HL Deb 13 October 1999 vol 605 cc439-56

7.55 p.m.

Lord McNair rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will reconsider their support for the American cruise missile attack on the AL Shifa pharmaceutical factory in the light of subsequent scientific and technical reports on the matter.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is now absolutely clear that the American cruise missile attack on the AL Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum, Sudan, was a disastrous misjudgment. As the House will be aware, Professor Thomas Tullius, Chairman of Boston University's Department of Chemistry, conducted detailed tests on the remains of the AL Shifa factory. The analysis, carried out in three accredited European laboratories, did not uncover a shred of evidence to support American claims that the AL Shifa factory was involved in the manufacture of chemical weapons.

Everyone, except for a few who cannot afford to face the truth, now accepts that AL Shifa was a factory producing a range of medicines. Even the American Defence Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon's own intelligence service, has admitted that the attack was a serious error of judgment. The attack was a foreign policy disaster which set the Islamic world against the United States and, by association, the United Kingdom. It was also a catastrophe for the Sudanese people because a factory that produced two-thirds of Sudan's medicines at an affordable price was destroyed and has not been replaced.

There is a curious inconsistency between the overall treatment of Sudan and the treatment accorded to Saddam Hussein and Iraq over the past 16 years. The House will remember that in 1998 the American and British Governments went to war against the Iraqi state in order to force Iraq to open its factories for chemical weapons investigations. Yet both governments had, a few months earlier, pointedly refused repeated Sudanese requests that they examine a factory on the outskirts of Khartoum which the Americans alleged to have been involved in the production of chemical weapons. In fact, Iraq was listed, de-listed and re-listed according to the prevailing political climate.

President Clinton attacked and destroyed the AL Shifa medicines factory on the false assumption that it was owned by Osama bin-Laden. Osama bin-Laden is the conduit through whom the Americans poured millions of dollars in military assistance, equipment and training to the mujaheddin in order to remove the Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan. Not for the first time, such a person bit the hand that fed him. He turned against the Americans and is now the sworn enemy of the United States. The Taliban now rule Afghanistan as a direct result of American policies.

The Prime Minister's hasty and unwise support for President Clinton's attempt to divert media attention from his domestic affairs damaged Britain's standing abroad no less than the bombing damaged America's. The most important lesson from AL Shifa is the danger of labelling countries as state sponsors of terrorism on the basis of political rather than factual logic.

So how did this occur? I suggest that the American Administration's foreign policy establishment began to believe its own propaganda and also the erroneous information that it had been given by people who are in opposition to the present government in the Sudan. Naturally, it is one of the ways that people in opposition can press their point.

One problem with this is that it tends to underline the political nature of the listing and un-listing of countries. It also tends to undermine international efforts to combat the real terrorists.

When the Clinton Administration listed Sudan in 1993, no less a figure than former President Jimmy Carter asked to see the evidence behind the listing. These are former President Carter's own words: In fact, when I later asked an assistant Secretary of State, he said that they did not have any proof but there were strong allegations". So Sudan was listed as a state sponsor of international terrorism without any proof. In particular, the US Government have been unable to point to a single act of international terrorism sponsored by Sudan. Instead, they fall back on allegations of "passive support".

These allegations of "passive support" for international terrorism by Sudan apparently consisted of turning a blind eye and allowing members of several Islamic groupings to reside in Khartoum. On that basis the UK should have been so listed long ago. Not only do the British authorities allow thousands of foreign "extremists" to live in and agitate from London—many are in receipt of state benefits—but the Governments of Algeria, France, Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia, among others, have all complained about terrorist acts being planned by foreign radicals in Britain. The recent Yemen affair could be cited as an example.

We should remember that it was Sudan that extradited Carlos the Jackal to France and, at the request of the American Government, expelled Osama bin-Laden in 1995, while at the same time prophetically warning that in doing so it would be difficult for the Sudanese and Americans to keep tabs on him. One year later bin-Laden began his attacks on American personnel.

There have been many allegations that within the borders of Sudan there are terrorist training camps. The question to be asked is: if these terrorist training camps exist why were the Tomahawk missiles not aimed at these as they were in Afghanistan? Why else would the Americans attack the Al Shifa factory in the suburbs of Khartoum, where, if the allegations were correct, tens of thousands of people might have died or been crippled permanently, rather than the terrorist training camps?

The American Government quickly realised that the factory had no connection with bin-Laden. They were candid enough to admit that for one whole week after the attack on Al Shifa they did not know who was the owner of the factory. The world's press quickly ascertained that the factory was owned by Mr Salah Idris, a Saudi Arabian businessman of Sudanese origin. The Clinton Administration were unwilling to admit that they had made a mistake in associating the ownership of the factory with Osama bin-Laden. President Clinton then hurriedly invoked American anti-terrorist legislation, listed Mr Idris as a terrorist and froze 24 million dollars of his assets in accounts with the Bank of America. Washington also banned him from entering the United States. Fortunately for Mr Idris, he had the resources to challenge this listing in a federal court in the United States. In May of this year eight months after the freezing of his assets, the United States Government chose not to defend the action and released his funds. Most American newspapers saw this as an admission of error on the part of the Government.

