HL Deb 11 March 1996 vol 570 cc615-6

2.50 p.m.

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

What assessment they have made of the outcome of the elections in Sierra Leone, and the initiation of a dialogue between the government and the Revolutionary United Front.

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

My Lords, we welcome the favourable judgment of the international observer missions on the elections on 26th-27th February and look forward to the run-off vote for the presidency on 15th March. We also welcome the opening of talks between the Revolutionary United Front and the Sierra Leone authorities. Political progress is essential if there is to be lasting peace in Sierra Leone.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, will the noble Baroness join me in congratulating Brigadier Bio on his commitment to democracy and express the hope that the second round of elections, which are to be held, I believe, on Friday, will be as peaceful as the first, although they were marred by a certain amount of violence? Can the Minister explain why the observers have been withdrawn and will not be present to witness the run-off of the presidential election on 15th March? Will she also join me in congratulating President Bedie and Foreign Minister Essy on their successful diplomacy which brought the RUF to the conference table? Does she agree that it is best to leave further measures of negotiation to the Côte d'Ivoire and not to muddy the waters by interfering through the Commonwealth or the United Nations?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, Brigadier Bio and the council are to be congratulated on the elections. We hope that the run-off will be free and fair. We are very grateful that the Cote d'Ivoire has been positively helpful. It is now critical that the RUF continues in discussions with the National Provincial Ruling Council. That is one of the things that we hope to see happening.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, accepting what the Minister has said about the election, as I do, can she tell the House what the Government intend to do to support the new government in Sierra Leone? Does she agree that resources from the international community to support a good governance programme are vital and that the disarming of the rebels and the demobilisation of the Sierra Leone army are now absolutely vital as a first priority, preferably with a jobs programme for former soldiers?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness. It is a little early to go into this in some detail. We have obviously helped with the elections to the tune of £3 million to make sure that they were properly run. We are now looking at what happens afterwards. I shall bring the results to the House as soon as that is completed.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, can the noble Baroness say how she believes that the peace process can be continued in the interim period between now and the handover to the incoming president on 27th April? Will those negotiations be conducted as heretofore by Brigadier Bio or will there be some way of associating the winning candidate on 15th March with any further talks that take place?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, it must be for the successful candidate and Brigadier Bio to make sure that there is a successful handover. We shall do our best to help.