HC Deb 14 May 2002 vol 385 cc637-8
8. Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk, West)

What recent discussions he has had on the peace process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. [54375]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Denis MacShane)

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to his French and Belgian counterparts about the peace process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on 23 April and visited the region earlier this year.

Mr. Joyce

Will my hon. Friend join me in commending the work of the Association of Western European Parliamentarians for Africa, of which my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) was a founder member? The AWEPA works towards the development of parliamentary democracies in parts of Africa that do not have them—notably, at the moment, the DRC and the surrounding countries. The association receives limited funding from some European countries, but none from the United Kingdom. Would the Government consider extending modest financial support to its efforts?

Mr. MacShane

I shall pass on that request to my noble Friend Baroness Amos, the Minister with responsibility for Africa. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the need to build democratic and parliamentary links, but we should also note that sub-Saharan Africa now has largely democratic Governments—with the notable exception of Zimbabwe—and that is a step in the right direction.

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk)

Does the Minister agree that the role of Zimbabwe in the DRC is simply helping to extend the conflict? Does he also agree that, unless President Mugabe withdraws his logistical and military influence, there is little chance of peace? What work are the British Government doing with the UN special representative to the DRC and with our friends in southern Africa to bring pressure to bear to stop this damaging involvement?

Mr. MacShane

The simple answers to those questions are yes, yes and a lot. The work is exemplified by the visit of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to the region, and his constant contact with our European and other partners. Our commitment to NEPAD—the New Partnership for Africa's Development—means that, possibly for the first time in a generation, this Government are focusing on Africa in its totality. Restoring democracy to Zimbabwe is undoubtedly one of the big challenges that we all face.

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow)

What is my hon. Friend's assessment of the UN Security Council's recent decision to deploy troops from Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda along the eastern border of the Congo? May I draw to his attention the fact that, if we had that same troops—to—land ratio in the Congo—where 2.5 million people have died in the last three years alone—we would be looking at 10 million UN peacekeepers? Although that is totally out of the question, will the British Government none the less ensure that there will be a viable force to end the bloodshed in that region?

Mr. MacShane

My hon. Friend's personal commitment to and knowledge of the region are second to none in the House—and, I suspect, in the rest of SW1. She will know that the Congo is gripped by three major conflicting parties, all willing to commit themselves to using arms. What we are working for is a peace agreement. President Mbeki is in London today; he is one of those acting as facilitators in an attempt to bring the parties together.

The peace agreement must be followed by effective deployment of troops, and, much more important, by economic investment enabling this tragic region to devote its heart and energies to a better material future for its people.

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