The Minister may recall that some months before this court case I asked whether Her Majesty's Government had at any stage decided to regard Mr Idris as a terrorist or supporter of terrorism and, therefore, whether he would be excluded from the United Kingdom, mirroring the American measures. The answer was no. If the Government of the United Kingdom were so convinced by the American case in respect of the use and purpose of the factory why did they not follow the American line in respect of Mr Idris?

One of the unexpected by-products of the American attack on the AL Shifa medicines factory was a surge of in-depth investigative journalism into the issue of Sudan and terrorism by American newspapers and periodicals such as the New York Times and New Yorker. On 21st September 1998 the New York Times called into question the US State Department's claims of Sudanese involvement in international terrorism. The article revealed that two years before the AL Shifa debacle the American Central Intelligence Agency had found itself obliged to withdraw over 100 intelligence reports alleging Sudanese involvement in terrorism because it realised that they had been either fabricated or were simply wildly inaccurate.

The bombing of the American embassies in east Africa occurred several days before the attack on the Al Shifa medicines factory. It is a matter of record that the Government of the Sudan were among the first to condemn the terrorist bombings in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam, and Khartoum granted unlimited and unconditional overflight permission for American aeroplanes to evacuate those injured by the explosions. The day after the embassy bombings two men entered the Sudan travelling on forged Pakistani passports. They attempted to rent a flat overlooking the American Embassy in Khartoum. At this point the Sudanese authorities arrested them, notified the US State Department that they were in custody and offered to hand them over to the US justice system.

According to recent American media reports, the US Government, for reasons best known to themselves, preferred to ignore the possibility that the Sudanese had apprehended two of the embassy bombers, and a few days later Tomahawk missiles destroyed the Al Shifa factory. Sudanese government officials, despairing of American co-operation, deported the two suspects to Pakistan where they promptly disappeared. In August of this year the American media reported that the Clinton Administration's decision not to take into custody two possible bombers of the American embassies was being investigated by committees of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Since, yesterday, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, referred to allegations by Norwegian Peoples Aid, which I regard as a thoroughly discredited organisation, that the Government of Sudan used chemical weapons in a bombing raid on 23rd July and since the Minister seems to be unaware that, according to the Guardian of Friday 6th August, UN inspectors were heading for two towns in Western Equatorial province", I should like to ask—I have given the noble Baroness rather late notice of this question—what has been the result of that investigation.

In addition, Africa Confidential, which is no friend of the Government of Sudan, reported on 27th August that, The UN and NPA sent teams to investigate. Then silence fell". Can the Minister enlighten the House about the reasons for that silence?

8.6 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Bradford

My Lords. your Lordships' House has considered the subject of Sudan a number of times over the past few years, and I believe that is right. It is a vast country with vast problems and suffering and is easily forgotten. Therefore, I welcome the debate initiated by the noble Lord today. I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me if I say I do not think that we should concentrate on Al Shifa and the missile attack. That is now history. I do not believe that we shall get very far by raking over the ashes of that particular incident.

The life of Sudan is daily one of claims of atrocity and counter-claims, with blame going to and fro. I believe that for two significant reasons the time has now come to move forward and not rake over the past. First, as the Minister told us yesterday, in September the Foreign Secretary and Dr Mustapha Osman Ismail, Sudan's Minister for External Affairs, met. As a result, full diplomatic relations are to be restored. I believe that that gives Her Majesty's Government a real opening to stress again the need for peace in Sudan and to work for peace with justice.

Every time I go to Sudan and meet Sudanese who live in Uganda and Kenya they do not pray for victory in a military sense but for peace so that their lives may be restored. With the exchange of ambassadors I hope that the Minister will assure us that every effort will be made to support the IGAD process and to take any other measures which are open to Her Majesty's Government to promote peace in Sudan.

The second reason is the development of the oil industry in Sudan which could be a blessing or curse. Fighting goes on. There have been explosions at Atbara and Kasala and stories that the government are to buy 50 tanks with part of the oil revenue. The increase in oil revenue provides an incredible opportunity for the Government of Sudan, encouraged and supported by Her Majesty's Government, to address homelessness, hunger, poverty, disease and the needs of education in their own country and to receive international approval for doing just that. It is essential that there are people in a position to encourage the Government of Sudan not to spend the money on weapons but in that other way. People who know the country well tell us that it is most unlikely that a military victory would ever be possible. If the revenue is spent and if those in the rebel parties continue the war ad infinitum, it will not lead to victory but to increased suffering for ordinary, innocent people who have suffered far too much already.

