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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Viscount said that historically our peacekeeping missions last longer than we would like. They do indeed last but they also keep the peace. They are necessary in countries where otherwise the internal civil strife leads to the atrocities that we have witnessed so unhappily taking place in Sierra Leone. I do not believe that what I have said indicates an open-ended commitment. However, I am not in a position to tell the noble Viscount that it will end at a specific time in the future because that is not realistic. We have to keep the position under constant review. I do not believe that there has been--to use the journalistic term I used a few moments ago--"mission creep". I believe it is very important indeed that the Government have kept a very firm eye on the full range of our commitments overseas.
The noble Viscount paints a very gloomy picture of morale in our Armed Forces. While I recognise that there is a problem over retention of some of our Armed Forces, I hope that the noble Viscount will be as pleased as I am that last year was the best year for recruitment in the Army for some 10 years. We have sought to address the problem of retention through a number of different means, which we have discussed in your Lordships' House previously. But I assure the noble Viscount that when we make decisions about deployments of the Armed Forces the question of what we have termed overstretch of the Armed Forces is to the forefront of our minds. We recognise that responsibility and will continue to do so.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, the Minister spoke about bringing the rebels under control. Will the noble Baroness confirm that the clauses in the Lome agreement which refer to total disarmament and demobilisation of all non-state armed forces still apply? Will she confirm that the objective is to demobilise and disarm the whole of the RUF so that it no longer presents a threat to the state? Is not the
Will the Minister also say something about the status of the so-called civil defence forces, the Kamajors? Will they ever be reintegrated into the regular armed forces of Sierra Leone; or will there continue to be, as there have been in the past, two different sets of armed forces in parallel with the danger of conflict between them which that implies?
Can the noble Baroness say something about the work of the sanctions committee? She mentioned the need to stop the trade in illicit diamonds. Perhaps she will confirm that at a recent meeting in Geneva some new measures were agreed by the diamond marketing companies of the world to try to prevent these illicit diamonds from reaching world markets. Can the noble Baroness say something about the committee? It was established under the auspices of the United Nations. We gave evidence to it on 31st July about the nature of this trade and about allegations in particular which we made concerning the involvement of the Liberians. Has there been any progress in gaining the co-operation of President Taylor in stopping up the traffic which was alleged to go via Monrovia; and in preventing illicit supplies of arms coming from Liberia and reaching the RUF in the field?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the Lome agreement is designed to deliver lasting peace in Sierra Leone. It provides for the permanent cessation of hostilities, as the noble Lord indicates. It also provides for disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of all ex-combatants, and for the creation of effective and democratically accountable armed forces to protect the country in the future and the international peacekeeping force to supervise that process. It is implicit in that if we are training the legitimate forces in Sierra Leone, which will be under the control of the democratically elected government, we are training them for a purpose. That is to keep order in their own country. If that means engagement with the RUF, I am afraid that that is what is implied. But it is our firm desire that the RUF will understand that they mean business and that it will see that its own interests lie in a peaceful future for its country.
The noble Lord asked about integration of other parts of armed groupings within Sierra Leone. Our primary task at present is to try to get the Sierra Leone army on to the right footing. We are far from that at present. That is why Her Majesty's Government have put forward these extra resources which I have described to your Lordships today in order to accelerate that process. But having a firm base for those armed forces, the ways in which others who may wish to take to arms can be dealt with will be a consideration. I believe that the important issue in the first instance is the Sierra Leone armed forces.
The Minister announced two things. First, that there will be an additional 100 (or thereabouts) British trainers to train the Sierra Leone army. Secondly, I think that my noble friend said that there would now have inevitably to be discussions in New York as a result of the withdrawal of the Indian contingent, that the British Government will participate in those discussions with the secretariat in New York, and that we shall be making provisional arrangements internally in the structure and control of our Armed Forces here so that if we wished to make a contribution to the UN force, as emerges from those discussions in New York, we should be in a position to do so.
I hope that that is right because the British are extremely good at peacekeeping. It is refreshing that in recent years the United Nations has moved away from the old convention: that the permanent members of the Security Council did not engage in peacekeeping exercises. Our Armed Forces are particularly good at this task. I hope that if the UN thinks it right, and we think it right, the Government will be in a position to respond.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, my noble friend is right in part. Without repeating the Statement, perhaps I may run over the main points. First, starting after the deployment at the end of this month which I described, we are running three more training teams for the Sierra Leone army on the same syllabus we have been running since early June.
Secondly, we are continuing the specialist training that we have described under the British-led organisation IMATT. Thirdly, we are providing funding for a further package of equipment. That is important to the Government of Sierra Leone. Fourthly, we are establishing an operational level headquarters in Sierra Leone to ensure effective command and control of the UK effort. Those are four important points.
I did not want simply to agree with the noble Lord, because he understandably overlooked some key points from the Statement. I thank him for his comments about our peacekeeping prowess. We have much to be proud of on that. Wherever I go around the world, British peacekeeping expertise is rightly admired and very much wanted in areas of difficulty.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I remind the House that I have a somewhat peripheral interest, but following the comments of my noble friend Lord Cranborne and of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, can the Minister say, in percentage terms, what level of operations the British Army can sustain in the long term over several years?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as I suspect that the noble Earl would expect, I shall have to seek further advice on that. I suspect that the figure would vary from time to time. At times we have had high levels of deployment. At the height of the Kosovo crisis, our deployment of our Armed Forces was well over 40 per cent. I am happy to say that it is now 20 per cent less than at that time.
The noble Earl's question is understandable, but it may be difficult to answer because of the indications that that might give about our military strength to those who might not be too unhappy to exploit such information. If I can give the noble Earl any further help, I shall of course write to him.
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