HL Deb 09 March 2004 vol 658 cc1123-5

3.6 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Winchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

What requests for assistance they have received from the Government of Uganda, in the light of recent developments in the campaign of the Lord's Resistance Army across northern Uganda; and what advice or assistance they have offered.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, the Government of Uganda have not made a direct request for assistance from the UK or the wider international community following recent developments. We are deeply concerned about the deteriorating situation in northern Uganda. The UK provides significant humanitarian assistance. We have disbursed £8.4 million over the past 12 months to meet the emerging needs of the north. At the same time, we continue to urge the Government of Uganda to seek a peaceful solution to the conflict.

The Lord Bishop of Winchester

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. Does she agree that among the claims of the wide range of political, ethnic and religious coalitions not only among the Acholi but right across northern Uganda, would be that the place should be regarded as a disaster area and that the Government should be seeking outside assistance in a much more organised way?

I welcome the Minister's statement that the Government have been talking about a non-military, political, humanitarian solution. However, when the President was here at the end of January, did the Government raise with him the pressing questions of the continuation of the law of amnesty and the inclusion, or the exclusion, of the LRA in its terms? Have the Government recently raised with Uganda continuing human rights violations and child abduction and use by Ugandan forces as well as by the LRA? Have they talked about the wisdom of creating local militias? Have they talked about the continuing activity in the Congo and the effects of that upon the effectiveness of Ugandan forces?

Baroness Crawley

Yes, my Lords. The Prime Minister raised a number of issues that the right reverend Prelate covered in his meeting with President Museveni on 29 January. The right reverend Prelate will know, from his great interest in the region, that our High Commissioner in Kampala is in constant touch with the Ugandan President on this issue. We have a very open relationship with Uganda—it is not uncritical, but it means that there is a great deal of dialogue. We have said quite openly that we believe that the military option favoured by President Museveni simply is not working. We are encouraging the Ugandan Government to consider all options to resolve the conflict, including dialogue.

Lord Alton of Liverpool

My Lords, will the Minister accept that the depredations of the Lord's Resistance Army are not confined to northern Uganda, but are spreading into the provinces of neighbouring countries? This is not only a tragedy for the victims of the brutal assaults and killings; it is also a stain on the reputation of Uganda at a time when that reputation has been growing within the international community because of the considerable progress that has been made in building its economy and democracy. Therefore, should we not reconsider providing more logistical support, short of sending military personnel? We could at least give advice and support and encourage the process of dialogue to which the Minister referred.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, we believe that Uganda's reputation has been growing, which is why we have developed a constructive relationship, especially in the areas of health and education. However, we will continue to tell the Government of Uganda that we believe that military intervention is not the only way forward. One great way forward would be to ensure that the local communities affected by this brutal gang of insurgents could become part of the solution. They are the very people who wish the dialogue to take place. We are supporting that dialogue through peace and reconstruction initiatives and initiatives designed to help return former child soldiers to the community. Some of them have taken part in the most dreadful acts of violence. It is therefore a very complex reintegration procedure, but we are doing our best.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, on the role of the local communities, did the noble Baroness note the remarks made by the Catholic archbishop of northern Uganda, John Baptist Odama, that it was dangerous to arm villagers because it would make them targets for the LRA? Is that not precisely what happened on 21 February, when 200 displaced people were atrociously massacred because they were guarded by local militias? Would it not be better, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, suggested, to help the Ugandans to improve their own military capacity?

What has happened about the donor review of the Ugandan armed forces? Has a meeting been scheduled to discuss the outcome of that review with the Ugandan authorities?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, it is a sorry fact that military intervention by the Ugandan Government has sometimes led to a response that is dreadful for the people of northern Uganda as far as the Lord's Resistance Army is concerned—it is conflict building on conflict. However, the noble Lord is right, the Ugandan Government have undertaken a comprehensive defence review, which the UK has supported, aimed at defining Uganda's defence priorities and, based on that, the optimum size and capability required for Uganda's armed forces. Indeed, we are encouraging the Government of Uganda to discuss implementation of the review's recommendations with the donor community as soon as possible.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, is it not the position that this war has now been going on for 18 years, with Joseph Kony's terrifying so-called Lord's Resistance Army displacing half a million people and, as the noble Baroness confirmed, committing unspeakable and unending atrocities? Although one recognises that negotiation sounds the best way forward, it does not sound very hopeful against people who commit these sorts of acts.

Is it not also the case that military authorities in neighbouring countries, such as Sudan, are beginning to intervene? Bearing in mind that the Prime Minister's commitment to Africa is one of his highest priorities as regards development, should the Government not be rethinking our policy along the lines suggested by the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Avebury?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, our response to what is happening in northern Uganda is under continual review. I agree with the noble Lord that Sudan has a key role to play in the resolution of this conflict. The UK's special representative for Sudan, Alan Goulty, has visited the region several times. In August he discussed the LRA question with President Museveni in Uganda and has urged the Sudanese Government to enforce their decision to no longer provide assistance or shelter to the Lord's Resistance Army. That message was reinforced by Hilary Benn in his meeting with President al-Bashir during his visit to Sudan on 10 December. He was assured that Sudan no longer supported the Lord's Resistance Army. Our ambassador in Khartoum is also in regular contact with the Sudanese authorities on this issue.

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