I hope that Her Majesty's Government, with these new links, and based upon the development of the oil revenue, will exercise a diplomatic and sensitive and supportive role in inviting the Government of Sudan and the dissidents to talk seriously, as a matter of integrity, so that the country may find peace.

In this process I believe that Christians and Muslims have a significant role to play. I resist the idea that this is in every respect a conflict between the two great faiths. There are many devout Christians in Sudan and many devout Muslims. Dr Mustapha Osman Ismail, who I know personally, is one such. Here is an opportunity for people of these two great historic religions to prove that religion can heal and reconcile and not just divide and persecute. It will not be easy because there is deep bitterness and suffering, but already modest but significant steps are taking place. Groups of Muslim and Christian women, who have been brought up to regard each other with suspicion, if not distaste and hatred, are meeting together as mothers to ask what it means to have their sons in the war. They are beginning to meet as human beings and to listen to each other, which is crucial.

In the Christian context the recent agreement at Wunlit between the Nuer and the Dinka, who have a history of violence, hatred and killing, is one more building block in this new building of peace in Sudan.

If the Minister was in any way responsible for this, I thank her warmly, but yesterday at Question Time I drew her attention to the intention of the Government of Sudan to evict the Episcopal Church at Omburman from its headquarters, and today I received a message relayed by the Sudanese Embassy from Dr Mustapha Osman Ismail saying that this will not happen.

These are small things, straws in the wind, but I would argue that the time has now come to take those straws and to build for peace. Active and sustained involvement by Her Majesty's Government is greatly to be desired. I can assure the Minister that the churches, and I believe devout Muslims, will play their part.

8.12 p.m.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, I regret that I must follow the right reverend Prelate's contribution, which was so optimistic, with a more disturbing analysis. Given the Question before us, I will focus on three issues: first, the bombing of the Al Shifa factory; secondly, reports of the import and manufacture of chemical weapons by the National Islamic Front (NIF) regime—I cannot call it the government because it forcibly replaced the elected government and has no legitimacy—and, thirdly, continuing violations of the ceasefire by the NIF, including allegations of the use of chemical weapons.

The Al Shifa pharmaceutical factory is inherently capable of manufacturing chemicals which can be used for chemical weapons. Usage of facilities can be changed overnight. As far as I know, there has been no investigation by the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Warfare. However, there are convincing reports that there are other facilities in Khartoum and elsewhere in Sudan which are used for the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction. At least one of those is in a residential area and, if that had been bombed, there would have been many civilian casualties.

For further evidence, I refer to the film shown on Channel 5 in October 1998 called Exporting Evil—Saddam's Hidden Weapons which gives chilling accounts of the export of weapons of mass destruction and the personnel and means for manufacturing them from Iraq to Sudan. Among those giving evidence is a senior UNSCOM inspector, whose testimony cannot be lightly dismissed. Obviously, the NIF regime's supporters did not like that film and complained to the ITC. The film's producer, Damien Lewis, answered all the criticisms. The complaint was dismissed; the report stands, and the claims that Sudan is making chemical weapons must be taken seriously.

Even more serious are the reports that the NIF has used chemical weapons against its own people. During recent visits to different parts of Sudan, I have been given repeated accounts of the use of unconventional munitions by NIF forces in southern Blue Nile and the Nuba Mountains. Descriptions of the shells and of the aftermath are always consistent: the shells emit smoky gas which cause symptoms of eye and skin irritation, followed by intense vomiting and bleeding. Some victims die, others survive. Experts claim that the symptoms are entirely compatible with poisoning by arsenical compounds such as Lewisite. Water in some craters is a deep crimson viscous fluid, unlike any liquid seen in conventional high explosive craters. I am placing a photograph in the Library. Vegetation subsequently changes colour and atrophies.

Then, on 21st, 22nd and 23rd July, the NIF dropped 16 bombs in Lianya in southern Sudan. Descriptions of the after-effects are identical to those of the other incidents. But on this occasion UN relief workers were hospitalised and local people suffered. The United Nations sent in an investigative team, including a Canadian chemical weapons expert. Surprisingly, it was recalled just before arriving on location. There are also reports of an as yet unidentified team who arrived at the site very shortly after the bombings, and who effected what appears to have been such a thorough clean-up job that by the time subsequent investigators arrived there was not a single metal fragment to be found.

This abandonment of any full and publicly accountable investigation has left local people terrified and aid organisations deeply concerned. Equally worrying is the message to the NIF; that it can use these unconventional weapons with impunity.

However, we have facilitated an independent investigation. Samples have been collected and we are presently seeking full co-operation of the government in analysing one set of these samples. Others are being analysed elsewhere.

