy for the development and reconstruction of Africa, including making major increases in development aid under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development. She and I, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, work closely together in a Cabinet Committee that I chair to ensure that diplomatic, aid and military efforts are effectively co-ordinated to prevent conflict, or, where conflict occurs—as in Sierra Leone—better and more quickly to resolve it.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his recent visit to the Great Lakes region. Does he share my sense of frustration that this conflict, which he suggested was the worst on the planet, has been given so little attention either in Europe or in the United States? Will he acknowledge the need for all the world to get involved in resolving this conflict? Britain has extraordinary influence in Rwanda and Uganda, and we should be telling those countries' Governments that fighting proxy wars in other people's territories is simply unacceptable in this century.

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. The problem, however, has been not a lack of attention from the United States or from European countries, but—to put it bluntly—the fact that it has been possible for some countries and rebel groups to play off France and Belgium against the United Kingdom. The reason my trip with Mr. Védrine was so important was that we were able to develop a common strategy. It was, therefore, much easier to ensure that Mr. Védrine was giving the hard messages to President Kabila in the DRC, while I was giving the hard messages to Presidents Kagame and Museveni in Rwanda and Uganda.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon)

I am sure that the Foreign Secretary was right to focus on humanitarian issues on that recent and important visit, but did he give time to allow the Governments of those countries to make representations on the changes that this Government are making to the Commonwealth Development Corporation, which appear—I emphasise that—to place short-term profits in high-tech corporation industries above long-term jobs for people in many African countries who live in abject poverty?

Mr. Straw

I am sure that that is not the case and not remotely the intention of my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for International Development, but the hon. Gentleman will not object too much if I gently observe that there is always room for sinners to repent. This afternoon's repentance—against privatisation and in favour of public ownership—is much to be welcomed.

Back to
Forward to