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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we know that our troops have been very successful in securing the airport. We have been involved very closely with those who will take over to develop a strategy for managing this matter. We are informed that there is every confidence that the UN troops who will replace our troops will have the ability and capacity to hold that airport securely for the benefit of others.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, first, may I remind the noble Baroness the Minister that the middle of June is Thursday week? Am I right in understanding that she tells us that the Foreign Secretary has undertaken that all British troops, except the 180 left for training purposes, will leave Sierra Leone by Thursday week? Secondly, how long will those 180 troops remain in Sierra Leone? Thirdly, what arms and other equipment have been guaranteed or offered to the government there by the British Government?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, our expectation is that the combat troops of whom I have already spoken will be withdrawn by next week. I cannot give the specific date. We are on target in relation to that.
As regards the training, there is no specific limit on how long the 180 will be there, but the noble Lord will know that our commitment to training the Sierra Leone army is not a short-term one; it is a long-term commitment that we had before this conflict arose, and we shall continue to pursue it. It is hoped that the 180 troops--it may be a slightly higher figure--will be able to train over 1,000 recruits of Sierra Leone origin. I am sure the noble Lord agrees it is most important that Sierra Leone is able to look after herself in the long term without being dependent on international forces to assist her in this regard. Therefore, the provision of training, not simply the 180 troops, is a long-term commitment.
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, now that Mr Sankoh has been in custody for some time, can my noble friend inform the House whether Her Majesty's Government are confident that they can identify the individuals who are effectively in control of the rebel forces at this time? Have any attempts been made to contact those individuals and, if so, what success has been achieved?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am unable to give your Lordships specific information. Those details are not fully available to me, although they may be available to others under more secure circumstances. We know that strenuous efforts are being made to identify and contact those responsible for the rebels in order to bring them under control. We are aware that the intelligence-gathering process is very efficient and thorough.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, in view of the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, do the Government anticipate further demands on British troops in the rest of Africa, or the world, either for this or any other kind of operation? First, are Her Majesty's Government confident that they have enough troops to satisfy any potential demand without any degree of overstretch, which is a matter that worries a number of noble Lords at the moment? Secondly, can the Minister inform the House whether the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague has any jurisdiction in west Africa? If not, would that be desirable; or is the standard that applies to the Balkans different from that which applies to west Africa?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I deal with the last point first. The War Crimes Tribunal does not have jurisdiction in relation to Africa, and it is absolutely plain that exactly the same rules apply to Africa as to anywhere else. As to the noble Viscount's first question, I wish that I had a crystal ball. When I took over my post in July I thought that the problems of the world were in good part solved; they are not. We never know when or what conflicts will arise. However, to date we have had sufficient forces for all
Lord Avebury: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that since the Statement was drafted the 21 Indian peacekeepers, who were surrounded by the RUF in the eastern town of Kuiva, have been taken into custody by the RUF and moved to Pendembu? Is the noble Baroness able to inform the House what has happened to the other 220 Indian peacekeepers who are blockaded in the Kailahun district? Is the noble Baroness able to explain the strategy of the United Nations to prevent the RUF from exploiting its hold over the peacekeepers as a means of deterring the Sierra Leone Government from pursuing their offensive against the rebels in the east?
Does the noble Baroness agree that the original coup against President Kabbah by the military government, which lasted for several months, was motivated by rivalry between the regular armed forces and the Kamajors, an ethnic Mende militia, which has now been resurrected in the guise of the Civil Defence Force? Does the Minister agree, therefore, that it is extremely dangerous that Sierra Leone should have two, if not three, separate armed forces, only one of which is completely under the control of the civil administration? Is one component of the Government's long-term strategy to beef up and regenerate the armed forces of Sierra Leone an attempt to ensure that the Civil Defence Force is disbanded and demobilised and that the soldiers who belong to that militia are re-integrated into the regular armed forces of the government?
As to the demilitarisation of the RUF, has any further attempt been made to establish contact with its commanders in Kailahun and Makeni? Are we entirely dependent on the good offices of President Charles Taylor in this regard? As to the illicit diamond trade, can one suggest that the services of Ambassador Fowler, who has done such a brilliant job in Angola, should be deployed by the United Nations in an attempt to stop up the flow of illicit diamonds as the Government's strategy demands? In that regard, can the noble Baroness say whether investigations are being made into the article in the Observer last Sunday in which it was claimed that diamonds purporting to come from the war zone in Sierra Leone had been offered to dealers in Hatton Garden who made no bones about accepting them? Does the Minister agree that steps should be taken to prevent the acceptance by diamond dealers within our own country of these illicitly mined gems?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I deal with the last point first. The illicit sale of diamonds is a matter of acute importance which we are addressing with vigour in the way I described earlier. I understand the concern expressed by the noble Lord. If dealers in Hatton Garden behave in such an unscrupulous way, that is a matter of great concern and we can do nothing but deplore it. The UN informs us that it has lost
I reiterate Her Majesty's Government's clear view that for Sierra Leone to have one identifiable army must inure to the long term benefit of that country. That is the best way to enhance the security and stability of that country and its borders without having to rely on outside assistance. In relation to all those matters I agree with the noble Lord. I am unable to provide a specific answer about contact with Charles Taylor, and perhaps I may write to the noble Lord in respect of that matter.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, is the Minister able to provide a little more information, without hazarding security, about how it is proposed to deal with the seat of all this trouble: the diamond fields? I heard what the noble Baroness said but I did not understand exactly, or in broad strategic terms, what was to be done. Is it not apparent that there must be strict military control and containment of the diamond fields? Is it right that the United Nations has agreed to take total control of that operation? If so, what part, if any, will our troops play in it? To leave aside the diplomatic efforts with Liberia for one moment, how is this military containment to be effective? If it is not, the trouble will continue.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the hope and expectation are that the Sierra Leone army, together with the UN troops, will be in a position to retake the whole of that territory. Noble Lords will know that the RUF is currently in control of a number of the diamond-producing areas in Sierra Leone. So the strategy would be for the UN, together with the Sierra Leone army, to retake that area and make it secure. Then, having made it secure, the strategy would be to bring it back under the democratic rule of the properly elected government and subject to the normal rule of law.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, could the noble Baroness endeavour to answer the last question posed by my noble friend Lord Tebbit about the supply of British arms to the Sierra Leone army? Could she also say what arrangements have been made, after training the troops, as we are doing, to arm them?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the arms that are currently being made available by Britain will be under the control of British military personnel. They will be responsible for the distribution and the identification of who has them and on what conditions. Your Lordships will know that we face a very fluid situation. I cannot give you the exact quantum of those arms. But they are being very carefully negotiated and will be kept under proper control by authorities who will make sure that they are
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