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Thursday, 16 March, 2000, 18:10 GMT
Row over Mozambique aid response
Sea King helicopter
Sea King helicopter delivering aid. But was it delayed?
More lives could have been saved in Mozambique if UK government departments had not wasted time squabbling, the Conservatives have claimed.

Shadow international development secretary Gary Streeter said in-fighting between the International Development Department and the Defence Ministry had delayed the UK's rescue mission to the flooded southern African country unnecessarily.


While people were dying in trees, this government was wrangling over the price tag for four helicopters

Gary Streeter
Opening a debate on the crisis in the House of Commons he launched a stinging attack on International Development Secretary Clare Short's role, accusing her of having failed "utterly and completely" to get government departments to work together.

"It did not work smoothly," Mr Streeter said. "Mistakes were made - mistakes that did cost lives.

"The delay, indecision and in-fighting, which undermined the British government's response must never happen again."

Earlier this month Clare Short told the BBC her department had been forced to look elsewhere for aid because the Ministry of Defence had initially charged too much for the use of RAF Puma helicopters.

Gary Streeter
Gary Streeter accused Clare Short of "shameful" delay
Her comments were attacked by members of the opposition who claimed squabbling had delayed the British aid effort to Mozambique.

But Ms Short angrily refuted Mr Streeter's comments, accusing him of playing "cheap games with such important matters."

She said there was no row of any kind between MoD and International Development Department ministers.

"The decision not to commission four Puma helicopters at 2.2 m but to commission less costly helicopters from southern Africa caused no delay of any kind whatsoever in getting helicopters to Mozambique," Ms Short told the House.

'Shameful'

Mr Streeter said the two departments were at loggerheads over the cost of sending helicopters to Mozambique for three days.

"This is what the British people find so utterly unacceptable," he said. "While people were dying in trees, this government was wrangling over the price tag for four helicopters."

Clare Short
Clare Short: No row of any kind
He said Ms Short's failure to strike an immediate deal was "shameful."

He asked if it was because Ms Short was in a "permanent state of war" with many of her Cabinet colleagues.

But Ms Short dismissed reports of a rift between her and the Armed Forces Minister John Spellar as "completely untrue."

"There has been no argument whatsoever of any kind between Mr Spellar and myself and that is the truth," she said.

But Ms Short told MPs that UN co-ordination had been a "little slow" in coming to Mozambique and that was a lesson for the future.
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See also:

03 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Mozambique aid rift denied
03 Mar 00 | Africa
Disaster response 'shocking'
01 Mar 00 | Africa
Million homeless in Mozambique
28 Feb 00 | Africa
Long task ahead for aid workers
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