British defence minister cancels Sri Lanka trip

17th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain's defence minister has cancelled a private visit to Sri Lanka this weekend, officials said, amid reports the foreign ministry feared it would upset London's approach to Colombo.

Defence Secretary Liam Fox would no longer visit Sri Lanka this weekend but would now be conducting an official visit next year, said his spokesman Thursday.

"Dr Fox has postponed his private visit to Sri Lanka due to an extension to his scheduled official visit to the Gulf," the spokesman said.

But The Guardian newspaper reported that Foreign Secretary William Hague put Fox under intense pressure not to undertake the visit, fearing it would cause problems for Britain's carefully balanced approach to Colombo.

This involves ministers putting pressure on Colombo to agree to an investigation into last year's offensive against the Tamil Tigers while recognising the Tigers were responsible for terrorism, it added.

Fox was meant to be making a speech in honour of a former foreign minister Saturday and will now do this during next year's trip.

London has previously called on Sri Lanka to hold an independent probe into possible human rights violations during its civil war.

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

Britain's opposition Labour party seized on the decision to cancel the trip, accusing the government of "chaotic diplomacy."

"William Hague must be spitting mad. This is a sensitive area of foreign policy. Who is in charge of policy on Sri Lanka, the Foreign Secretary or the Defence Secretary?" said the party's foreign affairs spokeswoman Yvette Cooper.

© 2010 AFP

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