HL Deb 18 December 2000 vol 620 cc602-24

4.58 p.m.

Baroness Cox

asked Her Majesty's Government what is their response to recent developments in Sudan.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am grateful for this opportunity to discuss Sudan and I thank all noble Lords who will be speaking this evening. I received a message from my noble friend Lady Park to say that, sadly, she has had to withdraw because of a clash in commitments. I am happy to say, however, that my noble friend Lord Elton is willing to say a few words in the gap.

I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for replying for the Government. Without his willingness to accept that task, which is somewhat remote from his normal responsibilities, this debate would have been deferred. But the need is urgent. With over 2 million dead and 5 million displaced in recent years, Sudan's toll of suffering exceeds that of Rwanda, Somalia and former Yugoslavia put together.

I emphasise that my concerns do not reflect a prejudiced, one-sided commitment. In our advocacy, we try to take into account all points of view and to be critical of those who violate human rights, whoever they may be.

The Islamist National Islamic Front (NIF) regime, currently referred to as "the government of Sudan", took power by military coup, throwing out the coalition government. It represents no more than about 7 per cent of the people of Sudan and is hated by the vast majority. But, to hear all points of view, I visited Khartoum and the NIF leadership. I met their éeminence grise, Dr El-Turabi; I heard President El-Bashir address the crowds for the celebrations of the fourth anniversary of the coup; I met many political leaders and visited many areas under NIF control. It was patently clear that the NIF is committed to a jihad. When I sent my report to our hosts as a courtesy, they endorsed it.

The word "jihad" has many meanings. But I have since been to Sudan more than 25 times and in this case I can say that "jihad" means "struggle" in its most violent and brutal form. The victims include Africans, Arabs and the Beja people, Christians, Muslims and traditional believers. The weapons of the jihad include unlawful arrests, torture and extra-judicial killing of individual civilians; massive military offensives against civilian communities; the manipulation of aid; and slavery.

This war is not a Muslim/Christian conflict. Many people who oppose the NIF are Muslims, such as the SPLM/A commanders, who are friends of mine, in the Nuba Mountains and in Southern Blue Nile. In Yabus, soon after NIF forces had been thrown out, I asked some Imams what they thought about the defeat of the NIF army in their region. They said that they were glad, as the NIF represents ideology, not "true" Islam, and that they could now pray as they ought to pray. They said that if the NIF returned, they would fight it again.

One noble Lord has said that he will disagree with my analysis. Perhaps I may urge him not to underestimate the gravity of the situation we have witnessed in many parts of Sudan—unless he has visited those parts and can speak from first-hand experience. If I had been only to Khartoum and to government-controlled areas, or to areas in the south where the UN Operation Lifeline Sudan is allowed to operate, I would have no idea of the enormity of the suffering inflicted by the NIF on its own people. I might also believe the widely circulated misinformation as I could not put it in context.

It is not only the NIF which violates human rights. Opposition forces, such as the SPLA, have been guilty, too, and we have criticised them. But Professor Eric Reeves, referring to the recently published Human Rights Watch report, highlights a massive asymmetry. While the SPLA is criticised for some diversion of civilian food aid and under-age military recruitment, for which the NIF is also criticised, he claims: But no one reading this report will be under any illusion as to which is the overwhelmingly culpable party in Sudan's civil war … the NIF receives—appropriately—far and away the most, and the harshest, criticism. There is only one side in the conflict (the NIF) that is engaged in the aerial bombardment of innocent civilians and humanitarian workers, there is only one side that is engaged in massive scorched earth warfare to secure the southern oil regions". Time does not permit many details, so I offer only one typical scenario: a massive military offensive against civilian communities in which low-flying helicopter gunships gun down people as they try to hide; then high-flying Antonovs drop 500 kilogram bombs; then ground troops come in combined forces, up to 2,000 strong, with government soldiers, Popular Defence Force mujahadeen and murahaleen tribesmen armed by the government. They kill men; beat old people, leaving them to die; and abduct women and children into slavery. They burn homes, churches, mosques, animist shrines, schools and crops. They steal and slaughter cattle. I could show your Lordships film footage of the times when we have gone "footing" for mile upon mile through the NIF's carnage and destruction.

At the same time, the NIF declares these areas as "no go" locations for UNOLS and other aid organisations. The victims of the raids are thus left bereft of aid or advocacy. In Christian Solidarity Worldwide, we try to reach such people who are trapped behind closed borders, left to suffer and die, unreached, unhelped and unheard.

The NIF does not like us going to "no go" areas for we see what it does not want the world to see. It has told us that it will shoot us out of the sky if it can; and it expends a vast amount of time and money discrediting us, as do its friends such as David Hoile, and the European Sudanese Public Affairs Council, who publish perhaps flatteringly frequent publications misrepresenting me, with selective quotations and distortions of my position.

I turn to reality. Events in the past 18 months are a cause for growing concern. In the early winter of 1999, Bashir launched an effort to neutralise Turabi and contain his international terrorism empire. In the following months, Bashir expressed a desire to normalise relations with the Arab world and the West. To that end, he gave commitments to undertake serious internal reforms and to cease hostilities in the south so that western companies would come to develop the oil resources. However, the high-level Sudanese emissaries who delivered the message were misinformed by their president. While discussions were in progress, there was an escalation of fighting, including intentional bombing of civilian targets such as schools and hospitals, as well as granting the Chinese military widespread concessions and access to the oil fields.

The NIF also invited Egyptian and Libyan expeditionary forces to assist in the escalation of the military drive in the south, beyond the capabilities of its own forces. In recent months, there has been the gradual rehabilitation of Turabi and the resumption of terrorism sponsorship operations; and the NIF-related policy of slave redemption has proved farcical. So one must sadly conclude that Bashir's initiative was a ploy or that he could not deliver because he is not in control. Either way, normalisation of relations with Sudan should not be considered with the current regime by anyone concerned with human rights.

I highlighted two issues in my contribution to the debate on the gracious Speech. The first was the possible use of chemical weapons by the NIF and reasons why tests of a limited number of samples, which did not find toxic substances, in no way proved that the NIF had not used unconventional weapons. The second was concerns over the Government's sale to Sudan of dual-use supplies which could be used for civilian or military purposes, including chemicals which are known precursors for chemical weapons.