There is enough evidence to demonstrate that the NIF's record of brutality is as savage as any in the world today. As recently as 1st June I was in the oil-rich areas of western Upper Nile and witnessed the attempted ethnic cleansing of the local civilians to clear the land for oil exploitation. NIF Antonov bombers and helicopter gunships had bombed and terrorised them; then massive forces had swept through the region, killing scores of people, destroying 6,000 homes, seven churches, three clinics, and burning all the crops. We have the evidence in photographic and video form.

Therefore, in response to the noble Lord's Question, I hope that the Government will not in any way disassociate themselves from the United States' robust response to the murder of hundreds of people in the bombings of its embassies in Nairobi and Dar-EsSalaam. It is generally acknowledged that Sudan was implicated in those bombings, and the noble Lord, Lord McNair, seems strangely unconcerned about the victims of those bombings. Furthermore, his concern pales into relative insignificance, given the cumulative evidence of the likely use of chemical weapons by the NIF.

Therefore, will the Minister give an assurance that the Government will not in any way lessen their pressure on the NIF to desist from massacres or ethnic cleansing of tens of thousands of civilians from their lands in Bahr-el-Ghazal, the Nuba Mountains, the Moslem Beja territories of eastern Sudan and the oilfields in western Upper Nile.

The bombing of the Al Shifa factory was a response to the bombings of the United States' embassies with all the attendant death and suffering caused by those bombings. But it is not only the bombing of those embassies which needs to be taken into account. It is well known that Sudan harbours and trains international terrorists who are responsible for such acts of violence. Many are now involved in fighting in Chechnya and Dagestan and terrorist activities elsewhere in Russia.

Lord McNair

My Lords, I wonder if—

Baroness Cox

My Lords, I am sorry, it is a timed debate and I cannot give way.

And the evidence suggests that not since Iraq gassed its own people has a regime so systematically used chemical weapons against its own people. Now, as then, the West looks the other way. So I hope that this Government, committed to an ethical, human rights based foreign policy, which I respect, will stop looking the other way and support the United States in more sanctions until this brutal regime stops murdering its own people and spreading terror and destruction far beyond its own borders.

8.20 p.m.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, the House should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McNair, for having raised the question of Sudan at this moment when it was perhaps fading a bit out of sight. I, for one, learned a great deal from what said and also from what the right reverend Prelate said about the Christians and Muslims and everybody else in Sudan.

The Minister may find it difficult to sum up in a way that will encompass the contributions made by the noble Lord, Lord McNair, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox. has the advantage of having been in the Sudan, which I never have, and so I must defer to her up to a point. But I firmly reject her global picture of relations between Sudan and the United States, and Sudan and this country.

I want to tell a particular story. An interview on the Al Shifa bombing was given by a Sudanese opposition politician to a Jordanian journalist only a few days after the bombing. The Sudanese said that he had given what later turned out to be false information—that the Al Shifa plant was producing chemical weapons—only because to do so was "disobliging to the [Sudanese] Government" (which was his aim)

Soon after the CIA and the DIA withdrew a sheaf of reports that they had previously issued about Sudan on the grounds that they were not reliable. I think that we may assume that much of the information must have come from the Sudanese businessman, whose name is missing from my records, for which I apologise. Our friends in Washington, the American Government, are by now pretty shamefaced and apologetic that this country should have been linked with the episode, and that we should have received threats on account of our support. Next time I hope that Her Majesty's Government will check, double check and triple check DIA and CIA-based information, whether it comes directly at intelligence level or through the President himself.

It is still the case that the CIA Kids' Page on the Internet tells the world that in this country we have no elections, and that it is the Queen who appoints the Prime Minister. While I know that in a certain sense it is the Queen who appoints the Prime Minister, I have always piously believed that the role of Parliament was considerable in such choices. The purpose of the CIA Kids' Page is long-term recruiting. It used to say that this country had obtained its independence in 1801. I have often wondered from whom, but the CIA text had nothing to say on that point. That story has at least now been changed.

My final point is about the Summary of World Broadcasts (SWB). It is linked administratively—but only administratively—with the BBC Overseas Service. They share the building. SWB works in the opposite direction. It feeds information into this country from every other country in the world by monitoring public broadcasting and television and putting out each day a sheaf of papers up to about 90 pages thick. This service is free to Members of both Houses of Parliament. It costs many tens of pounds each day to everyone else. It is an extraordinary privilege that we receive it free. It is without exception the finest sustained day to day report of what is being said on the airwaves of the world.

A few years ago—I should like to ask the Minister what is happening now—every morning the SWB was pushed over to the Research Department of the Foreign Office. This had a bad effect. The people who needed it were the frontline departments. They were in action diplomatically every day; but they did not receive it. I hope that the situation has now changed. I do not press the noble Baroness for an answer today. But it would be good to know that that priceless resource is available to the people in this country who most need it; namely, the working diplomats in the Foreign Office and elsewhere.

8.25 p.m.

