Mali

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Does the Minister share my scepticism at the French Foreign Minister’s prediction that French soldiers will be out of Mali in a matter of weeks? That seems pretty unlikely to me. On the comparisons with Sierra Leone, does the Minister agree that it would be wrong to make the wrong comparisons? ECOWAS was deployed in Sierra Leone, and I understand that it will quite rightly be deployed in Mali, but the situation in Sierra Leone required British troops to go in and defeat the terrorists there. The second point on Sierra Leone is that there were no jihadi extremists with an international dimension, including al-Qaeda. Sierra Leone was a specific situation, fuelled by blood diamonds. For all those reasons, I believe that the situation in Mali could become an incredibly long-drawn-out morass, and we must be careful to promote a political solution to it.

Mark Simmonds: The right hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. He is right to highlight the complexity of the situation, and the fact that it will take some considerable time to arrive at a complete solution—a political resolution to the problem and providing stability to enable the northern part of the country to be part of the territorial integrity of Mali. The United Nations resolutions are absolutely clear that the political process is a fundamental part of finding a stable, long-term solution to the problem. I very much hope that the French-led military operation, to which we are providing limited logistical support, will be a short time-frame deployment. However, the right hon. Gentleman is right to say that the diplomatic, political and economic processes will take some time.