Today, I add to the catalogue of concerns, first the ethnic cleansing of the African peoples who live in the oil-rich areas. Secondly, I refer to the continuing deliberate bombing of civilian targets, such as schools and hospitals, as recently as 24th November over Panlit village in Bahr-El Ghazal. Thirdly, I refer to, for example, the continuation of slavery, encouraged by the NIF. I pay tribute to the US Under Secretary of State, Dr Susan Rice, who recently visited Southern Sudan and met women and children who had been rescued from slavery.

In August, I and CSW colleagues were in a nearby area and we engaged in the sad, macabre business of buying the freedom of 353 women and children. Those who have not been there criticise us for freeing slaves. They say that we are encouraging the slave trade. But that is not so. Slavery would persist as it is one of the weapons of the jihad and is used by the NIF for the forced Arabisation of Africans and the forced Islamisation of those who are not Muslims.

Of course, buying freedom is not the solution. The solution must be to stop the slavery. But while slavery exists, I defy anyone to hear the women and children tell of their experiences as slaves; to hear them say, "If you were not here, we would not be here—we would still be slaves", and then to say to them, "I am sorry, you are going to have to remain in slavery".

President Clinton has condemned the NIF for its brutal policies, including slavery. He hopes that European nations will do the same. But currently, in stark contrast to the robust stance taken by the USA, the British Government have been entertaining the NIF Foreign Minister with red-carpet treatment; encouraging trade with Sudan; enhancing the NIF's legitimacy; promoting its economy; and enabling it to use its resources more effectively to kill its own people.

Sudan has also been condemned for sponsoring terrorism. It hosts Islamist terrorist training camps and exports terrorists to other countries. Muslim friends gave me a video of Sudan's jihad training schools. It was distributed to raise money for the jihad in Sudan and elsewhere. It gave an address in Leicester. Other people followed up the contacts and documented terrorist training centres here in England, where Islamist leaders such as Abu Hamsa and Sheikh Bakri Mohammed teach recruits not to obey the laws of this land; and terrorist techniques, such as blowing up aircraft coming into Heathrow airport. Sudan's involvement with international terrorism is well known and has been condemned by the UN Security Council.

I conclude with three questions. Will the Government consider recommending "no fly zones" and "safe havens" to protect civilians from air and ground attacks? Will the Government give a lead to European partners by denouncing the barbaric practice of slavery and by giving no respite to the NIF until there is unequivocal proof that the slave raids are stopped and that every man, woman and child who has been abducted into slavery is freed and reunited with their families? In the land of William Wilberforce, the Government should do no less.

Finally, I ask a question I asked last week: will the Government reconsider their policy of so-called "critical dialogue", which is long on dialogue and short on effective criticism? Will they consider a stance more consistent with the United Nations Security Council and the United States? Might they even consider helping to bring to account, as guilty of crimes against humanity, those responsible for the genocide, the ethnic cleansing and the slavery which are well and widely documented in Sudan today?

5.10 p.m.

Lord Ahmed

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for once again affording the House an opportunity to comment on some recent developments within Sudan. We have discussed that country on a number of occasions, and rightly so. Sudan, the largest country in Africa, is a nation and people with whom the United Kingdom has enjoyed a close historical and social relationship.

I declare an interest. Before I came to this House I led a delegation of British local government councillors to observe the presidential and parliamentary elections in Sudan in 1996. Earlier this year I was there again, spending some time visiting the oilfields of south central Sudan as a guest of the International Council for People's Friendship. While my involvement has not been as lengthy or Intensive as that of many noble Lords, I have followed Sudanese issues as closely as possible for several years.

We continually hear what can only be described as preposterous claims about Sudan. Earlier this year we read in the Sunday Telegraph that 700,000 Chinese soldiers were either in Sudan or on their way to the Sudanese oilfields. This was so ridiculous a claim that even the Clinton Administration were forced to distance themselves from it. Perhaps the Minister can update us on whether Her Majesty's Government have any evidence of the presence of these hundreds of thousands of Chinese.

We have also previously heard equally discredited accounts of several hundred Iraqi Scud missiles arriving in Sudan by some means. August of this year was the second anniversary of the disastrous American cruise missile attack on the Al Shifa medicines factory in Khartoum, which resulted from similarly unfounded claims. This House has spent considerable time discussing allegations about the use of chemical weapons in southern Sudan, despite the fact that dozens of samples provided by several independent, even pro-opposition, sources have been extensively tested by reputable laboratories in North America and Europe, including Porton Down in the UK, and have shown no evidence of such use.

We should exercise considerable caution in listening to what is said. It is perhaps time to discount the dead hand of propaganda and misinformation with regard to the Sudanese conflict which only serves to prolong the conflict and confuse observers. What is clear is that there has been a remarkable shift in attitude towards Sudan within the international community over the past year or so. This House must accept that, as a result of changes within the country and regionally, Sudan has moved from a position of relative isolation towards international acceptance. In 1999, for example, the European Union commented on signs of improvement in the Sudanese situation. In January of this year the EU acknowledged and welcomed the normalisation of regional relations.

But, more importantly, we should listen closely to both Sudan's neighbours and the Sudanese themselves. Surely, Sudan's neighbours and regional groupings such as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and Africa-wide bodies such as the Organisation of African Unity are considerably closer to the issues than we are. Those countries and bodies which interact every day with Sudan are only too aware of developments and changes within that country.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I apologise for interrupting. I should like to put a question to the noble Lord who is much more familiar with this matter than I am. The noble Baroness referred to the terrible killings that had occurred recently in the Sudan. Does the noble Lord accept that figure?

Lord Ahmed

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his question. I said earlier that I was not a specialist in this field. I shall speak only to those matters of which I am aware. I cannot confirm the figures, but later I shall refer to statements made by various countries.

Khartoum now has improved relations with neighbouring countries such as Egypt, Ethiopia and Eritrea. As many noble Lords will be aware, Sudan is still, technically, subject to the limited diplomatic sanctions imposed in 1996 following the attempted assassination of the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, by Egyptian terrorists while visiting Ethiopia in 1995. Both Egypt and Ethiopia have called for the lifting of those sanctions. The Egyptian Government state that they have seen, a number of positive and encouraging indications on the part of the Sudanese government". The Ethiopian Government have stated their conviction that, the concerns that gave rise to the sanctions … no longer apply … Ethiopia is, therefore, of the view that it is now time for the lifting of the sanctions imposed on the Sudan". Those views were echoed by the Secretary-General of the Organisation of African Unity, Salim Ahmed Salim. Interviewed by Reuters in June this year, he stated: The lifting of sanctions imposed on Sudan is not only urgently called for, but would also positively contribute to efforts aimed at promoting peace, security and stability in the region". We should remember that the sanctions were originally imposed at the behest of Egypt, Ethiopia and the OAU. They now wish to see them removed because of positive developments in Sudan. We should also take note that Sudan has had considerable support from the international community in relation to sanctions. South Africa and Algeria, in the capacities as chairmen of the 114-member Non-Aligned Movement and the 22-member Arab Group of states, have also publicly called on the Security Council to withdraw the sanctions. It would appear, therefore, that Sudan has attempted to address international concerns about issues such as support for terrorism.

