timate demands for political and economic reform. The recent developments in Egypt and Tunisia fill us with a sense of hope that these countries have chosen a road towards change and democracy. This gives us grounds for cautious optimism.
In many places, the legitimate aspirations of the people have been met by brutal violence. The situation in Libya is extremely worrisome, and I condemn in the strongest terms the completely unacceptable display of violence that we have witnessed.
We must all continue to condemn this in the clearest possible manner and call for the violence to stop now. Denmark welcomes the speedy and historic reaction by the Security Council. The resolution adopted on Sunday sends a very strong message to Colonel Qaddafi and his associates. A message that the international community is unified and is prepared to take action and hold the leadership accountable. The referral of jurisdiction over crimes committed in Libya to the International Criminal Court is very important in this regard. We also welcome the Security Council’s underlining of the Libyan authorities’ responsibility to protect its population.
I am satisfied that the EU already yesterday (28. feb. 2011) decided to impose sanctions that go further than those adopted by the Security Council, including by imposing an embargo against equipment which might be used for internal repression.
It is up to the Libyan people to determine their future leadership. It seems clear that Qaddafi, through the actions that he has taken, has lost all legitimacy as the leader of Libya and it is hard to see that Libya’s future can continue to be tied to him.
The stability of the Middle East is vitally important to global peace and security. It also directly impacts the global economy as we are seeing now with the increasing oil prices. In Europe, we are directly affected due to our geographic proximity. But first and foremost, the people of the Middle East deserve a peaceful and prosperous region.
We have a clear, mutual interest and a shared responsibility to support the people’s aspirations for freedom and democracy and respect for their rights. The EU should do its utmost to assist: We are committed to a new partnership with more effective support to the countries that are pursuing political and economic reform.
On a bilateral level, Denmark will continue to foster dialogue and assist civil society through our Partnership for Dialogue and Reform. And we will find additional funds to strengthen civil society and support the people who are pursuing democracy and human rights in the region.
The Arab world and Europe share a long history. There is no denying that some chapters in this history have been dark; yet we have also learned immensely from each other and will continue to do so in the years to come. In these times of momentous changes in the region, there is an opportunity for us to work more closely together. Seizing these new opportunities for cooperation to achieve progress and economic development was a clear message from a dinner I attended at the World Economic Forum in Davos with Arab business leaders.
Let me conclude my remarks on the Middle East by touching on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This remains a source of tension and an obstacle to prosperity and progress. It is crucially important that we draw the right conclusions from the events unfolding in Egypt, Tunisia and other countries in the Middle East. Rather than pulling back from efforts to restart the peace process, we need to push even harder for an urgent return to negotiations. Time waits for no one.
The two parties have a long way to go. They must commit to a future to the benefit of all. In Europe, we insist on not letting opportunities for peace fade away. We cannot afford it; the Palestinians and the Israelis cannot afford it.
I will end with Afghanistan which remains a key priority for us.
As you may all know, just last week we succeeded in reaching broad political agreement on a two-year plan for Denmark’s engagement for 2011-2012 with a view towards 2014. The so-called Helmand Plan 2011.
I am very satisfied that we have maintained the wide political support for our engagement. It shows that Denmark is a committed and engaged ally – and a responsible member of the international community. And I know for a fact that this is also very important to the Danish soldiers in Afghanistan.
The overall ambition of the plan is to create the foundations for a sustainable handover of responsibility for security to the Afghans in 2014. This requires progress not just in the area of security but also on governance and development. Our agreement addresses all three areas.
On security, the agreement entails a gradual adjustment of the Danish engagement in the Helmand Province over the coming two years towards training, support and education of the Afghan security forces.
The military adjustments and the gradual reductions will be initiated now. All in all, we will reduce our troop contribution from approximately 750 to approximately 650 over the next two years. According to the plan, Denmark will no longer have combat units in Afghanistan by 2014.
We are also increasing Danish support for training of the Afghan police. In fact, we will double Danish police training efforts in Helmand. The Danish police training effort has generated considerable praise internationally. This is something we are very proud of!
As for governance and development, Afghanistan remains one of the least developed countries in the world, and there is a great need for long-term assistance to the country. Denmark’s development assistance to Afghanistan will be increased by 100 million DKK over the next two years. Our overall assistance will thus reach approximately 500 million DKK, making Afghanistan the second largest recipient of Danish assistance.
Our assistance will remain focused on three areas: state building, improvement of livelihoods and education. In addition, we will do more within the areas of women’s rights and the rule of law. Both are key areas for the development of Afghanistan.
Let me end by stressing that Denmark is committed for the long term in Afghanistan. With our partners, we will remain engaged long after 2014 to assist Afghanistan on its path to development, stability, peace and reconciliation.
Thank you for your attention. I look forward to our discussion.