2ND LEAD

British ex-defence secretary appointed special envoy to Sri Lanka

[TamilNet, Thursday, 12 February 2009, 15:44 GMT]
Britain named a special envoy to Sri Lanka on Thursday to help bring about a political solution to the island’s long-running conflict and to ease hardships to Tamil civilians trapped in the Vanni warzone, UK press reports said. "I've asked Des Browne, our former defence secretary, to be an envoy for Sri Lanka," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told a parliamentary committee. Brown said the priorities were to achieve a ceasefire and to get a political settlement, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Robert Blake was quoted by the Washington Post as saying the Sri Lankan military’s capture of the Vanni region – which he expects within weeks – will not end the LTTE’s armed struggle and that Colombo must reach a political settlement with the Tamils.

"I want him to be involved in seeing whether there is scope for political progress in Sri Lanka as well as looking at the issues of humanitarian aid," the Prime Minister said of the newly appointed envoy.

"The important thing is to emphasise to all partners that without a ceasefire and then an attempt at a political process we will be back to the same problems that we've had before," Premier Brown said.

Des Browne, who was replaced as defence secretary in a cabinet shuffle last October, will work with the Sri Lankan government, leaders of all communities in Sri Lanka, international agencies and other countries, Reuters quoted a statement from Premier Brown's office as saying.

Mr. Des Browne is a senior Labour MP from Scotland. He held the post of Defence Secretary between May 2006 and October 2008 and concurrently held the post of Secretary of State for Scotland between June 2007 and October 2008.

After being elected to Parliament in 1997, Mr. Browne made his name with strong speeches particularly on Human Rights, Northern Ireland and Social Security, according to his constituency office’s website.

Meanwhile, in an interview to the Washington Post, the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka said the LTTE’s armed struggle would continue until the Tamils have a solution that ensures they have dignity and respect in Sri Lanka and autonomy in the areas where they predominate.

"The point we've made to the government is that once they occupy all the territory in the north, which should be a matter of weeks or less, that will not end the LTTE because the LTTE still has a large number of guerrillas underground that will continue to rely on the support of the Tamil diaspora," Blake said.

"So it will be very important for the government to come forward with a package of political proposals that will really ensure the Tamils of Sri Lanka a position of dignity and respect, and give them some measure of local autonomy in the areas in which they predominate."


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