As the Minister may be aware, the Sudanese Government have repeatedly invited the United States to send their own anti-terrorist teams to Sudan to investigate any information they may have about Sudan's alleged involvement in terrorism. The American Administration eventually accepted the offer, and an American team comprising experts from the CIA, FBI and State Department have spent considerable time in Sudan this year. Does the Minister have any knowledge about how that has progressed?

As the Minister will also be aware, in July 2000 the Organisation of African Unity nominated Sudan, over Uganda and Mauritius, to succeed Namibia to represent the African continent as a non-permanent member on the United Nations Security Council. Sudan was ultimately unsuccessful due in large part to American pressure and lobbying.

Apart from international developments, we should also listen carefully to the Sudanese themselves. It is clear that there has been a significant realignment in Sudanese politics. The last elected Prime Minister of Sudan, the Umma Party leader Sadiq al Mandi, has returned to Sudan after four years in exile. Last year he stated: There are now circumstances and developments which could favour an agreement on a comprehensive political solution". The Umma Party leadership has now returned to Sudan and its armed wing has abandoned the military struggle. There is a new constitution in Sudan, and even as we speak Sudan is holding multi-party presidential and parliamentary elections.

During my visit to Sudan this year I spent some time in discussions with Umma Party leaders and sensed that things had changed within the country. If the Umma Party and other opposition leaders believe there have been positive changes in Sudanese politics we, too, must give Khartoum the benefit of the doubt.

I have run out of time and must therefore conclude my contribution.

5.18 p.m.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness for providing another opportunity to debate the affairs of this very tortured country. It came as no surprise to me this morning to receive in my mail a bundle of literature from the European Sudanese Public Affairs Council. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is aware, that has become a familiar body over the years. If one sums up that literature, it calls into question the integrity and credibility of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, which is a very counterproductive step. We have had the pleasure and honour of knowing the noble Baroness for a number of years. The council should bear in mind that the interests of the noble Baroness in furthering the well-being of communities are not confined to the Sudan. She travels to many parts of the world where people are in trouble and her efforts are greatly appreciated. We do not get literature from those other countries seeking to damage her integrity. The European Sudanese Public Affairs Council really is out on a limb on this matter and should consider its position. What it does is totally counterproductive. We know the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and the good work that she does.

I should like to say a few words about the problems of the Christian community in southern Sudan. The noble Baroness covered very well the general position in the country. During the debate on the Queen's Speech on 12th December the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford said: This House needs to know that the Christian community across the world judges our policies here in the light of our Christian history".—[Official Report, 12/12/00; col. 247.] That may well be true—I would not dispute it for one moment—but, with respect, it seems to be almost the Church's equivalent of a Fabian summer school. When I was a younger man, at the weekends we used to discuss these topics and have a very pleasant time. I should like to see the Church taking much more interest in the persecution of our Christian brothers and sisters abroad.

If the Sudanese council does not like what the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, says, let us turn to Christian Aid. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford is chairman of the Board of Christian Aid. I should like to refer to what I found on Christian Aid's website. It stated that Christian Aid's co-ordinator for Northern Ireland, Deborah Doherty, travelled to southern Sudan to report on the work of local partners in the midst of an ongoing war. She talked of arriving in Yei just 24 hours after government of Sudan forces had bombed the town's market place, killing 20 and injuring 54. She went on to refer to a deliberate campaign of bombing against civilians conducted by the Government of Sudan since the beginning of the year. She gave the figures—133 such bombings in November alone.

That is an additional source to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. Perhaps we shall be hearing from the Sudanese council calling that into question. To me, this is evidence of brutality against the civilian population and we should take it very seriously. It is the kind of situation to which the dreadful term "collateral damage" has now been attached. What it really means is that ordinary civilians are being killed in large numbers.

During his speech in the debate on the Queen's Speech the right reverend Prelate went on to talk about Israel. Several noble Lords spoke about Israel and devoted substantial parts of their speeches to it, yet it is a country the size of Wales. There is an almost obsessional interest in Israel. The Sudan is actually 10 times the size of the United Kingdom, yet we cannot generate even a minuscule amount of interest in it compared with the obsessional interest in Israel. I am concerned about generating more interest in the Sudan because it offers an example of the persecution of Christians.

I am going to weary the House yet again with the quotation which I gave in a speech on the Sudan on 8th December 1998. I drew attention to a report which had been commissioned by the United States State Department and was published in the spring of 1997 by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights—Issue No. 1426–1693, Volume 5, No. 2. The following is a quotation from it: Though religious persecution is being experienced by people of different faiths (Moslems, Hindus, Jews, Christians. Bahais and others) the overwhelming majority of cases worldwide have to do with Christians. This situation reflects the fact that Christians are today the single most persecuted religious group in the world". We should be much more aware of that. We should do what we can and the Christian Churches should unite not only on the question of giving economic aid to people in other parts of the world but to highlight the persecution of our Christian brothers and sisters wherever it is happening in the world. If we did that, we could not only exert very much more pressure internationally but we could revive the Churches, which complain of falling attendances, and generate a real sense of purpose. We could then help people not only economically but help them to escape this persecution which is far more widespread than is generally realised.

5.25 p.m.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for this further opportunity to debate Sudan and for again bringing to the House her first-hand accounts from the field. I can share some of her frustrations. I, too, was in Sudan recently on behalf of Christian Aid and Save the Children. I saw for myself some of the terrible effects of civil war in the south—the bombed-out schools and homes, roads blocked by mines, and armoured cars blown up. In the north I met some of the displaced families where 2 million southerners, mostly refugees from the war, live in poor conditions.

