HL Deb 19 May 2004 vol 661 cc775-7

3.6 p.m.

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

What information they have about the progress of negotiations on a lasting peace settlement in Somalia.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, having reached agreement on a transitional federal charter in February, the Somalia National Reconciliation Conference lost some of its momentum. However, we understand that Foreign Ministers from the region plan to meet Somali leaders in Nairobi tomorrow to discuss a way forward.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, is there any reason to suppose that if tomorrow in Nairobi the faction leaders agree to a parliament, as they are meant to, they will honour the agreement any better than they have done the ceasefire or the transitional charter? Does the noble Baroness agree that the peace process is fundamentally flawed because of its changing cast of warlords, the repeated violations of the ceasefire, the violations of the UN arms embargo and the general attitude of the players to the process itself? Would it not be an idea for Her Majesty's Government to suggest repatriating the peace process to Mogadishu, where large bills would not be run up at expensive hotels and the minds of the participants might be concentrated on the security problem?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I respectfully disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. The Government do not believe that these talks are futile. This process, as the noble Lord has said, has been very long and difficult, and of course there is no guarantee that it will ultimately be successful. However, fear of failure is no reason not to try. We owe it to the Somali people to support all credible efforts to bring peace, stability and democracy to their troubled country. In those terms, I believe that we have a hopeful initiative from the regions' leaders to try to restart these negotiations tomorrow.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, what support have Her Majesty's Government provided to help the estimated 35,000 internally displaced people resulting from the latest clashes? What support have Her Majesty's Government given to the UNICEF programme to help to eradicate female mutilation in Somalia?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, DfID has given up to £6 million of support for humanitarian assistance throughout Somalia, and that is just from last year's budget. That assistance will cover humanitarian aid and health issues particularly where children are concerned. The noble Baroness will know, from her own experience, of the enormously serious problem of malnutrition in children in Somalia.

Lord Addington

My Lords, has the monitoring group on the arms embargo reported recently? I am informed that it has not done so for over six months. The flood of arms into Somalia is a serious cause of its destabilisation.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I have good news for the noble Lord: the group monitoring the UN arms embargo on Somalia is meeting this afternoon and publishing its latest six-month report.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, has the noble Baroness seen the report of the international crisis group? It suggests that the process should be widened to allow traditional elders, representatives of civil society, religious organisations and private sector figures to participate and that Somali ownership of the talks should be encouraged. Does she not think that the reduction of the number of participants from 355 to 203, as is being done for the meeting tomorrow, is likely to limit Somali participation and reduce the chances that the outcome of that meeting will be accepted by the Somali people as a whole?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, as the stakeholders have worked so hard to get to the point of restarting the talks, we will make as much effort as we can to support them and to facilitate the talks starting and not failing. However, I note what the noble Lord has said and if these talks fail again—the noble Lord will know that a time limit has now been set for these talks and that they cannot go beyond the end of May—then one of the areas that the international community will consider is the building blocks approach that he suggested. That is an approach in which we work with the diaspora, civil society, business representatives and women's groups in stable parts of the country to help them to develop consultative and democratic structures at grassroots level.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, are we not trying to impose our type of democracy on to what is still essentially a clan society? Should we not be trying to get the heads of the clans to work together, especially the minority clans that have been very downtrodden? We have a lot of asylum seekers from those clans in this country.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I agree with the noble Countess. Our approach is not to impose our model of democracy. As she rightly says, Somalia is a country built on clans and decisions are made through the leadership of those clans. Therefore, we are looking for an assembly or legislature that will be the end-product of the talks and that will be built through the clan system. We are doing everything that we can to support that.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, has the African Union played any part in this and, if not, is it expected to do so?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I will get back to the noble Baroness on whether the African Union has played a part. Of course, the region's frontline countries have played a part, that is the west African and Horn of Africa countries. The talks are in Nairobi, Kenya, and all the neighbouring regional countries have been very involved. On the specific question of the African Union, I will come back to the noble Baroness.