Viscount Brentford

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McNair, for raising this Question. I shall be interested to know whether the Minister has any firm information on whether the factory made chemicals for warfare as well as pharmaceuticals or whether it is a US mistake, as was the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in the Balkans. I shall be grateful if the noble Baroness can also say whether a claim for damages by the factory owner against the US Government has been filed; and, if so, whether it has been accepted or rejected or whether this claim is still under negotiation or in the court. I shall ask the Minister a number of questions. I, too, shall be happy for the noble Baroness to write in response to any which she does not answer today.

At col. 210 of the Official Report yesterday, the noble Baroness referred to the July bombing by the Sudanese Government; and to allegations of use by the Government of Sudan forces of chemical weapons. It is obviously impossible to know whether or not these had been made in the Al Shifa factory. We probably do not know for certain whether the allegation is true. If the Sudan Government signed the Chemical Weapons Convention on 25th May, as the Minister informed us yesterday, why has not the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons investigated the results of the July bombing, which was two months after Sudan signed the convention? Surely such investigations have to be carried out immediately. My noble friend Lady Cox talked about subsequent investigations after evidence had been removed.

I refer also to the three UN World Food Programme aid workers who were allegedly caught up in the aftermath of the attack and hospitalised in Nairobi. Can the Minister tell us whether that is correct? Were their injuries consistent with having suffered from chemical weapons?

My noble friend talked about a team—I believe also from the UN World Food Programme—going to investigate but being recalled, perhaps for their protection. I have also heard that they collected blood samples from the area before they left. Can the noble Baroness tell us what reports were made both on the three WFP workers and on the blood samples? Have there been any subsequent allegations of use of chemical weapons in Sudan? None has come to me. I wonder whether the Government are aware of any.

Has the OPCW started working in Sudan? Is it ready to do so if any allegation of chemical warfare arises? Is it ready to move swiftly? Where is the local team based? How long would it take to get to any spot in the Sudan if allegations are made again?

What we need is authoritative and factual information on whether the Sudanese Government are using chemical weapons. I believe that that is important. We hear about allegations. It would be helpful to have from the Minister the up-to-date position on whether we have absolute proof.

Finally, I have seen allegations that chemical weapons are being manufactured in El Obeid in Sudan and that another factory for constructing chemical weapons is being built in Katdugli. Can the Minister assure the House that if there is any backing to these allegations the OPCW will investigate that and any other such allegations? It is encouraging that Sudan has signed the convention. It is right that the UN should take action as a result when allegations are made. As I have already said, we need to know the facts.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Ahmed

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. Lord McNair, for raising this Question in your Lordships' House and enabling us to debate the important issues related to international law and unilateral action taken by the United States.

The United Nations Charter prohibits the use of force by one state against another except for action taken collectively with the authority of the Security Council under Article 42 or, in the exercise of self-defence, under Article 51 when an armed attack occurs on a member state. There are conditions attached to this latter part. The circumstances must be such that if the Security Council had had the time it would have taken measures broadly in line with those taken by the state claiming to act in self-defence.

The American Government's cruise missile attack on one of the poorest countries in the world had no mandate from the United Nations Security Council. Nor was it attacked by Sudan. The principle of a super power taking unilateral action against a poor African nation without any warning, based solely on unreliable intelligence sources, about which we have heard tonight, could only result in such a violation of international law and foreign policy blunder.

The noble Lord, Lord McNair, pointed out that even former President Jimmy Carter said that US State Department officials admit that there was no evidence, only strong allegations of Sudan being involved in state sponsored international terrorism. That point was explained by the noble Lord.

In January samples from Al Shifa were tested by laboratories including TND Prins Maurits in The Hague, one of the top dozen laboratories in the world for chemical weapons testing, using the two most advanced techniques in the world. They found no evidence that the Al Shifa pharmaceutical plant was producing any chemicals other than medicines desperately needed by the poor people of Sudan.

Immediately after the missile attack, the US national security adviser, Samuel Berger, claimed that the Al Shifa (Arabic for "the cure") was part of the Sudanese military industrial complex, that it was heavily guarded, that it produced no medicines, and that its ownership trail led to Osama bin Laden.

Within 24 hours of the attack the German ambassador in Khartoum, Werner Daum, confirmed that it was not a heavily guarded installation, although a power plant a quarter of a mile away was. Al Shifa did indeed produce large amounts of medicines, some under contract to the United Nations. Independent investigators from Kroll Associates in London concluded that the plant was certainly not part of the Sudanese military industrial complex.

Finally, the owner of the factory was a private citizen, as has been mentioned previously. He is a Saudi businessman, Mr. Salah Idris, who has never had any connection with Osama bin Laden.