I do not intend to swap atrocities tonight or to heap all the blame at the door of the Sudanese army and air force. As the noble Baroness mentioned, there are many factions on both sides of this war, and the SPLA and its allies are not the shining knights that the United States and others portray. Nevertheless, no one who visits the south can be unaware of the government bombs which fall day after day from Antonov aircraft on small towns like R.umbek and Yirol, which I recently visited, killing civilians, destroying livelihoods and spreading fear among the population. In November alone, I can confirm that the Church agencies reported 133 such bombings. In art attack on Yei market on 20th November at least 18 were killed and 53 wounded, 11 of them critically. Fortunately, the staff of a demining team, Operation Save Innocent Lives, were present and able to transport people to hospital. In the same week, a relief 'worker who had just completed training with Christian Aid in emergency work was killed by a bomb at Ikotos, in eastern Equatoria.

Whatever message the Government send to Sudan through the Chief Whip today, they will, I hope, urge the government of Sudan to stop their vicious bombing campaign, observe the ceasefires and allow humanitarian work to proceed.

But there are other messages. Outsiders are quick to judge and slow to understand the underlying reasons for conflict. War is of course to be avoided, but it is not enough for us to express outrage and urge ceasefires on the government of Sudan or quote UN resolutions in the air. It seems obvious to me that after 17 years, although the UN sanctions have had some limited effect, there is no international political will to apply force in Sudan on the scale of Kosovo, Kuwait or Timor. In other words, there is no present alternative to a policy of constructive engagement.

This is the policy which our Government are attempting to pursue quietly, while condemning the war and human rights violations. If we meekly follow the line of the US—whatever that may now be—we can hardly expect to have any influence in Khartoum. Unlike the noble Baroness, I should like to see more, not less, contact with Sudan, not only on grounds of our historic links and potential economic ties, but because I believe that we can help the people of Sudan, north and south, through our diplomacy and eventually our aid programmes, slow as they are in coming.

The conflict in Sudan is not a simple jihad of Muslim north against Christian south. Sudan has a much more sophisticated culture than that. Like Egypt, it has a history of religious tolerance which has been distorted by fanatical minorities and by extreme forms of fundamentalism which is in itself a purifying force. The influence of Dr el Turabi, while important, is currently on the wane—that is a positive sign—while the Umma Party of Sadiq el Mandi is in the ascendant. The NIF government are unelected and autocratic but they are not monolithic. The army, the civil administration, the wali of Khartoum and the various religious parties all speak with different voices. The opposition forces are equally divided. No internal solutions are in sight, yet the political scene is changing and the government of Sudan do seem to want to rejoin the world and are seeking diplomatic allies.

In my view, the IGAD process has dragged on for long enough. Only the more active involvement of the powers already represented, including Libya, Egypt, the EU and the new US administration can together arrive at a satisfactory settlement. These powers, including ourselves, need to show the people of Sudan that they are ready to help. As at Addis Ababa in 1972, the Churches and civil society can play a part following their successful initiatives on the ground over the past two years, which already have the potential of a lasting peace.

In my opinion, this peace must be built on the unity of Sudan, not on two states, but one which recognises ethnic minorities and human rights—and on its economic strength, which is necessarily based on the new oil supplies in Upper Nile, the scene of so much of the fighting today. This oil belongs to the whole country, but if much more time elapses, it will continue to flow into the coffers which fuel the war instead of revitalising the areas which so badly need it.

This is a country which once had a tremendous agricultural potential, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, will know. The Gezira scheme, which started in the 1920s, has about half the country's 2 million hectares under irrigation and still claims to be the world's largest para-statal farming enterprise. However, owing to mismanagement, successive droughts and the decline of the cotton industry, this project has become a shadow of its former self, although it could be revived. The Kanana sugar scheme and the ambitious Jonglei Canal have suffered similarly, and even the success of cereal production in the north-east has failed to offset an annual food deficit of over 1 million tonnes. The result has been a collapse of the economy, which is beyond rescue, even given the oil reserves, while the war continues.

Unfortunately, the UN is also in some disarray. Two years ago, the combination of drought and war tested to the limit Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS), which is supposed to bring food and medicines to victims. OLS has delivered a great deal of aid, but it has not reached everyone in need; for example in the Nuba mountains. It is at the mercy of both the government of Sudan and the SPLA, neither of which respect ceasefires which they themselves have painstakingly agreed. The NGOs are divided in their allegiance to Operation Lifeline Sudan. The UN is low in morale and attempting to redeploy, with the United Nations Development Programme itself drastically cutting its traditional development projects.

Despite the cruelty of the bombings and the war, there are many other reasons for hope. I have already mentioned the peace process. The conflict continues, but other opportunities for development are already presenting themselves. Some NGOs, including Christian Aid, Save the Children, Oxfam and CARE, have remained in both the north and the south throughout the war and are reliable channels of development aid as well as emergency relief. Our embassy is well aware of this and is very active, but it is time that the whole Government recognised the longterm value of much of these agencies' humanitarian work and interpreted their requests more generously.

Having spent a week in Bahr el Ghazal, I know how desperate are the needs. Health centres and schools need to be resupplied, if not completely rebuilt. The rehabilitation of health, education and water supply projects do not always imply putting up buildings which can be targeted from the air. Basic communications must be improved; it took me several hours to travel 100 miles along a causeway across flood plains close to the Nile. Markets need to be revived as trade is almost at a standstill. Goods are being carried long distances on bicycles, which provide the only transport when no other vehicles are available.

There are now many professional Sudanese development agencies ready to carry out these tasks, given the resources. I shall mention only one which I met, the Bahr el Ghazal Youth Development Association (BYDA), which has an impressive record of civic education, self-help and community development, encouraging even people in desperate need to support themselves.

Above all, people need to be confident that the outside world is willing to help. The dioceses of Salisbury and Bradford also provide important links. With nearly a generation lost, there is a great deal to be done to restore our educational and English language ties through such bodies as the British Council, which would like to expand its work, and Skills for Southern Sudan, which has recently carried out a fascinating survey based on its experience of preparatory training in areas of conflict such as Uganda and southern Africa.

Finally, I should like to quote from an appeal by three aid agencies involved in Sudan, which stated: The world's governments must act urgently, coherently and innovatively if we are to end the tragic cycle of Sudan's suffering. Humanitarian assistance is vital, but not enough. The UN Security Council and its member states must make use of every means at their disposal to bring Africa's longest running war, finally, to a close".

5.35 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, there are only three words with which I can suitably begin my few remarks: "Non sum dignus"—I am not worthy to take part in a discussion of the kind we have had today. We have heard four speakers, all of whom have first-hand knowledge of the Sudan and who have recently visited that country. We have just listened to a moving address from the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, who undoubtedly is one of the finest representatives of the younger generation in this House today.

