Fox cancels trip amid Sri Lanka War Crimes accusations

[TamilNet, Friday, 17 December 2010, 02:03 GMT]
Liam Fox, the British defence secretary whose friendship with Sri Lanka's President has been in the news during Rajapakse's visit to the UK early this month, was tonight forced to abandon a private visit to Sri Lanka this weekend after a row with William Hague, who feared that Fox would upset Britain's carefully balanced approach to Colombo, UK Guardian reported.

Fox announced his change of heart as US embassy cables leaked tonight provided fresh allegations of the Sri Lankan government's complicity with paramilitary groups in last year's offensive against the Tamil Tigers, the Guardian added.

The Guardian summarized the following information from the leaked cables as key factors influencing the change in visit plan:
  • US officials expressed concerns that the Sri Lankan government was complicit with paramilitary groups. One cable, sent in May 2007 by the then US ambassador, Robert Blake, details abductions, extortion, forced prostitution and conscription of child soldiers.
  • Five Sri Lankan doctors were coerced by the Sri Lankan government to recant on casualty figures they gave to journalists in the last months of the civil war.
  • The Tamil Tigers (LTTE) were guilty of human rights abuses and demanded a cut of international NGOs' spending in the areas they controlled.
  • The US ambassador to Colombo, Patricia Butenis, said on 15 January that one of the reasons there was such little progress towards a genuine Sri Lankan inquiry into the killings was that President Rajapaksa, and the former army commander, Sarath Fonseka, were largely responsible. "There are no examples we know of a regime undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops or senior officials for war crimes while that regime or government remained in power," Butenis noted.
Guardian quoted the shadow foreign secretary, Yvette Cooper, as saying: "Chaotic diplomacy like this does no good for the [British] government's standing on such a significant issue. It also raises serious questions about the defence secretary's judgment.

"What on earth has he [Fox] been doing holding 'private' meetings with the Sri Lankan president while refusing to say if he has pressed for the war crimes investigation we need or supported the foreign secretary's position? William Hague must be spitting mad."

In March 2010, Fox was accused of lobbying for Sri Lanka in exchange of free trips and other favors.

Two British MPs, Mr. Andy Love of the ruling Labour party, and Dr. Liam Fox of the Conservative party, made visits to Sri Lanka paid for by the government there, and while not declaring their trips, spoke in support of Sri Lanka in parliament, a BBC investigation revealed in March this year.

Both MPs were hosted by Mahinda Rajapakse regime in the past three years amid Sri Lanka’s onslaught in which tens of thousands of Tamil civilians were killed. Mr. Fox, some of whose trips coincided with international outrage over the ongoing slaughter, told the BBC his visits were to “promote peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.” Following his second visit in 2008, Mr. Love urged British ministers to send more aid to Sri Lanka.


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