HL Deb 12 October 1999 vol 605 cc209-11

3.15 p.m.

Lord McNair asked Her Majesty's Government:

What they have done in the past six months to take forward the internal or external peace process in Sudan, and what is the current state of Sudanese-British relations following the recent meeting between the two Foreign Ministers.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, may I take a moment of your Lordships' time. Yesterday I was so overtaken by my new position that I failed to thank noble Lords for the warmth of my welcome. I feel equally in need of it today.

To answer the noble Lord's Question, I hope that your Lordships will be pleased to know that we have worked hard to revitalise the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) peace process, pledging funds to establish a secretariat that can maintain negotiation between the two sides. We have encouraged all parties to work alongside IGAD and we have pressed, successfully, for the resumption of a critical dialogue between the EU and Sudan.

My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and his Sudanese counterpart, Mustafa Osman Ismail, agreed to rename ambassadors in New York on 23rd September. Our embassy will soon be in a position to be more effective in our efforts in helping to achieve peace for all the Sudanese.

Lord McNair

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for that very encouraging reply. Would she agree that the main sticking point to resuming meaningful negotiations under the IGAD umbrella is Mr Garang and the SPLA?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I cannot agree that. The issues are very widespread, as the noble Lord will know. There are rights on both sides of the argument, as it is seen by the participants, not necessarily by others. It is incumbent upon all those who genuinely want to see peace in this region to exhort those involved to follow the IGAD process in relation to negotiation.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, while congratulating the Government on their contribution to strengthening the IGAD peace process, may I ask the Minister if she is aware that the National Islamic Front regime has repeatedly broken the ceasefire, bombing hospitals and feeding centres; dropping bombs which have caused symptoms consistent with poisoning by the arsenical compound Lewisite, and that craters caused by those bombs contain liquid and are entirely different from craters caused by conventional weapons—as these photographs, which I will place in your Lordships' Library, show?

I have written to the Minister about this and I would appreciate it if the Minister could give an assurance this afternoon that the Government will support a full investigation into the possible use of chemical weapons by the NIF regime.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, your Lordships will know that as far back as 25th May this year Her Majesty's Government pressed for the Sudanese Government to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention, which they did on that date. That now allows requested investigations through the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. That is the vehicle which will undoubtedly have to be used for this purpose.

In further answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, we are aware that bombs were dropped on villages on Friday 23rd July, but those matters too will be dealt with under the aegis of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

The Lord Bishop of Bradford

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Sudanese Government are currently seeking to evict the Episcopal Church from their long-standing headquarters at the diocese of Khartoum at Omdurman, and that, while public assurances have been given that this will not take place, the promised legal documents have not been forthcoming—at least at 10 a.m. today—and the eviction date is Saturday of this week?

Is she also aware that two Roman Catholic priests have been under arrest for quite a long time, under charges of terrorism?

Would she agree that this situation is extremely unfortunate, at a time when efforts are being made to improve relations, and will she speedily make contact with the Sudanese Government to seek to resolve the matter, especially bearing in mind the eviction date of Saturday?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the British Embassy in Khartoum has kept in close contact with all the churches and has taken up concerns such as the matters referred to by the right reverend Prelate. These issues have been raised with the leader of the National Islamic Front and others. We are aware that all religions are suffering in this area. This is a matter of deep concern that we shall continue to highlight and it demonstrates the importance of the IGAD peace process. We enjoin all those concerned—the Church has been very helpful in this regard—to join forces with Her Majesty's Government to ensure that the peace efforts are successful.