I have to confess to a bias. I believe that the rules on the declaration of one's interests have been tightened up of late, even where no financial connection is concerned. Given that, I shall have to declare my interest in support of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. We do not know each other on a personal basis, but I shall express my admiration for her. I am glad, too, that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, is to say a few words in the gap. He leads an inspired prayer group which I attend regularly. At almost every meeting we pray for the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, as she goes about her dangerous work. She travels all over the world working on behalf of Christianity and humanity. I start, therefore, with a bias in favour of anything she says. I know that the noble Baroness has some enemies. I recently saw a document attacking her. However, due to partial sightedness, I am lucky in that I cannot read all that much. That document went very quickly into the wastepaper basket. So far as I am concerned, the enemies of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, might as well go and jump in the lake.

I understand that we shall not vote on this matter, but I wonder whether we take seriously enough the whole issue? Surely, we must be horrified by the terrible stories we have heard today. Whether things are slightly better or slightly worse, the whole situation is pretty awful. I believe I heard the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, say that some 2 million people have been killed in the Sudan. Are we not bothered by that? Do we not feel that we should do something about it? However, I know that this little island cannot control the whole world and put everything right.

Recently I met a taxi driver who had just returned from Cambodia. He told me that some 50 per cent of the population is 15 years old or under, all the older people having been murdered. The most awful things are happening all over the world. But do we not have a special responsibility towards the Sudan" Perhaps I am a little biased, other than in my tremendous admiration for the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. I have mentioned before my only claim which may be unique to this discussion. Some 85 years ago i1 had the pleasure of meeting Lord Kitchener. I was only a little chap. That great man was attending a garden party given by my grandmother, Lady Jersey, at Osterley Park. The great man bent over and said to me, "Who are you, my little man?". I responded by saying, "I am the grandson of grandmama". That was accepted. I shall always think of Lord Kitchener of Khartoum as a kindly old gentleman.

More recently, I have become a close friend of Lady Aitken, the mother of Jonathan Aitken. Her father, who became Lord Rugby, whom I came to know later by playing golf with him in Abu Dhabi where he was what we would now call the ambassador, was at one time Governor-General of the Sudan. As a girl, Lady Aitken, often went out there to stay. She said—I heard it from many sources—that there was a very close relationship between the British and the Sudanese, that the British liked the Sudanese and the Sudanese respected the British. There has been a connection between Britain and the Sudan—this is my only point and I shall sit down when I have made it—and I suggest that, although we cannot control the whole world and put it to rights, we have a special responsibility to act to improve matters in the Sudan. It is a responsibility that we are not shouldering at present. I hope that we shall do better in the future.

5.40 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I speak with great diffidence, but at least my interests have been declared by the noble Earl, Lord Longford. I am moved to speak because today we started by considering the persecution and slaughter of Christians in Indonesia at the hands of a Muslim jihad and we are concluding by considering the slaughter. among others, of Christians in the Sudan under a Muslim government imposing Sharia law. To both, my noble friend Lady Cox has directed the attention of this House. She is a combination of a roving Christian ambassador arid a reconnaissance force for the Churches, who has performed an enormously valuable service to us and continues to do so.

As to the specific issue we are debating, it is beyond question that the atrocities she has described have taken and are taking place. Nothing the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, has said and nothing the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, has received through the post has actually gainsaid the fact that she, personally, has brought people out of slavery. We could be talking about the Middle Ages; this is a lesser of the many evils that are being perpetrated.

How do we as a country with a Christian tradition, and with many practising Christians in government and opposition, try to stop this happening? The first thing I would suggest, in the few words that convention permits me, is that the moment the word "oil" emerges, all governments' motives are suspect. I ask Her Majesty's Government to recognise the proper priorities in this case, which are not economic but compassionate and moral. It does not matter what is the faith or the colour of the skin of the people who are suffering. They are fellow religionists with me, but I would have as great a duty to them if they were not. That goes also for the Government.

The second question is how can we exert ourselves to bring the killing to an end. Here we have a contradiction of views between people of equal experience and commitment as to whether it should be through constructive engagement or outright and arms' length condemnation. There can be no dispute that there must be outright condemnation; the question is whether that should be at arms' length. There should be clear alternatives offered to the Government of the Sudan between some kind of amity brought about by a cessation of this obscene violence and the availability of aid, counsel and support.

We as a country have a duty in the world to support what is right and to oppose what is wrong. Whenever in the past we have failed to do this we have finished up in the most appalling mess; a great many people have been killed, and in the end a lot of them have been British. This is happening on a different continent and the threat, the danger, of temporisation may therefore seem less because it is further away. But the world is a great deal smaller now than it was in 1939 and a great deal smaller still than it was in 1914. I do not think that we can abandon moral imperatives without inviting physical disaster. I urge the Government to be round in their condemnation of what is being done, whatever may be the commercial risk. In the end, the risk of not doing that is much greater.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, I had not intended to speak in the debate. I would not have done so had I not received this morning—like other noble Lords—an extraordinary package from the European Sudanese Public Affairs Council consisting of a letter from a Mr David Hoile, of whose interests one is not aware, and no less than two pamphlets and a booklet. The booklet runs to 120 pages and does not carry a price tag. One can only assume that it is for distribution purposes and not for open market consumption.

I intervene merely to underline what other noble Lords have said about my noble friend Lady Cox, with whom I have had the privilege to be associated for nearly 20—yearsfirst in her capacity as a nurse when she had something to say to the last but one Conservative government about the plight of nurses in this country. She was courageous enough to take on my noble friend Lady Thatcher at the height of her power and, as a Conservative Peeress, marched down Whitehall arm in arm with trade unionists in protest against what was then happening in the nursing profession. We see today how right she was.

We might have done better in this country if we had heeded what my noble friend also had to say about what was going on in our education system. We did not, and the Labour Government are doing their best today to sort out the problems created at that time which could perhaps have been solved slightly earlier.

My noble friend's interests then took her overseas to many areas of the world where she has become a voice for the voiceless. I was privileged 10 years ago to go with her to Nagorno Karabakh, a troubled part of the world where she has done much for the Armenian community.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed. It is time for the dead hand of propaganda to be removed from this debate. We should listen to my noble friend Lady Cox.