Since last year over 1,100 missiles have been launched against 298 targets in Iraq because Saddam Hussein refuses to allow the UN inspectors to inspect the alleged chemical factories. Repeatedly, Sudan has asked the United Nations and the international community to visit the country and investigate. The Americans declined the invitation because they would have had to admit that they have made a mistake and pay compensation to Mr Idris for the destruction of his factory. They would have had to apologise to the family of a worker who was killed and 12 others who were injured in the attack.

President Clinton has apologised repeatedly to China for wrongly bombing the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. Why not apologise to Sudan? Clearly, it is a case of "might is right". President Clinton has also apologised to Guatemala, another victim of American foreign policy. He has apologised to the Africans for the transatlantic slave trade. He apologised on almost a daily basis for the unfortunate Monica Lewinsky affair. It is time now for the American President to apologise to the people of Sudan and embark on a new chapter in America's relations with the Islamic world.

I am aware that a few Members of the House have already spoken. They speak regularly in debates about Sudan. Yesterday the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, displayed photographs of alleged bombing by the government in the south and the alleged use of chemical weapons which are difficult to detect on photographs even in the Library.

Early this year Sudan signed the UN chemical weapons convention and yesterday the Minister pointed out that it is up to the international community to determine the truth of the allegations. Perhaps I may recognise some positive steps taken by the Sudanese Government. There is the protection of human rights through a new constitution; freedom of association leading to multi-party elections; freedom of the press; the offer of a UN-monitored referendum on self-determination for the south and a new national security Act which demands accountability from the police and the security forces to Parliament.

On 5th August a comprehensive and unilateral cease-fire was announced by the Sudanese Government. Yesterday it was extended for a further three months. I call upon the supporters of the SPLA to do the same and bring peace and prosperity to this nation.

8.36 p.m.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, I would also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord McNair, for securing this debate. The facts of what took place on 20th August last year, when the United States launched a cruise missile attack on the Al Shifa plant in Khartoum, are well known. But like my noble friend Lady Cox, I believe that it is important for your Lordships to recall the context of the attack on the Al Shifa plant. More than 100 innocent victims were killed in Africa as a result of a savage and senseless act of terrorism, the sole purpose of which was to kill and injure ordinary people going about their daily business. From these Benches we remember those who died, and we offer our sympathy to their families who will suffer the loss of their loved ones for the rest of their lives.

I would like to take this opportunity to condemn absolutely all acts of terrorism. From these Benches we will always give our support to the Government to ensure that terrorism is fought in all its forms wherever it may occur, whenever it may occur and whatever its motivation.

Indeed, because of this, we echoed the support that the Government gave to the United States Government for their attack in August of last year. The US Administration maintained that they were taking action against international terrorism and further asserted that they had compelling evidence that the plant was being used for the production of chemical weapons materials and was associated with Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, the man responsible for the embassy bombings.

Furnished with this information from one of our key allies, we believe that the Prime Minister acted rightly to support the United States in this strike against international terrorism. Yet although the context in which this act of retaliation took place is clearly of critical importance in this House, we are all agreed that vengeance for the lives of the innocent wreaked upon the innocent would be pyrrhic indeed.

Since the attack over a year ago questions have been repeatedly asked about the true purpose of the factory. Did it manufacture chemical weapons or did it manufacture pharmaceuticals? The owner of the factory, Salah Idris, has since drafted a law suit, as we have heard this evening, seeking compensation for the loss of his factory. For the past year the Government have reiterated their willingness to rely on the statement of the United States Administration that it had compelling evidence for its action.

However, the American case appears to rely on the analysis of a single soil sample, although contradictory evidence has since come to light concerning both the chemical analysis and the origin of the sample. This evidence has been repeatedly reported in the American press. Indeed, less than two months ago the Washington Post reported that CIA analysts had produced a three-page document in July 1998 which raised questions about the conclusions which could safely be drawn from the soil sample. The Minister will also be aware of the opinions of eminent figures such as Professor Williams from Oxford University who have expressed doubts.

Much of that evidence, which appears to contradict the US position, may possibly be hearsay and gossip concocted by the press and based only on partial facts. But given the speculation and the questions raised over the use of the facility in the aftermath of the attack, questions which have simply not gone away, I hope that the Minister will agree that it is important that the Government are able to substantiate the US Government's position from independent sources.

From these Benches, we naturally would not expect the Minister to go into details of intergovernmental communications and intelligence reports. However, I should like an assurance from the Minister this evening that the Government are satisfied that the soil sample is genuine, that the work done on it was properly conducted and that the evidence upon which the action was taken was conclusive.

As the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, has just mentioned, simply taking the word of the American Administration is now not enough. It cannot be forgotten that the tragic error which led NATO to target the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in May during the air campaign against Serbia demonstrated that the intelligence assets and technology of the United States are not infallible. I should therefore be grateful if the Minister would tell us whether she is in a position to confirm independently the belief of the US Government that the Al Shifa factory site in Khartoum was indeed a chemical factory, capable of producing the deadly V series of chemical weapons, and not a pharmaceutical plant, as claimed by the Sudanese Government.

