HL Deb 10 March 1998 vol 587 cc99-101
Lord Avebury

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to help restore lasting peace in Sierra Leone.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, we warmly welcome the restoration of President Kabbah in Freetown today as the elected president of the legitimate Government of Sierra Leone. We believe that the peaceful future of Sierra Leone can only be assured by a process of reconciliation as envisaged under the Abidjan Peace Accord and the Conakry Agreement. We have urged all parties to work to that end and will play a full part in the UN, EU and Commonwealth to support those efforts. Meanwhile, we are in the lead in helping the democratically elected government to re-establish basic services and to plan for restoring peace and security and rebuilding the shattered economy.

Our High Commissioner returned to Freetown on 5th March to contribute to that process. The UN office in Freetown similarly reopened over the weekend.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Will the United Kingdom be concerned with drafting a further resolution to place before the Security Council? If so, will that include the replacement of the Nigerian force in Sierra Leone by a multinational force which will include non-ECOWAS states? If that is the case, will one of the tasks of that force be to disarm and demobilise the ethnic Kamajor militia? That would be fully in accordance with the Conakry Agreement, which called for the disarmament and demobilisation of all armed factions in that country.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the noble Lord referred to the Kamajors. The Conakry Agreement referred to the disarmament of combatants, but it did not make clear whether or not the Kamajors were combatants. That was one of the causes of the failure to implement the agreement. Her Majesty's Government have made clear that in our view all groups should be disarmed. For the future of peacekeeping in Sierra Leone, Her Majesty's Government believe that this should be brought under the auspices of a new Security Council resolution authorising the deployment of UN military liaison officers to assist ECOMOG in the disarmament and demobilisation of all armed groups, including local militias.

Lord Rea

My Lords, can the Minister say on whose orders Nigerian armed forces were allowed to play a part in the conflict in Sierra Leone? Was it a unilateral decision by the Nigerians, or a decision of ECOMOG? Do Her Majesty's Government believe that a continued Nigerian presence is contributing to or hindering achievement of the lasting peace referred to in the Question?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, it was an ECOMOG decision. Her Majesty's Government welcome the fact that the rule of the military junta in Freetown has been brought to an end, but we do not endorse the ECOMOG action. It was important that in all these circumstances regional organisations act within their mandate from the Security Council. Her Majesty's Government believe that what is essential now is the re-establishment of a democratic autonomous government in Sierra Leone.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, we warmly welcome the Minister's endorsement of the importance to be attached to the restoration of the democratically elected government in Sierra Leone. Does the Minister agree with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and others that Britain has now a special responsibility to help ensure that all are able to participate in the process of democratic reconstruction, national reconciliation and amnesty without discrimination and irrespective of their ethnic origin?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

Yes, my Lords. I warmly endorse the noble Lord's remarks. Her Majesty's Government are encouraged that, this morning, when he returned to Freetown, President Kabbah urged that there should be national reconciliation. Specifically, the noble Lord asked what Her Majesty's Government are doing. The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group is planning to send a ministerial delegation to Sierra Leone. My honourable friend the Minister of State, Mr. Lloyd, will be representing the UK on that delegation.

Lord McNair

My Lords, does the Minister agree that in addition to disarming the combatants and ensuring that all citizens of Sierra Leone take part in the body politic, it is important to ensure that the combatants have something else to do, and that development is very important?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, one of the difficulties presently faced by Sierra Leone, as I hope the noble Lord will agree, is a shattered economy. When the noble Lord talks about disarming people and finding something else for the combatants to do, he is quite right. Her Majesty's Government have donated £2 million to the UN trust fund in relation to Sierra Leone. We are also giving humanitarian relief and technical assistance. Moreover, the Department for International Development is providing humanitarian aid, including a further £1 million for the International Red Cross.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is important that the diamond resources, which are the main source of foreign exchange for the country, are exploited for the benefit of all the people there? Will she investigate reports which appeared in the Observer, US News and World Report and other places that the future diamond resources of the country have been mortgaged in an illegal arms transaction in which a British company, Sandline International, was involved?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am aware of the newspaper article to which the noble Lord refers. That article was in several respects not entirely accurate, or at least not on all fours with the reports that Her Majesty's Government are receiving. As to the noble Lord's main point regarding the natural resources of Sierra Leone being exploited for the benefit of the whole country, I hope that the whole House will agree with him; and that when President Kabbah talks about national reconciliation, he will also be talking about nation building and about restoring the economy of Sierra Leone for the benefit of all in that country.

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