5.47 p.m.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, the greatest tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, is that every time she raises the subject of Sudan, we all receive this flood of bumph from the European Sudanese Public Affairs Council and the egregious Mr Hoile, who is sometimes referred to as "oily Hoile". Unlike some other noble Lords, I always read his pamphlets with great care, except when they arrive immediately before a debate and I do not have time to do anything more than open them. I can assure Mr Hoile that I shall read his remarks, but not until after the debate. He must send them a little earlier if he wants me to entertain them before I speak.

I have been in correspondence with Mr Hoile on a number of occasions. I have asked him if he would tell me how the European Sudanese Public Affairs Council is financed, and I have yet to receive any response. I should like to know. It is a matter of legitimate interest to everyone who is in receipt of these documents.

Once again, we are greatly in the debt of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for drawing our attention to the formidable problems of Sudan, which has suffered, as she said, from the effects of a civil war of unparalleled ferocity. She pointed out that it has resulted in the deaths of 2 million people and the displacement of another 5 million people.

Like many other countries in Africa, Sudan was carved out by the British imperialists, with no regard to the affinities of its people, bringing together under one sovereignty the Arab and Muslim inhabitants of the north and the African Christian and animist peoples of the south. Not only were those differences the causes of the conflict but, as the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said, there are many other subdivisions which equally have led to strife among the people. But that is the main division and the reason for this civil war.

It has proved impossible to find a solution through the efforts of IGAD, the forum in which the states of the region come together, mainly because the NIF regime prefers to impose its will on the south by military force rather than to negotiate on the basis of self-determination for the south. However, IGAD has at least produced a Declaration of Principles which calls for a referendum, and the latest talks have been about what areas constitute the south for the purposes of this test of public opinion.

The south has made its own mistakes. Colonel G.arang's policy of "New Sudan", which entailed an alliance with northern opposition forces, is in tatters, as the leader of the NDA, Mohamed Osman El Mirghani. prepares to defect and Sadiq el-Mandi, leader of the Umma Party—as the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, pointed out—made a triumphant return to Khartoum last month, leaving the southerners effectively on their own. The so-called NDA forces, which seem to have been entirely southern SPLA troops, suffered a crushing defeat outsided Hamish Koreib in eastern Sudan at the beginning of November, showing the folly of Garang in trying to widen the conflict into a revolution against the NIF regime throughout the country.

The return of el-Mandi could be a catalyst for change. He has been characterised in the past as having intrinsically limited support because he is the leader of the Ansar sect, and that is represented by the Umma Party, but it was estimated that as many as 2 million people turned out to meet him when he arrived back in Khartoum on the 23rd November. He immediately struck a conciliatory note when he said to a crowd of several hundred thousand at Friday prayers the day after his return that in a country as diverse as Sudan in terms of culture and religion, there was not going to be an Islamic state. He was even more daring when he pointed out that the laws of Islam as handed down by the Prophet had changed very little, while the world had changed enormously. He said that Muslim scholars and jurisprudence had to adapt and change the laws. El-Mandi also insists that the agreement he has made with the NIF regime contains the right of self-determination for the south, which is lacking in the Libyan-Egyptian proposals endorsed by the NDA.

While the break between General el-Beshir and Dr Hasan el-Turabi signalled the abandonment of the hard line ideology previously adopted by the regime, and thus prepared the ground for a return to pluralism, it is not yet clear how the Umma Party and the DUP can play any immediate role in determining the policy of the state. The regime was determined to proceed with the presidential and parliamentary elections that are now being held over a 10-day period ending on 23rd December. But in 112 of the 360 constituencies there were no candidates other than those of the government; in the remainder, the main opposition parties urged a boycott and very few people have gone to the polls, at least in Khartoum. The new parliament will thus lack any democratic legitimacy, while in the presidential election el-Beshir's opponents are a former incumbent who was deposed in the coup of 1985 and three unknowns. The real opposition will continue to be extra-parliamentary, and that cannot be a recipe for greater stability in Sudan over the next five years.

On the human rights front, the situation remains as bad as ever. In spite of an order by el-Beshir to stop bombing in the south, warplanes resumed the indiscriminate attacks on civilians in July, as Susan Rice saw for herself when she visited the south last month. The town of Yei has been mentioned several times. It has suffered repeated attacks; an attack in the middle of November killed 40 people and put the only hospital out of action, supposedly as a message to Susan Rice, who was due to visit Yei but did not in fact go there.

Susan Rice met women freed from slavery, and demanded an end to what she called a heinous practice. The UN estimates that 15,000 southerners have been abducted in raids by tribesmen from the north, encouraged by their government, over the past 10 years and taken to the north as slaves.

Although el-Beshir speaks about religious tolerance and co-existence, Christians are not allowed to build churches; apostasy from Islam is punishable by death; and family law is heavily biased against non-Muslims. Students, political activists and human rights defenders are targeted. They are frequently detained without trial, and a number have been murdered by agents of the state.

All these and other issues have been covered by the Special Rapporteur in his report to the General Assembly published in September this year. He confirms allegations that have been ma de about particular human rights 'violations associated with oil developments in Upper Nile. Ethnic cleansing has replaced the local Dinka and Nuer people with northern Baggara tribesmen and the oil-producing area is being violently Arabised. I agree with the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that oil is a dangerous catalyst for human rights violations. Although a humanitarian crisis is developing, OLS has been prohibited from bringing in aid, and 40,000 displaced people in Bentiu are mostly in an alarming nutritional state. The Special Rapporteur says that further influxes may be catastrophic.

On top of all the man-made disasters, Sudan is beginning to suffer drought in the south and west of the country, in Darfur and Kordofan. The WFP country office says that food stock levels are at a dangerously low level, cereal prices are rising and livestock prices are plummeting; and wells, dams and other water resources are drying up. About 700,000 people are said to be affected.

What can Britain do? We have provided financial and political support for a permanent negotiating secretariat in Nairobi and we are in regular contact with all the parties, pressing the case for talks and explaining the benefits that peace would bring to the civilian population. I think that we should go further and tell Khartoum that we deplore the resumption of bombing, and that we hope that they will refrain from new offensive operations in the dry season. We should also tell John Garang that he is off-side in opening hostilities anywhere outside the south. We should try to understand what Sadiq el-Mandi's agenda is, and how this can be pursued outside the framework of parliamentary politics; and we should urge General el-Beshir to hold talks with el-Mandi, and with the DUP, to establish a basis for returning to a genuine multiparty system based on religious and ethnic equality, and implementation of the IGAD Declaration of Principles.

