Feature Article

‘Flying Fox’ draws flak at home after Sri Lanka visit

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 12 July 2011, 08:10 GMT]
British Defence Secretary Liam Fox’s visit to Sri Lanka over the weekend has drawn the critical attention of the press back home. The Sun and the Daily Mail, two of Britain’s leading tabloid papers carried similar articles Tuesday questioning Dr. Fox’s penchant for foreign visits, and cited military brass as dubbing him the ‘the Flying Fox’, while The Times newspaper reported on criticisms by human rights and Tamil groups that his visit to Colombo undermined international efforts to censure the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa over war crimes in the final months of the island’s war in 2009.

A considerable section of Eezham Tamil elite in UK is hooked to various political parties. Merely painting rosy pictures of them when they are in power or not in power is not going to bring home anything to them on the seriousness of our plight, an Eezham Tamil political activist in UK told TamilNet Sunday, responding to the lecture of Liam Fox.

“The political parties have to be faced by Eezham Tamils with the hard truth that they are neither inspired by Kadirgamar’s ‘Sri Lankanness’ forgetting genocide nor by the idea of sacrificing their security and independence for the unjustifiable interests in UK to uphold state in Sri Lanka,” the activist who didn't wish to be named told TamilNet.

Fox singing the song of LLRC and casually speaking about an inclusive political solution for all people in the island, only reflect a thinking of bailing out the Sri Lankan state to continue its genocide, the activist further said.

Political parties in UK behave differently when they are in power and in the opposition. No Tamil can ever forget the Labour Foreign Office telling that Sri Lanka was a ‘democratically elected government long blighted by the LTTE,’ at a time when the genocidal Army of Sri Lanka was massacring thousands and thousands of Eezham Tamil civilians. Now the former foreign minister Miliband wants international investigation for the war crimes, the Tamil political activist in UK said, adding that the current Defence Secretary now accuses the Labour government, but he has all the soft-corner for the Rajapaksa regime and the genocidal unity of the island.

On Tuesday, The Sun newspaper cited “fed-up top [military] brass” who blasted Dr. Fox for going on 30 costly foreign trips at tax payers expense, while presiding over deep military cuts.

“While the MoD is pushing through 40,000 civilian and military job losses, Mr Fox has rung up an estimated bill of £100,000 for his foreign jaunts,” the paper said in an article by its political editor, Tom Newton.

Since taking up his job after the election 14 months ago, Dr Fox has racked up more than 140,000 air-miles and visited 19 countries, both The Sun and the Daily Mail said.

Whilst some of the visits were necessary – such as four trips to Afghanistan where British troops are part of the international coalition battling the Taliban – many were not, they added.

Foreign or Defence?
And the Daily Mail quoted military sources as saying several of the unnecessary visits were those that ought to be the preserve of Foreign Secretary William Hague.

“Liam is the Defence Secretary, not the Foreign Secretary. So why he needs to be off meeting heads of state is beyond the rest of us left to toil away on home soil,” an officer told the Daily Mail.

“It is very hard to defend these trips during a time when the man should be at his busiest,” the officer said of the Defence Secretary.

Both the Sun and the Daily Mail quoted a senior officer as saying: "It's basically another country every other week. Given the cut-backs facing the forces and the two wars on the go it's hard to justify this level of travel."

Dr Fox has so irritated senior officers with his frequent absences while globetrotting that they have nicknamed him 'The Flying Fox', both the Daily Mail and The Sun said.

Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy of the opposition Labour party told The Sun: "When times are tough and big cuts are being made, ministers must make certain every penny is spent wisely."

To Sri Lanka - for a lecture
Both newspapers noted Dr. Fox’s visit to Sri Lanka, while The Times’ article, by its defense correspondent, focused on it.

The Sun, in highlighted font, noted: “Mr Fox returned from his most recent trip to Sri Lanka on Sunday night. He had gone there to deliver a lecture.”

“Only this weekend Dr Fox was in Sri Lanka to meet President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is facing claims his troops committed war crimes in their civil war,” the Daily Mail said.

The paper also noted: “He was forced to cancel another trip to Sri Lanka last year after a complaint from Mr Hague.”

The Times’ article centred on criticism of Mr. Fox’s visit by Tamil groups who also accuse him of maintaining close relations with the Rajapaksa regime.

A spokesman for the British Tamils Forum, told The Times: “One needs to ask what this poorly timed visit is set out to achieve, other than to give the Government of Sri Lanka a public relations opportunity.”

A spokesman for the British based Tamil Youth Organisation told the paper: “Until there is a clear intention to independently investigate [atrocities], then invitations from Sri Lanka should not be entertained by our Defence Secretary.”

The Times also quoted Brad Adams from Human Rights Watch as warning that the visit could provide material for the Sri Lankan government to present itself as enjoying international acceptance.

The Times noted that Dr Fox had caused anger within the Foreign Office in December after accepting an invitation to deliver the Lakshman Kadirgamar memorial lecture in Colombo, and how, following adverse press coverage, the visit was cancelled with officials citing “scheduling problems.”

The Foreign Office told The Times that Dr. Fox latest trip was endorsed by the British government, and spokesman for him said his speech in Colombo had included “strong messaging [on war crimes]” in line with British policy on Sri Lanka.



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