Dáil Éireann - Volume 471 - 13 November, 1996

Written Answers. - Zairean Conflict.

75. Mr. M. Kitt asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs the current position regarding the Franco-Spanish proposal to send a 5,000 member international force to help bring assistance to more than a million refugees in Zaire. [21271/96]

81. Mr. R. Burke asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs the Government's and the EU's response to the appeal for swift action in Zaire made by EU aid Commissioner, Ms Emma Bonino, and French Secretary of State for emergency humanitarian action; and whether the Government will use its influence during its EU Presidency to ensure that a peace-keeping force, mandated by either the EU or the UN, is immediately sent to Zaire to protect the vulnerable population. [21277/96]

86. Mr. R. Burke asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs the outcome of the meeting of EU officials in Brussels on 5 November 1996, to discuss the possibility of international intervention in the Zairean crisis; and the outcome of the EU Development Council meeting under the EU Presidency on 7 November 1996. [21283/96]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Spring): The Irish Presidency of the European Union has been following with the deepest concern the further deterioration in the situation in Eastern Zaire. As I indicated in my Adjournment Statement to the House on 6 November, both I and the Minister of State at my Department with responsibility for Development Co-operation, Deputy Joan Burton, have been engaged in active consultations with EU colleagues, the United Nations, the UNHCR and with African leaders in the Great Lakes region on possible ways through which an end can be brought to a conflict which has the potential to lead to a humanitarian catastrophe. In addition to direct consultations with the UN Secretary General, Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who has briefed me on developments in the Security Council and on the role of his Special Envoy, I have also had discussions with US Secretary of State, Mr. Warren Christopher and the Canadian Foreign Minister, Lloyd Axworthy, on the modalities of a possible multinational intervention.

The Irish Presidency has been, and continues to be, fully engaged with our European partners and the EU Special Envoy to the Great Lakes region, Mr. Aldo Ajello, in an intense round of contacts with regional leaders on a possible way forward. Mr. Ajello has been given an additional and specific mandate to support efforts to resolve the crisis in Eastern Zaire. Following discussions in Kigali, Rwanda, Zaire and Uganda, Special Envoy Ajello attended, on behalf of the Union, the Summit of Regional Leaders on the crisis in Eastern Zaire which was held in Nairobi on 5 of October. At the Nairobi Summit, the outcome of which has been welcomed by the Presidency and our EU partners, the regional leaders called on the Secretary-General of the United Nations to take urgent measures to ensure the establishment of the safe corridors and temporary sanctuaries for refugees by deploying a neutral force. The Summit affirmed the readiness of the sub-region to make its own contribution to that effect. At a later meeting of the Central Organ of the Organisation of African Unity for Conflict Prevention in Addis Ababa on 11 November, which was also attended by Special Envoy Ajello, these views received further endorsement from African leaders.

In the context of the need for a comprehensive approach to the complex and inter-connected problems at issue in the Great Lakes region, a special meeting of European Union development and humanitarian aid Ministers was held in Brussels on Thursday 7 November. The meeting was chaired by the Irish Presidency, Deputy Joan Burton, Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs. The Development Ministers were briefed on the evolving situation in the Great Lakes region by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Mrs. Ogata and by representatives of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), International Committee of the Red Cross, the UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs and the World Food Programme.

The meeting reaffirmed the Union's determination and commitment to assist vulnerable people, refugees and displaced persons in Eastern Zaire, in averting further human tragedy there and in avoiding a potentially catastrophic humanitarian disaster in the region. Following the Special Meeting, a Special EU Mission to the Great Lakes region, led by the Minister of State, Deputy Burton, along with her Italian and Dutch counterparts and [1047] Commissioner Bonino, left on 9 November for Zaire and Rwanda. Their mission, which will report to the EU General Affairs Council, has had a number of high level meetings with the Zairean and Rwandan Governments, as well as representatives of NGOs and UN agencies operating in the region, and included a visit to Gisenyi on the Rwanda-Zaire border.

Although the security situation had prevented humanitarian agencies from operating in the region there have been some hopeful developments in the last few days. I welcome the decision by the Rwandan Government to allow a selected number of NGOs to enter Zaire to provide humanitarian assistance and prepare a plan of action on the refugee issue. These organisations, including Concern and Trócaire, began to cross the border from Rwanda on Monday and have begun to assess the precise needs within the Goma area. In addition the Rwandan Minister of Health is involved in mediating with Zairean rebels, in order to improve the level of security for the aid agencies.

The UN Security Council in New York has been pursuing its own consideration of the issue in parallel. In its Resolution 1078 on 9 November, the Council “strongly urges member states, on an urgent and temporary basis and in co-operation with the Secretary General of the Organisation of African Unity, to prepare the necessary arrangements, in consultation with the States concerned, to allow the immediate return of humanitarian organisations and the safe delivery of humanitarian aid to displaced persons, refugees and civilians at risk in eastern Zaire and to create the necessary conditions for the voluntary and secure repatriation of refugees”. Resolution 1078 also requests the Secretary-General to report to the Security Council by 20 November with a “concept of operations and framework for a humanitaarian task force, with military assistance if necessary”.

European Union member states are now giving active consideration to how best they can assist in the early implementation of Resolution 1078 as the basis for the authorisation of a multinational humanitarian intervention. In so doing they will be taking account of its prospective mandate and the contributions which can be made by the Organisation of African Unity, African countries, the United States, Canada and others. The outcome of the Security Council's consideration of the issue, which is expected very soon, should provide the broad framework within which a concerted international response to the crisis will be situated. As EU Presidency, Ireland will maintain close contact with the United Nations in New York, the Organisation of African Unity and the regional leaders on the progress of this proposal.

The Government supports in principle the idea of the deployment of an international humanitarian protection force or monitoring presence in support of a solution to the crisis in Eastern Zaire.

[1048] However, as I have stated in my previous reply, such a force would have to be accepted by both sides to the conflict and be seen as impartial.