HC Deb 12 May 2004 vol 421 cc344-5
7. Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab)

If he will make a statement on the peace process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. [172241]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn)

Conflict resolution in Africa is a key priority for the UK Government. We continue to be actively engaged with our African, EU and UN partners in promoting the peace process in the great lakes region, and in supporting the transitional national Government in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which was installed in June last year—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. There are important matters before the House. Hon. Members should be quiet.

Hilary Benn

This is a major step forward for peace and stability. We also continue to work for improved relations between DRC and its neighbours, which is critical to peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Mr. Chaytor

In the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, more than 3 million people were killed and almost 3.5 million people were displaced. This is a conflict in which cannibalism and rape were used as weapons of war. What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the incidence of HIV/AIDS as a result of the conflict, and what steps is he taking to deal with this problem in the DRC?

Hilary Benn

My hon. Friend is right to characterise what has happened in the DRC in that way. It is for that reason that it has been described as Africa's hidden first world war. HIV/AIDS is a problem, and part of the programme that we are undertaking involves work on dealing with the HIV/AIDS epidemic. However, the single biggest challenge that the DRC faces is for the transitional Government to establish in the minds of the people the idea of a state, and the idea that there might be something called government that could have something to offer to the people of a country that has never had a Government. Now is therefore the moment for the international community to come in and support the transitional Government, and that is why the UK's aid programme in the DRC is increasing substantially.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)

It so often appears that Africa is the forgotten continent when it comes to the international community's response. Will the Secretary of State use the good offices of the British Government to get the UN to take the problems of Africa in general, and the Congo in particular, far more seriously, and to put some energy into resolving conflicts and establishing the good governance for which that continent is crying out?

Hilary Benn

I do not think that there is a shortage of energy, effort or interest in that regard. Indeed, the most important development that has taken place in recent years has involved the energy, effort and interest shown by the countries of Africa themselves through the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa's Development. If the right hon. Gentleman looks at the work that Said Djinnit, the peace and security commissioner, is now undertaking on the peace and security protocol, at the force that is in Burundi, at the work that has been done to put troops into Liberia, and at the effort being made to deploy monitors in Darfur, he will see that they are all signs of the steps that need to be taken. They also demonstrate that Africa is now acting to help itself, which is something that the whole House will welcome.

Back to
Forward to