HL Deb 26 April 1995 vol 563 cc913-5

2.45 p.m.

Viscount Waverley asked Her Majesty's Government:

What contribution they are proposing to make to peace-keeping measures in Burundi.

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

My Lords, we are giving our strong support to action by the UN, the EU, the OAU and other regional parties to help resolve the conflict in Burundi peacefully. The EU plans to give help with the deployment of UN human rights experts and OAU military observers. We continue to follow developments closely and an FCO officer in Bujumbura will augment the coverage provided by our mission in Kampala.

Viscount Waverley

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that realistic reply. But are the policies deemed to be working? Is it not high time that a regional conference be brokered to seek political solutions through dialogue to the full range of political, economic and social issues confronting that region?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, it is fair to say that even in the very confused situation which still exists in many parts of Burundi, some of the measures are working, but they are by no means working universally. As I said in a statement which I made this morning about the region, and in particular about Rwanda, there really is a role for the regional governments to support the peace process. That is what we have been encouraging through the OAU, the UN and with our EU partners. We need to see a system where people talk out rather than fight out their differences.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, is the problem in Burundi as important as that in Rwanda? What does my noble friend the Minister intend to do with regard to Rwanda?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the resolution of the problems of Burundi would obviously help to create a greater stability in the whole region. I have no doubt that in Rwanda the prime problem is that of promoting national reconciliation. That is why the states of the area—Tanzania, Uganda, Zaire, Burundi and Rwanda—all have a key role to play. It is essential also that any flow of arms from neighbouring states should be stopped. The UN must really help us to concentrate on that if we are to prevent any repetition of the horrors which we saw a year ago in Rwanda and, indeed, the smaller but just as terrifying situation which we saw last Saturday.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, given the importance of taking urgent action in Burundi to prevent the kind of slaughter which took place last week in Rwanda, will the Minister elaborate a little on what she said about European Union collaboration in Burundi? For example, will she say whether the European Union is now reinforcing the deployment of OAU military observers on the ground? Will she tell the House precisely how many human rights experts the EU has now sent to Burundi? Finally, what assistance is being provided to improve the administration of justice and the police? Is the Minister satisfied that is adequate?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, perhaps I may answer the last question first. I am not yet satisfied that the measures are adequate. I believe that there are some 65 monitors in total in Burundi, some of whom were supplied by the European Union. But it is quite clear from the discussions at the Foreign Minister's meeting at Carcassone on 19th March and from the debate in the Foreign Affairs Council on 10th April that all our partners are as concerned as we are to see a resolution.

It is critical that we must help to provide both the Governments of Burundi and Rwanda, because the two really go together, with human rights experts to give them support for the administration of justice and the police. The noble Baroness will remember that Britain was the first country to provide support to the Government of Rwanda after the tragedies of last year to get the justice system started again.

Judge Goldstone will lead the investigations but more justices will be needed in both countries. Getting the system back in operation is very difficult and needs to be done on the ground. We are working at that. I hope to write to the noble Baroness shortly with more information.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, bearing in mind the very unfortunate incident which took place last Saturday and to which reference has been made, is the Minister satisfied that adequate military forces are present in both Rwanda and Burundi to prevent a recurrence of conflict between the peoples of those countries? Further, what steps have been taken to accept or to consider the offer that has been made by the OAU countries to provide additional forces, provided that the United Nations is willing to pay for them?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I can only tell the noble Lord that I believe the incident was much more than unfortunate; indeed, I think it was a tragedy that took place in Rwanda last Saturday. However, we must keep it in perspective. We certainly do not believe that anything like some of the numbers quoted have been killed—perhaps the number is somewhere between 1,200 and 1,500. Still, every one is one too many.

However, to stop the conflict in an area full of arms, we know that one needs many people to calm down such a situation. UNAMIR has a limited mandate which falls due for renewal this June and it will be for all the members of the Security Council to consider not just having a resolution but also actually putting numbers behind it. We have already given a considerable amount of help both to the OAU and, indeed, to the UN operation in the area. We have spent nearly £91 million since April of last year to try to bring about peace, to keep people alive and to plot the way forward. But there is a great deal more to be done. I shall keep your Lordships well informed about developments.

The Lord Bishop of Lichfield

My Lords, as the Minister referred to the deep need for national reconciliation, is she satisfied that, within the Commonwealth, the neighbouring territory of Uganda (which has experienced massacre and loss of life for more than 20 years) is sufficiently pro-actively involved to bring healing to its neighbour?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate knows that there is a problem in that respect. The Ugandans are seen by some in Rwanda and Burundi to be on one side rather than totally in favour, as I know them to be, of national reconciliation in the region. Therefore, it is most important that all the countries in the region, especially Tanzania and Zaire which have received so many refugees, are also involved alongside Uganda in promoting national reconciliation.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, the problems of Burundi and Rwanda are closely related. Can the Minister now say whether a chargé d'affaires will continue to be based in Kigali, Rwanda, for the foreseeable future? In asking that question I should declare an interest as I am heavily involved in an NGO in Rwanda.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am glad to be able to tell the noble Earl that we do indeed hope to keep the chargé d'affaires in Kigali and also to have a mission in Bujumbura so that we are working on the ground as well as through the first-class, British non-governmental organisations which are already very active in both countries.