Sri Lanka warns Britain to stay out of its affairs

A Sri Lankan soldier during the fighting
A Sri Lankan soldier during the fighting

By staff

The Sri Lankan government has warned of "major repercussions" from the UK decision to appoint a special envoy to the country.

Prime minister Gordon brown announced the envoy - former defence minister Des Browne - during his drilling by the liaison committee yesterday, earning praise from prominent Labour MP Keith Vaz but instant condemnations from Sri Lanka itself.

"It is tantamount to an intrusion into Sri Lanka's internal affairs and is disrespectful to the country's statehood," foreign minister Rohitha Bogollagama told AFP, warning that "there could be major repercussions" for relations with Britain.

The International Red Cross has warned of hundreds of civilian deaths since the Sri Lankan government moved into the endgame of its war with Tamil Tiger rebels.

Calling the London decision "extremely unhelpful", Mr Bogollagama said: "There is no further discussion with London on the matter."

Britain has a 250,000-strong Tamil population, with strong demonstrations taking place since the military initiative stepped up a gear.

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Edward Davey reacted angrily to the comments.

"To avoid this becoming a political embarrassment, Brown must now take tougher action," he said.

"The Sri Lankan government's behaviour has been unacceptable for too long and this is the last straw. The government must seek a UN security resolution for an immediate ceasefire."

Earlier this week 28 people were killed in Sri Lanka when a female suicide bomber detonated explosives strapped to her body in a crowd of people looking to escape the fighting.

Amnesty International has condemned the attack and claims it exposes the increasing danger civilians are now facing in the northern region of the country.

The humanitarian group described the suicide attack as a violation of international law and warned it could lead to reprisals putting further civilians at risk.

Yolanda Foster, Amnesty International's Sri Lanka expert, said: "Blurring the distinction between civilians and combatants means that thousands of ordinary people, desperate to flee the conflict area, are at greater risk of reprisals and getting caught in the crossfire."

She called for the rebels to renounce suicide attacks, especially those that involved bombers dressed as civilians.

The attack should also not be used as an excuse by the Sri Lankan military to abuse displaced civilians who should still be treated in accordance with international law, Ms Foster added.

"The Sri Lankan security forces must still make sure that their actions are directed against military targets and not civilians," the Amnesty expert said.

"The government has restricted media access to conflict areas making it impossible to verify accounts of what is happening on the ground.

"In a war with no witnesses, it is the civilians who pay the price for both parties' disregard for international humanitarian law."

Tens of thousands of people are thought to attempting to flee the north-east of the country as the government continues its military campaign against the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Last week it was announced the militants have now been restricted to a 20km strip of coastline and are close to being defeated.

Both sides, however, have rejected international pressure to agree terms of a ceasefire so as to allow humanitarian aid into the region to help those civilians caught in between the fighting.

The government has said it will only accept an unconditional surrender, predicting a "painful" end to the rebel movement.


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