Can the Minister also say whether any official or Minister at the Foreign Office has met the engineer who set up the factory, as they were invited to do during the debate in another place in March, and what conclusions they have reached as to the factory's capabilities as a result of such a meeting?

Furthermore, will the Minister tell the House what reply the Government have given to the invitation from the Sudanese Government for a United Kingdom verification mission to examine the Al Shifa factory site or for a UN weapons inspections of the site, and what steps they have taken to make it clear to the Government of Sudan that the way to achieve an examination of the Al Shifa site is for Sudan to become a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention?

I look forward to the Minister's response to the important questions which have been raised this evening. I hope that the right reverend Prelate will forgive me for I cannot agree with him that this chapter is completely closed for the reasons and questions which I have just raised. However, I totally agree with him that we need to focus on Sudan in the border context. I was grateful for his comments in that regard. Last year the Select Committee on International Development recognised and recommended that the Government should urge the United Nations to broker a peace agreement in Sudan and the surrounding region to end conflict, not only in Sudan but also in neighbouring countries such as north Uganda, and that such an initiative should, crucially, involve the United States of America". From these Benches, we believe that the role of the United States will be key to making significant progress in Sudan. There is some hope on that front. Earlier this year, the US Administration appointed a special envoy to Sudan in order to draw attention to the humanitarian crisis there, to shine the spotlight on Sudan's egregious human rights record, to marshal greater international awareness and concern for those issues and to reinforce US support for the IGAD peace process. I hope, now that our embassy in Khartoum is once more fully operational after a period of 11 months, that we shall be able to continue to urge progress in that direction.

For our part, we shall support the Government while they continue to make the search for a peaceful solution in war-ravaged Sudan one of their highest foreign policy priorities.

8.45 p.m.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the debate this evening has covered a wide range of difficult issues and the participation of noble Lords from all sides of the House is a demonstration of the depth of the interest this country has in the Sudan. The links between the people of the United Kingdom and the Sudanese are historic and remain strong. The continuing terrible suffering of the Sudanese people as a result of war is rightly felt strongly. I therefore welcome the opportunity to speak about this Government's policy towards the Sudan. I also commend the noble Lord, Lord McNair, for initiating the debate. He asked a very specific question and I should like to address that first before putting it into a wider context.

As the Prime Minister has said on many occasions, he gave his support to the US action against the Al Shifa factory last August as action against international terrorists. The US told us at the time of the strike on the Al Shifa factory that it had compelling evidence that the plant was being used for the production of chemical weapons materials. As noble Lords are well aware, and as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, has kindly indicated, I cannot go into the details of the intelligence reports and confidential intergovernmental communications. Those are covered by the code of practice on Access to Government Information.

In response to the noble Lord's question, I can say that I have been assured that in accordance with usual practice, there was evidence upon which Her Majesty's Government could act. Noble Lords are also well aware of this Government's determination to fight terrorism wherever it occurs, and whatever its motivation. The UK more than many countries in the world has experienced the horrors of terrorism at first hand. Terrorists must realise that they cannot act with impunity and that we shall do all we can to prevent further atrocities.

As we have said to the Sudanese Government on many occasions, the way to clear their name on the whole issue of chemical weapons manufacture was to become a party to the Chemical Weapons Conventions. As noble Lords are aware, the convention prohibits the acquisition, development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons. It is supported by a verification regime consisting of data declaration and on-site inspections.

The OPCW can investigate only when asked to do so through the EU. We have urged the Government of Sudan to invite such an investigation. Her Majesty's Government promptly welcomed the news in May this year that the Sudanese Government had indeed signed the convention. That opens the way for Sudan to submit its declarations on its chemical sites to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and for the consideration of inspections by that organisation. That will also allow chemical weapons allegations to be looked at by the appropriate expert body.

I suggest that further issues in relation to the Al Shifa factory are really a matter for the Sudanese and US Governments. There have been claims made, as I understand it, by the owner of Al Shifa in relation to the US, and those matters are being dealt with between those two parties. Noble Lords will of course be aware of the recent developments in UK-Sudan relations, and we have had mention of them tonight. Following the events of last August about which we have been talking, the Sudanese Government withdrew their top two diplomats from London and demanded that we withdraw our ambassador and his deputy from Khartoum. Sadly, this made it impossible for us to maintain an embassy in the Sudan and we were forced to withdraw temporarily all our British staff.

In the following months we maintained regular contact with the Sudanese authorities both in London and in Khartoum. Discussions covered a whole range of issues, including the US attack on Al Shifa and comments made by Her Majesty's Government. Those talks led, as your Lordships are now aware, to a visit by Dr Hassan Abdin, Under-Secretary at the Sudanese Ministry of External Relations, to London in June when we agreed that the constructive way forward was to look to the future and to turn a new page. As your Lordships are also now aware, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary then met his Sudanese opposite number, Dr Mustafa Osman Ismail, in New York last month. Again the discussions focused clearly on the future; on normalising relations by re turning ambassadors to capitals in the near future; and on areas of concern to both our Governments in the coming months.