5.57 p.m.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lady Cox for giving us the opportunity to discuss this vitally important subject. As always, my noble friend speaks with great authority and first-hand knowledge on these sensitive subjects, in a country where so much still needs to be done. Sadly, it is in complex areas such as these that the West has so many shortcomings. As the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, rightly said, we do not show nearly enough interest in the Sudan.

It is timely, too, that we should be having this debate so close to Christmas and that we should take time to think of people who are so less fortunate than we are in this country. I hope that some help may come out of this debate for an area that has been blighted for so long—especially as we are lucky enough to have the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip to answer it.

I read through the BBC World Service briefing on the history of Sudan since its independence in 1956; it is a sorry tale. It is a country with a litany of disasters and catastrophes as it lurches towards yet another coup or civil war. It has one of the world's worst human rights records. Even as recently as September this year, the Governor of Khartoum issued a decree barring women from working in public places. The imposition of Sharia law will certainly restrict individual freedoms still further. All this is taking place in the largest country in Africa—a beautiful place, dominated by the Blue and White Nile so well described in Alan Moorehead's eponymous books.

In the short time that is available I shall concentrate briefly on three areas, all of which are inter-related: the oil revenues, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Elton in his superb speech; the human rights situation; and the latest political position.

The big change in Sudan is the discovery of oil: the first oil exports in 1999 gave a growth rate of nearly 40 per cent in one year. This means that its revenue has grown from 530 million to 1,327 million dollars. Unfortunately, little of this enormous revenue has been spent on education, healthcare, or on measures to alleviate the terrible poverty. Reports even tell us that more and more is being spent on weapons. Until democracy is properly rooted, the advent of the oil revenues will do nothing for the population as a whole. Her Majesty's Government have constantly been questioned in both Houses as to what pressure we have put on the Sudanese Government. I ask the Minister that same question again tonight. Further, can the noble Lord tell us what is our latest aid policy in the light of all their new-found wealth?

I turn to my second point. I am embarrassed and, like the noble Earl, Lord Longford, I feel unworthy because we have so little time to address the really serious problems that stem from the violation of human rights in Sudan. If we had more time, I would try to do it justice. I wholeheartedly agree with my noble friend Lady Cox, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and my noble friend Lord Elton, all of whom have described the horror of the present human rights situation in Sudan far more eloquently than I could have done.

Thirdly, I turn to the political situation. No resolution has yet been found to the dilemma of whether government should be using religious, strict Islamic law or secular law. That is one of their main problems. Even though the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, was unsure in her response to my question on October 19th, can the Minister say whether we still consider Sudan a terrorist state? With the United States, China, France and Russia, we support Her Majesty's Government on having blocked Sudan becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council. The Freedom House, a human rights group, recently denounced the Sudanese Government as "genocidal".

As we have heard, the current situation in Sudan is horrific. It is even more horrific as the election that is now being held is unlikely to change anything. The European Union declined to send official observers, which means that we did not send any. There is also state censorship of the media, adding to our lack of confidence in the proceedings. Can the Minister say how the Government will know that these were fair elections? Further, what are the plans of Her Majesty's Government in respect of Sudan after the election?

Such advances as have been made in terms of democracy have been put on hold, while the sporadic fighting between the north, mainly Muslim, and the south, mainly Christian, has continued with only 11 years of peace since 1956. Can the Minister say to what extent the Government are prepared, especially in the light of the publication of the recent White Paper, to use their influence in the promotion of good governance in line with their ethical foreign policy? I look forward to hearing the response of the Government Chief Whip to that and all the other questions that have been raised tonight.

6.3 p.m.

Lord Carter

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for initiating this debate and for her continuing interest in the fortunes of the Sudanese people. We have had an excellent debate. I shall, with some trepidation, do my best to reply in the time that is available to me. However, if I am not able to reply to all the points raised, I shall, as always, ensure that the noble Lords receive a reply in writing.

I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, referred to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, as a "reconnaissance force". I think that all governments would prefer to call her a "rapid reaction force"—that is, if the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, does not mind my using that phrase!

All those who have spoken in the debate agree that the current situation in Sudan is both tragic and complex. However, regrettably, it is not a new one, nor indeed is the suffering in that country. As we all know, the tragedy of the continuing civil war has not only claimed the lives of millions of Sudanese of more than one generation; it has also prevented the development of the country and its relations with its neighbours and the international community.

The Government believe that peace is the only long-term answer to the suffering of the Sudanese people. We have given the search for peace in the Sudan a new priority. Indeed, to pick up the words used by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, compassion and morality must be at the forefront of our endeavours. We have engaged with all sides to the conflict. The Sudanese Government and the opposition parties are well aware of our views. Recent events in Khartoum and elsewhere in the region, as hinted at in the debate, suggest that it is time for a concerted push for peace. The international community should do all that it can to help.

It may be useful if I outline a brief history of the most recent international efforts to promote peace in Sudan. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) launched an initiative in September 1993 to mediate an end to the civil war in southern Sudan. IGAD groups include Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda and Eritrea, along with Djibouti and Somalia.

In May 1994, IGAD adopted a declaration of principles for settlement of the conflict. At the time, the Government of Sudan rejected the declaration. The previous British government, along with the governments of the Netherlands, Norway, Italy and the United States formed the Friends of IGAD to support IGAD's efforts. The Friends of IGAD offered both diplomatic and material support to the peace process. But, as I am sure noble Lords will know, the IGAD process ground to a halt in May 1995. However, under concerted military and diplomatic pressure, the Government of Sudan agreed in 1997 to renewed IGAD talks on the basis of the declaration of principles. That is, indeed, a step forward.

International efforts to support the IGAD process have intensified in the past two years. The IGAD Partners Forum—or IPF, as the Friends of IGAD is now known—has provided political and financial support to the IGAD secretariat. The British Government continue to be an active member of the IPF and hosted a meeting in London in October of a number of key member countries. The co-chairs of the IPF, Norway and Italy, expect to call an IPF meeting in Rome early in the new year. Therefore, efforts are continuing.

