Thursday, June 15, 2006

Extract from yesterday's Hansard

3.21 pm

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they intend to participate in the meeting of the proposed Somali contact group in New York; and what strategy they consider should now be pursued to ensure that Somalia has a stable Government.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Triesman): My Lords, we plan to participate in the contact group meeting at official level. Our strategy is to support the Somali transitional federal institutions and an inclusive approach to reconciliation and the restoration of effective governance in Somalia.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is unhelpful of the Americans to convene this meeting in New York at a time when the special envoy of the Secretary-General, Mr Fall, is talking to the key players with a view to making a report to the Security Council next week? In view of the fact that the situation in Somalia is a threat to international peace and security, as declared by the Security Council last month, does the noble Lord agree that, in the absence of any indication that the transitional federal institutions will be able to restore peace, consideration should be given to the formation of a more inclusive Government in Somalia to enable other players to enter the equation? Does he also agree that consideration should be given by the Security Council

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next week to the demand that is likely to be made by the Somali Parliament for an international peacekeeping force from the United Nations?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, the position in Somalia has become a great deal more difficult today. The forces that took Mogadishu have advanced to and taken the town of Jowhar and possibly the airport to the north of it—we do not yet know. We also do not yet know whether they intend to march on Baidoa. There are also indications of troops massing on the Ethiopian border. I think that any steps taken in the United Nations by the contact group should be expeditious, and we should not worry unduly about whether we have got the exact composition right today. Our official will make those points in New York.

I make the point in the House today that, for all this peace-seeking work to have any prospect, the parties must stop fighting now. They must spare that country from further bloodshed. They must engage with the transitional Government, and the transitional Government must engage with them, or the prospects are indeed dreadful.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, is it the view of the Government that the Somaliland Government, based in Hargeisa, can play a positive role in this tragic conflict? What contacts, if any, are there between Her Majesty's Government, the international community and the Government of Somaliland?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, there are continuing contacts with the Government of Somaliland. I pay tribute to that Government; although they are not internationally recognised, in the sense of there being a fully fledged state, the stability of Somaliland stands in sharp contrast to the position across most of the rest of Somalia, with the possible exception of Puntland, directly to the east of Somaliland. Anything that can preserve that stability is very important. I believe that that will be the subject of some discussion at the African Union conference in the Gambia in the first few days of July.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, is it correct that the Islamic Courts Union, which is the party that has taken over Mogadishu, has stated repeatedly that it does not wish to be regarded as an enemy of Somalia's future and that it wishes to have friendly talks? If that is correct, will it be included in or consulted by the contact group?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, it has made those statements, which has encouraged the interim president, President Yusuf, to try to make contact with it. I believe that, as we meet, the efforts to make that contact and open a dialogue have started. My own view is that the international community through the contact group and through the United Nations Special Representative must try to speak to all those parties, not least to try to prevent fighting from continuing.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, can I press the noble Lord further about the role of the United States? Does

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he think that the United States can be seen as an honest broker in this situation, given the reports of the US providing funds to the Somali warlords and therefore, as it were, backing one side? Should not the United Nations, rather than the US, take a lead in trying to address the problems of that dangerous area?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, nothing will stop the United Nations addressing the problems. I welcome the fact that all the efforts from the powerful players—the United States, together with a number of others—are now directed at preventing the onset of what could be a very serious conflict. Incidentally, the effort is being co-chaired by Norway, which has a good and extremely powerful record in negotiating peace. Evidence of the actions of the United States is a matter for the United States Government, but the monitoring group at the United Nations has the power to look at any evidence of impropriety, particularly in respect of the arms embargo, and if necessary through the Security Council to act on that. However, we should respect those processes rather than being driven along by what might be alleged in the newspapers from day to day.

Lord Chidgey: My Lords, the Minister mentioned in one of his earlier replies his concern that the international community and the African Union should take an interest in this development, particularly with the meeting coming up in the Gambia. Have Her Majesty's Government made any contact or had any discussion with our counterparts in the European Union about giving the AU as much support as possible in order to prevent the conflict spreading throughout the northern zones of Africa?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, we have had discussions with the European Union, the African Union and the regional bodies throughout Africa.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, does the occupation of Jowhar by the forces of the Islamic Courts Union mean that there is one fewer warlord with whom negotiations need to be held? As the Islamic Courts Union has declared that it has no intention of attacking Baidoa and the Government of President Abdullahi Yusuf have declared that they would like to engage in conversations with the Islamic Courts Union, is that not the next step that should be encouraged by the United Nations and by the UK in particular? Will the Minister undertake to put that on the table for discussion at next week's meeting of the Security Council?

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