That is the position today of both our Governments and so I should like to take this opportunity to speak about what the future now holds, a subject many noble Lords have also looked to. I entirely agree with the sentiments so elegantly expressed by the right reverend Prelate, that what matters now most to the people of Sudan is an end to the terrible suffering caused by civil war. Only when peace is established will the Sudanese be able to rebuild their lives which have been torn apart by a war that has gone on for some 40 years with only one significant break. That is why Her Majesty's Government have given peace in the Sudan a new priority and that is why one of the key areas of work for our re-established embassy in Khartoum will be peace work—a task we can only perform usefully if on the ground.

We have been active supporters of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development—IGAD—peace process. That process is the one to which the two main parties to the conflict—the Government of Sudan and the SPLA—have agreed, and through which an initial agreement on the form of a settlement—the Declaration of Principles—was agreed. It is a regional organisation dealing with a regional conflict. We are well aware of some of the limitations of this process and the slow progress it has made recently. We have, therefore, with other donors, helped to establish a permanent secretariat in Nairobi which will allow for an accelerated and sustained negotiation. We shall be working closely with the IGAD special envoy, Daniel Mboya, and all the parties to try to push the process forward.

In July 1988 the late Derek Fatchett, then Minister responsible for Sudan, visited Nairobi and Khartoum to discuss the possibility of securing a break in the fighting in the areas most affected by the humanitarian crisis. As a result of his visit, both the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Army announced an initial three-month ceasefire in Bahr al Ghazal. That has been extended ever since.

When my right honourable friend the Secretary of State recently met his counterpart, Mustafa Osman, in New York, he stressed again the importance the UK attaches to an extension of the ceasefire and the role it plays in alleviating the humanitarian situation in southern Sudan, and in the search for peace.

My right honourable friend further encouraged this extension by writing to the Government of Sudan and the SPLA. Yesterday the Government of Sudan, in part response to the UK request, announced an extension to the current ceasefire. I understand that the SPLA is also going to announce an extension and I look forward to confirmation of that. I hope that the ceasefire will give confidence to the two parties to pursue broader peace negotiations within the IGAD framework.

Her Majesty's Government see the focus of peace efforts as being within IGAD, but we shall also be promoting the cause in other fora, not least in the European Union and in the United Nations. As many of your Lordships are aware, the work of civil society is also key to promoting peace and we also hope to maintain close working links with those, such as the churches, who are active in that field.

Peace in the Sudan will be the main theme of our future policy. But, as we have heard tonight, there are other issues of importance in our relationships with the Sudan about which we shall also be in dialogue with the Sudanese, not least human rights, cultural ties and commercial ties. In our efforts to alleviate the humanitarian situation, the UK is one of the largest bilateral donors. We have committed over £180 million to Sudan and the Sudanese refugees through Operation Lifeline Sudan since 1991, £28 million in 1998 as a result of the famine, and £9 million in 1999 so far. We shall continue to assess the needs.

The Government look to the future, as the right reverend Prelate exhorted us to do. Our aim and our major concern is how to improve people's lives—in this case, the lives of the people of Sudan. There is a forum to address chemical weapons concerns—the OPCW—and there are fora in which to promote peace and reconciliation. I take this opportunity to commend the work that several noble Lords have done to improve the lives of the Sudanese. I can assure your Lordships that they remain a priority for this Government also.

I turn briefly to a few of the matters that have been raised. I turn first to the points raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford. We understand that three foreign aid workers were hospitalised in Nairobi. One was British and came to the UK for treatment. None of the three has released details of their illnesses to us. The British worker is back at work in the Sudan and we have no information about the whereabouts of the others. To date we have no definitive evidence which would justify the assertion that chemical weapons have been used.

In relation to the chemical attack on 23rd July referred to by the noble Lord, Lord McNair, we understand that the UN sent two medical teams to the area where attacks were alleged. There has been no conclusive report in relation to that matter either. None has been released by an authoritative and neutral body. As I have already said, the Sudan has signed and ratified the CWC, which provides for the authoritative mechanism through the OPCW to investigate allegations of chemical attack. Through the EU we have urged and continue to urge the Sudanese Government to use that mechanism for the purpose for which it was intended.

I am grateful too for the comments made by the Loyal Opposition. To close, I would commend to your Lordships the words of the right reverend Prelate—that we are looking for peace. It would appear at the moment that we are moving in the right direction. There are several specific questions to which I have not been able to respond. I hope that noble Lords will permit me to write to them in due course in relation to those matters.