British oil firms to explore Mannar amid UK ‘worry’ over rights

[TamilNet, Monday, 01 October 2007, 13:10 GMT]
British oil companies are to carry out oil explorations in Sri Lanka, press reports quoted the country’s Development and Investment minister, Sarath Amunagama, as saying. The agreement was reached following a series of high-level discussions he held with leading oil companies during a visit to London, the LankaTribune reported. Meanwhile, describing the human rights situation in Sri Lanka as “deeply worrying”, British Development Trade and Development minister, Gareth Thomas, said his government was pressing Sri Lanka to respect human rights.

Addressing a Tamil community meeting in Harrow, Mr. Thomas, who is also the local MP, said “the scale of the human rights abuses – abductions, extra-judicial killings, etc – is deeply worrying.”

He said he was “particularly concerned” by the actions of “government and paramilitary forces connected with the government.”

In May, he had decided to withhold some of the UK’s aid, he said. However, since then, the situation has not improved, he noted.

In May, the UK cut half its annual aid – about #1.5million or $3million. However, Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapakse derided the move. Sri Lanka’s defence budget is over $1.3 billion.

In the first three months of 2007, Britain sold #7 million worth of arms to Sri Lanka.

Mr. Thomas said the UK “believes there has to a peace process [in Sri Lanka] and that peace process has to be based on respect for human rights.”

“A solution has to come from inside Sri Lanka,” he said. “People should be able to sit as equals [and talk].”

Earlier in September, Sri Lanka Development and Investment minister, Sarath Amunagama, announced British oil firms would be exploring oil in Mannar.

He made his comments whilst speaking at the ‘Mannar Basin Oil Exploration Roadshow’ held in London, the LankaTribune newspaper said.

Sri Lanka will find “the missing link” in its growth trajectory with the discovery of oil and gas, the minister said.

“We look forward to very close cooperation between our country and the British government as well as British government. We are about to launch a new milestone in the history of Sri Lanka,” Amunagama said.

It was appropriate that Sri Lanka begins its promotion for the Mannar Basin exploration in the UK, as both countries had been friends “for many centuries,” he said.

Sri Lanka has already allocated four blocks in the Mannar Basin, two each to India and China on a preferential basis.

The Colombo government is to lead the project to explore oil there with the state-owned Ceylon Petroleum Corporation also expected to take on two blocks with foreign assistance, the paper said.


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