Britain urges Sri Lanka civil war probe

2nd December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Sri Lanka must hold an independent probe into possible human rights violations during its civil war, Britain said Thursday amid a controversial visit by the island's president.

Mahinda Rajapakse was due to speak to the Oxford University debating society but his talk was cancelled following protests from ethnic Tamils, who had mobbed his arrival at London Heathrow Airport.

Britain believes Colombo "must develop a credible and independent process to look into reports of possible violations of international humanitarian law by both sides during the conflict in Sri Lanka," a Foreign Office spokeswoman said.

She added: "We have made this clear to the government of Sri Lanka, most recently when the Foreign Secretary met the Sri Lankan foreign minister in October."

Sri Lanka foreign minister Gamini Lakshman Peiris dismissed the calls for an investigation during a news conference in London on Thursday.

"We have put in place what we consider to be the best, most effective and most pragmatic mechanisn," the minister claimed.

Sri Lanka's army defeated the Tamil Tiger separatists in May after nearly four decades of ethnic bloodshed in which the United Nations estimates between 80,000 and 100,000 people were killed.

British Defence Secretary Liam Fox held a private meeting with Rajapakse but few details emerged despite questions being raised in parliament.

Lawmaker Keith Vaz, a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils, an informal cross-party body studying Tamil affairs, called for a full statement on the meeting in the light of international pressure to investigate possible war crimes.

George Young, the leader of the house, said Foreign Office question time on December 14 might be a chance to raise the matter, adding: "It was indeed a private meeting and I can't guarantee any statements."

It came after Sri Lanka's government lambasted the prestigious Oxford Union for scrapping Rajapakse's planned talk.

Rajapakse was scheduled to make a speech to the union, which has hosted speakers ranging from pop legend Michael Jackson to the Dalai Lama, but this was cancelled Thursday because of security concerns.

The visit drew protests from Tamil groups, which accused Rajapakse of war crimes while crushing ethnic Tamil rebels last year. They called for him and key members of his entourage to be arrested.

Colombo said in a statement the Oxford Union leaders had shown they were "incapable of living up to the laudable standards of those who went before them in upholding their belief in the freedom of speech."

The statement claimed that remnants of the defeated rebel group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam had pressured the union to cancel the event, "regrettably supported by a handful of the foreign media."

Rajapakse himself said in a statement shortly after the cancellation that he was "very sorry" that he could not deliver his speech, but would look for other venues in Britain to get his message across.

The Oxford Union said it regretted having to cancel the speech and that the decision was "not taken lightly."

At home, Rajapakse is accused of cracking down on political rivals and media freedoms, charges he has vehemently rejected.

© 2010 AFP

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