We see IGAD as the best chance to bring about a negotiated peace settlement and support the IGAD declaration of principles as the basis for settlement of the civil war. One reason for our support of IGAD is that the two main parties to the conflict—the Government of Sudan and the SPLM/A—have told us that they regard it as the only serious forum for negotiation. There are other initiatives aimed at promoting peace in Sudan. We welcome that interest, particularly in the region. The latter was also hinted at during the debate. However, we are keen to ensure that all these initiatives work alongside the IGAD process. We would not want to allow the parties to "forum hop" when the going gets tough, as no doubt it will.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, rightly condemns human rights abuses in Sudan. The Government share her concerns. Again, the European Union sponsored resolutions at this year's UN Commission on Human Rights and the UN General Assembly set these out. Human rights also form part of the EU-Sudan dialogue, which is about to enter its second year. There has been some progress: for example. the work of the Committee for the Eradication of the Abduction of Women and Children; agreement with the Office for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on having a representative in Khartoum; a greater number of visits by monitors; arid a LTN needs assessment mission being allowed into the Nuba mountains.

However, there are still many more issues to be addressed. Like the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, we find the aerial bombings in southern Sudan completely unacceptable. Our ambassador in Khartoum has made our views absolutely clear to the Government of Sudan. He did so most recently last Tuesday. But the problem of aerial bombings emphasises yet again the need for peace. We can argue with the Sudanese Government about the political acceptability of these bombings and, indeed, their military effectiveness. But by achieving a ceasefire in the first instance we would remove the government's argument of self-defence. A peace settlement would not only stop the killing of Sudanese people from all groups; it would also pave the way for the country's full re-integration into the international community.

We have heard much today, and rightly so, about the suffering of the Sudanese people. The British Government share the concerns of all who worry about their humanitarian plight. The United Kingdom is one of the largest bilateral donors of humanitarian assistance to Sudan. 'We have committed over £200 million since 1991. But, of course, the humanitarian situation is not helped by the civil war. We shall continue to work with the United Nations, international NGOs and others to deliver the humanitarian assistance which is required but we cannot consider development assistance programmes until the fighting has stopped.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, mentioned reports of the possible use of chemical weapons by the Government of Sudan. We take all reports of the use of these weapons seriously. As the noble Baroness knows, tests of particular samples at CBD Porton Down and at US and Finnish laboratories showed no evidence to substantiate allegations that chemical weapons were used in specific incidents in Sudan. Sudan acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention last year. The appropriate mechanism is therefore now in place to deal with future investigations. We continue to encourage the Government of Sudan to co-operate in the fight against international terrorism. I shall return to that.

Despite the hopeful remarks of my noble friend Lord Ahmed, the British Government fully support the EU arms embargo against Sudan and expect it to remain as long as the civil war continues. All export licence applications are rigorously assessed to determine the risk of the proposed export being misused in contravention of our national export licensing criteria and those in the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports, including the risk of diversion or re-export to undesirable end users. We have pressed for oil revenues to be used for development projects and for transparency in the oil account. In return, the Government of Sudan have made some public assurances to this effect. We shall look to them to honour those assurances and shall remain firmly focused on this issue. The FCO and the DTI have no ongoing campaign promoting investment in the Sudanese oil industry, nor do we have any policy to halt all commercial interests.

The abduction of women and children is a serious and distressing issue to which we pay particular attention. As I have mentioned, the European Union sponsored UN Commission on Human Rights resolutions last year and this. These called on the Government of Sudan to investigate reports of abduction, bring to trial persons suspected of involvement and accept international participation in the investigation into the cause of abduction. Following from this, the Government of Sudan established the Committee for the Eradication of the Abduction of Women and Children last year which is working with UNICEF and Save the Children. So far, we understand that the committee has facilitated the return of over 300 abductees. There is still much work to be done. We shall be looking for more action as a result of this initiative. Through the EU we have been part funding the committee and our ambassador has been active in visiting the areas affected and attending workshops in order to show our concern and to urge much greater effort.

We regularly denounce slavery to give a lead to our European partners. As I have just said, the ambassador regularly attends workshops of the Committee for the Eradication of the Abduction of Women and Children and Her Majesty's Government support the work of UNICEF and Save the Children in the return of abductees.

As noble Lords will be aware, we now have a fully operational embassy in Khartoum. The British Government use that important channel to ensure that the Government of Sudan are made fully aware of our concerns in a timely way.

I shall respond to some of the questions that were raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, asked about no fly zones and safe havens. I shall reply to the noble Baroness in writing and place a copy of the reply in the Library as the matter requires a little more research than we have time for this evening. It is important that the critical dialogue which we pursue with our EU partners brings home to the Government of Sudan the weight of international opinion. This has led to results such as the creation of the committee I mentioned on abduction. The critical dialogue involves criticism. The criticism would be easily dismissed without that broader dialogue. To pick up the phrase of the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, we wish to see constructive engagement.

I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, mentioned evidence of Sudanese support for terrorism. The UN imposed sanctions and adopted Security Council Resolution 1054 in April 1996 which called on the Government of Sudan to ensure the extradition of three suspects in the attempted assassination of President Mubarak and to desist from engaging in terrorist activities. The UN sanctions have not yet been suspended or lifted. We continue to encourage the Government of Sudan to co-operate in the fight against international terrorism. I understand that the Security Council may consider the issue again in April.

My noble friend Lord Ahmed asked about Chinese soldiers and Scud missiles. We have no evidence to support charges that there are hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers or, indeed, any number of Scud missiles in Sudan. The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, asked about the elections in Sudan. We, as members of the European Union, were party to the decision not to send election monitors. Appropriate conditions were not in place for the proper monitoring of the elections. It is, of course, unfortunate that the opposition decided not to take part in the elections. We shall continue to urge the Sudanese Government to talk to the opposition parties where possible.

The noble Baroness's Question is wide-ranging. I have tried to give as full a reply as possible. But in essence our approach to Sudan is dictated by a belief that the only way to end the terrible human suffering in Sudan is through a negotiated settlement to the war. Peace negotiations are therefore our overriding priority and recent events have given us more reason to press ahead. The UK has been at the heart of international efforts to help reinvigorate the regional peace initiative, IGAD, and seek other ways of putting real impetus into the talks.

Our return to Khartoum has ensured that we are once again in an excellent position to influence all the parties to the conflict. Her Majesty's Government remain convinced that constructive and critical engagement with all concerned is the most productive policy.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, why has he not mentioned the United States, given that we are now in a promising situation with a new administration taking seriously the problems of the Middle East? Is there any particular reason why the noble Lord did not mention the United States?

Lord Carter

My Lords, the fact that it is a new administration makes me a little cautious in terms of giving a quick reply to the noble Lord. I shall write to him and place a copy of the reply in the Library.

House adjourned at twenty minutes past six o'clock.