HC Deb 14 October 2003 vol 411 cc16-7
11. Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries)

If he will make a statement on the situation in Liberia. [132008]

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

Liberia has suffered more than a decade of bloody civil war. There is now a comprehensive peace agreement; Charles Taylor has gone; and UN peacekeepers have been deployed. The new transitional national Government is being inaugurated today. We welcome those important steps, but there is still much work to be done.

Mr. Brown

I thank my hon. Friend for that response. I hope that he agrees that the degree of US military force that we witnessed during August was welcome. Is there anything that he can do to urge the Bush Administration to remain committed to the peace process in Liberia?

Mr. Mullin

My hon. Friend is right that the presence in August of United States troops, albeit mainly offshore, was very helpful in stabilising Liberia. We are in no doubt that the Americans remain committed. Indeed, they have made a substantial contribution to the costs of the humanitarian effort and of funding some of the other peace forces that are involved in the UN operation that has already started.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

The Minister will know that 15,000 UN troops are stationed in Liberia and that under the peace agreement elections should be held by 2005. Is it the intention to keep those troops, or a goodly proportion of them, in Liberia until the elections have been held?

Mr. Mullin

So far, there are only about 4,500 UN troops in Liberia, but their number should go up to about 15,000 by March next year. The intention is that all or most of them should be kept there until the country has stabilised.

Hugh Bayley (City of York)

What progress has been made on Kofi Annan's proposal to set up a college of peacekeeping studies in west Africa? Given that the plague of violence in west African states has spread, does my hon. Friend agree that the situation would be much better if the Economic Community of West African States was in a position to provide the region with peacekeeping troops of its own? What help will the British Government give to the initiative?

Mr. Mullin

The Kofi Annan proposal is going ahead; I believe that it will be based in Ghana. My hon. Friend is right that it is a very important initiative, because the conflicts in west Africa are ultimately a west African problem that can best be solved by the intervention of well-trained west African troops. He can be assured that we shall support the initiative.

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