§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Peter Hain)
The Government have led the way in the creation of an international certification scheme to deny conflict diamonds access to world markets, and help to protect the legitimate trade on which so many livelihoods depend.
§ Judy Mallaber
I welcome the hard work done by my hon. Friend and the Foreign Office in cleaning up the diamond trade; but does my hon. Friend accept that sanctions-busters are still taking diamonds from Revolutionary United Front rebels in Sierra Leone and from Unita in Angola, and supplying them with weapons that are used to perpetuate these murderous wars? 156 Does he agree that Victor Bout is a major supplier of arms to the rebels? What action is being taken to stop him breaking UN sanctions?
§ Mr. Hain
I agree with my hon. Friend that sanctions-busters are continuing to perpetuate the conflict in Sierra Leone and Angola, with the result that countless lives are being lost and mutilations are taking place. Victor Bout is indeed the chief sanctions-buster, and is a merchant of death who owns air companies that ferry in arms and other logistic support for the rebels in Angola and Sierra Leone and take out the diamonds which pay for those arms. All the countries that are allowing him to use their facilities and aircraft bases to ferry that trade in death into Sierra Leone and Angola are aiding and abetting people who are turning their guns on British soldiers, among others, in Sierra Leone. It is important that they stop doing that.
§ Mrs. Williams
Will my hon. Friend tell me what pressure has been put on the Governments of Liberia, Rwanda, Togo and Burkina Faso to stop sanctions-busters dealing in illicit diamonds and operating in their countries in blatant defiance of United Nations sanctions?
§ Mr. Hain
I am glad that my hon. Friend raised that matter, as one of the cruel ironies and tragedies of the appalling conflict in Sierra Leone and Angola is the fact that fellow Africans are allowing sanctions-busters to operate within their boundaries, and carry in arms and take out diamonds. That practice perpetuates such conflicts. All the Governments named by my hon. Friend, including some Presidents and senior Ministers, have been complicit in that barbarous trade, and it is vital that they cease it immediately, comply with UN sanctions and help end those wars
§ Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)
Is not it essential that the conflict diamonds in Sierra Leone cease to be such as soon as possible, and that the areas affected are returned to the control of the Government? Would it not have been better if that had been achieved by a British-led UN force or, indeed, a British-led Sierra Leonean force in the first instance, so that the Sierra Leonean Government had regained control of those diamonds early on? How long will it take us to train the Sierra Leonean army to achieve that task on its own?
§ Mr. Hain
We have already helped to train 3,000 members of the Sierra Leonean army and another 3,000 will receive further training in the coming months. One will not end the conflict, win the war or create peace unless one takes control of the diamond-mining areas, and the hon. Gentleman is right to point that out. The way to achieve that is for the Sierra Leonean army to go in, with UNAMSIL filling in behind, to take control of those diamond mines and stay there permanently, or at least for the foreseeable future.
The new national certification scheme that the Sierra Leonean Government have introduced will allow the proceeds from those diamonds to make the people of Sierra Leone rich, instead of poor and torn apart by war.
§ Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)
Although I welcome the initiative on conflict diamonds, will the Minister explain what happened to joined-up government? He will be aware of the civil war in the Congo and the problems there, and know that the Zimbabwean army is operating in the Congo. I am sure that he is also aware that a British Army team is training the Zimbabwean army that has gone to the Congo, where its sole purpose is to protect the diamond trade that is lining the pockets of Mugabe and his henchmen.
§ Mr. Hain
I agree that it is intolerable that the Zimbabwean army is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo helping to perpetuate that war, draining Zimbabwe's own budget and assisting with the collapse of that beautiful country. However, the British military advisory and training team in Harare is not contributing to that effort. It is not there to train the Zimbabwean army, but to support a regional peacekeeping initiative and work with the UN to bring stability to the region. That is the purpose of that British team's operation.