Written Answers. - Zairean Conflict.
Desmond J. O'MalleyCeist:
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs
the steps, if any, he proposes to take as President in Office of the Council of Ministers of the European Union to protect the estimated three quarters of a million refugees and displaced persons in eastern Zaire in view of the conflicit between various factions in that country and in view of the dangers and hardships being suffered by these people.
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs
the steps, if any, he has taken to promote the United Nations taking action with immediate effect to halt the human disaster in eastern Zaire; and his views on whether the delays to date are justifiable.
I propose to take Questions Nos. 48 and 61 together.
The House will be aware of the broad outlines of Government policy on these issues from the debates we have had here over the past two weeks, both on the situation generally in the Great Lakes region and on the motion approving the dispatch of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force for service in the temporary multinational force for eastern Zaire.
The steps which we are taking both in our Presidency capacity and bilaterally are at two levels — the immediate humanitarian requirements and the longer-term process of addressing the underlying problems which have given rise to the humanitarian crisis.
In respect of the humanitarian situation, the European Union is continuing intensive efforts in support of the work of the international agencies and NGOs, including a number of Irish organisations, to bring relief to those in distress in eastern Zaire and to assist in the orderly, voluntary, return of refugees to their countries of origin. The House will be aware that, as part of the EU's response to the crisis in the Great Lakes region, including in eastern Zaire, the Development Council meeting chaired by my colleague, Deputy Burton, Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, on 22 November agreed a series of measures to provide both immediate and long-term humanitarian and development assistance. A package of 170 million ECU for the Great Lakes region was proposed. Work on this plan is now at an advanced stage. The European Commission is also working on a strategic and comprehensive plan of action for EU assistance to the Great Lakes region. This plan will support social and economic rehabilitation, the reconstruction of independent and equitable justice systems, rebuilding and reinforcement of administrative systems and constitutional institutions, and regional peace-building efforts. We have already briefed the House on the steps in support of these measures being taken by the Irish Government bilaterally.
Turning to the multinational force sanctioned for humanitarian purposes by UN Security Council Resolution 1080 of 1996, I welcome the fact that this House last Wednesday passed the motion approving the dispatch of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force to participate in this force. I believe that such a force has a potentially important role to play in the process of providing humanitarian assistance and in facilitating voluntary repatriation in the volatile and difficult situation obtaining in eastern Zaire. While fully sharing the views of Deputies about the urgency of the mission, I also agree with the Minister for Defence when he stressed during that debate the need to ensure the full safety of our troops, a process that inevitably requires careful and thorough planning. Discussions with the Canadian authorities are continuing about the details of our participation and I know that the Defence Forces are keen to finalise arrangements in that regard as soon as possible.
As the Minister for Defence told the House last week, a phased, a progressive and flexible plan for the deployment of the MNF's has been worked out and agreed by the participating countries. Under this plan, the MNF's role will evolve to match the changing circumstances in eastern Zaire and its deployment will proceed on a step-by-step basis, in the context of the overall objective of facilitating the delivery of humanitarian assistance and the orderly, voluntary repatriation of refuges and displaced persons. At the moment, the work of setting up the headquarters of the MNF in Kampala, Uganda, is continuing. The voluntary return of hundreds of thousands of refugees to Rwanda has undoubtedly been a most positive development, but many thousands more remain at risk in eastern Zaire. The international agencies have been continuing to try to bring assistance directly to those people and, in light of the rapid evolution of events, the situation in that regard is being reassesed on a daily basis. The MNF is liaising closely with the international agencies, under the leadership of the UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator, in this process of re-evaluation to ensure that the force plays its full part in assisting the agencies in their work in eastern Zaire. One way it is doing this at present is through the provision of information to the agencies on the location of refugees and displaced persons obtained from aerial reconnaissance. Among the further options being looked at by the MNF is the possible delivery of humanitarian assistance into eastern Zaire by air-drops or ground convoys. No decisions have yet been taken in this regard, but the establishment of the HQ in Kampala should considerably enhance the planning and information-gathering for such options.
A further important element in the evolution of the situation will be the report of the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General, Ambassador Chretien, which is expected to be delivered to the Security Council very shortly. It is likely that this will provide the context for a wider evaluation of the further steps that are necessary in terms of the delivery of assistance to those in need in eastern Zaire. The Secretary General is also working on proposals for a possible follow-on operation which would succeed the multinational force and these proposals are to be submitted to the Security Council by 1 January 1997.
There have been complaints about the length of time that full deployment of the MNF is taking. The reality is that we are dealing with a complex situation which is evolving at a rapid pace. The circumstances which obtained, say, one month ago are very different to those of today. Against the background, I believe that the step-by-step, flexible approach being adopted by the MNF is a sensible, prudent one which balances the humanitarian needs of the situation with the safety of the participating troops.
The European Union, and Ireland as Presidency, have been playing an active part in this process. One specific instrument through which this is being done is the Joint Action which was adopted by the EU on 22 November. The Joint Action draws together the contribution which the Union could make to the efforts which the UN has undertaken to solve the crisis in the region. In parallel, a Council Decision was taken requesting the Western European Union to elaborate and implement aspects of that Joint Action. These are important measures in terms of ensuring a Union approach to the crisis that is as cohesive and effective as possible and work on their implementation is proceeding. I should add also that Ireland is anex officio member of the steering group of the MNF. This is the body which has political oversight of the force.
For the remainder of our Presidency, Ireland will continue to work actively, both within the Union itself, within the UN system, and on the steering board of the MNF to ensure that every effort is made to alleviate the suffering of the remaining refugees and displaced persons in eastern Zaire.
The difficulties in eastern Zaire are, of course, part of wider, deeper problems in the region as a whole and it was common ground between all parties in this House during the recent debates that a humanitarian response, important as it is in the short term, is not a solution to broader political problems. That is why it is absolutely right that, in tandem with the humanitarian effort, work at the political and development levels must proceed with urgency also. That is also why, during the remainder of our Presidency and during the further six months in the Troika thereafter, we will continue to press for the early convening of an international conference on peace, stability and development in the region, under the auspices of the UN and the Organisation of African Unity. This conference could look at all of these issues in a comprehensive, integrated way and bring forward plans for a durable, lasting settlement. The EU and the international community generally would be involved in this process in a supportive way, with a central role being taken by the region itself. I am convinced that through this approach real progress can begin to be made in ensuring that an end is finally brought to the terrible cycle of violence and suffering which has plagued Central Africa for generations.