HL Deb 16 May 1994 vol 555 cc3-5

2.41 p.m.

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps are being taken by the UN Security Council to restore peace in Liberia and to implement the Cotonou Agreement.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, the Security Council, in its Resolution 911 of 21st April, urged the Liberian parties to implement the Cotonou Agreement. The council will review further the role of UNOMIL taking account of progress in the implementation of the agreement.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, when the Security Council meets on Wednesday to consider the current situation in Liberia, will it have before it the reports from the 300 military observers of UNOMIL; and if so, may we see them? Will those reports cover the activities of the so-called Liberian Peace Council which has been condemned by the US State Department for committing gross human rights abuses in the area that it controls? Will the Security Council be made aware that Dr. George Boley, the leader of the Liberian Peace Council, is actively recruiting mercenaries from an office in Monrovia itself, that he purchases weapons from ECOMOG commanders and that in the city of Buchanan he operates joint patrols under the protection of ECOMOG forces? Does this not indicate that ECOMOG itself is part of the problem, and should not the Security Council, either by changes in the command structure of ECOMOG or otherwise, see that it does not prolong the war but works for peace?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, it would not be normal for us to see the report sent to the Security Council, but I shall have a better idea of the detail of what is going on when we receive a report this week from our ambassador accredited to Cote d'Ivoire who is in Monrovia today. As far as the so-called Liberian Peace Council is concerned, we believe that it may well be another obstacle to peace, along with other non-signatories to the 1993 Cotonou Agreement. We have to wait to see the outcome of the review which is being carried out in two parts. The first will be considered by the Secretary General on Wednesday, as the noble Lord said, and then, if there has not been adequate progress, the Secretary General will be asked to prepare options regarding UNOMIL's mandate and continued operations. I note what the noble Lord says about George Boley and his operations in both Monrovia and Buchanan, and I shall look into the matter. I do not believe that it is right or fair to blame ECOMOG, which has basically created a good deal of the better situation—although it is still pretty awful— that now exists in Liberia.

Lord Rea

My Lords, does the noble Baroness feel that members of UNOMIL, the military observer force in Liberia representing the United Nations Security Council, are able to operate effectively? Does she agree that those observers, who are monitoring both the conflicting parties with a view to their implementing the Cotonou Agreement, and the activities of ECOMOG, the peace-keeping force supplied by other African countries, have a vital role to play in seeing that the conflict does not again break out and take the devastating proportions of a year or so ago?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. UNOMIL and ECOMOG have a very vital role to play. They are now deployed throughout Liberia. They are monitoring border crossings, airports and seaports. They are ready to supervise disarmament and the encampment of factions. However, needless to say in a situation where the ceasefire is patchy, although largely holding, the progress towards disarmament is slow. There are some pockets of fighting. We must continue, through ECOWAS and the UN, with confidence-building measures but, by and large, we must take a balanced view of the whole scene. I believe that that is what UNOMIL and ECOMOG are seeking to do.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does the Minister accept that we on this side of the House are encouraged by her undertaking to look at the possibility—I say no more —of collaboration between certain elements in the peacekeeping force and certain factions to the dispute? Looking to the need for a viable future, can the Minister indicate what steps might be taken, using the British Government's considerable influence in the region, to assist the process of forming a Liberian national army or security force embracing all the factions and with a clear ethnic balance to work alongside any external peacekeeping forces?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that it is absolutely crucial there is no build-up of weaponry among any groups, whether they be part of the Cotonou Agreement or not. The problem lies among those who are not part of the 1993 Cotonou Agreement. It is premature to talk of any assistance directly from us in forming a new Liberian national army until not only the cease-fire is holding but also the September elections have taken place and there is some sign of normality returning to that country.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, does the Minister recall that under Article 17 of the Cotonou Agreement, it was provided that the free flow of humanitarian aid should be facilitated to all parts of that country? Is she aware that one faction of Ulimo, that controlled by Mr. Roosevelt Johnson, is sitting astride the Monrovia-Kakata highway and blocking all deliveries of humanitarian aid to the interior? Cannot ECOMOG be pressed to force that faction to relieve the blockade and to allow humanitarian supplies to be delivered in accordance with the Cotonou Agreement?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am aware that humanitarian aid is now reaching over 1.5 million people on cross-line and cross-border routes. As the noble Lord said, there are some areas both in the south-east and in the north-east which are still inaccessible. We are ready to provide further aid, but there is no point until the inter-factional fighting can be halted. That is exactly what ECOMOG and others are seeking to do. We must take this step by step. As the noble Lord knows, it is not an easy region in which to work, but we are ready to give aid provided we can get it there.