Feature Article

The Times slams Liam Fox’s ties to Sri Lanka

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 12 October 2011, 07:17 GMT]
Amid the continuing – and seemingly expanding – controversy in Britain over Defence Secretary Liam Fox’s working relationship with close friend, Mr. Adam Werritty, the former’s relationship with Sri Lanka’s regime has been thrust into the media spotlight. In its editorial Wednesday, The Times newspaper slammed Dr. Fox’s involvement with the Colombo government with which, press reports reveal, Mr. Werritty is also intimately associated. “The Defence Secretary’s ties to Sri Lanka are wrong and have exceeded his ministerial remit,” The Times said, referring to how his actions have undermined UK policy in dealing with the “grotesque and criminal” actions of the Sri Lankan armed forces against Tamil civilians in 2009.

Referring to how the UK government’s efforts to cold shoulder President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime were undermined by Dr. Fox’s insistence on meeting him, and the Defence Secretary’s despatching of Royal Navy officers to the President’s second inauguration, the paper said:

Werrity in SL with Liam Fox
[Photo courtesy: The Guardian]
“Dr Fox appears to have been conducting his own independent foreign policy [on Sri Lanka]. That policy is wrong in itself and Dr Fox had no legitimate business pursuing it.”

“For Dr Fox to circumvent the Prime Minister [David Cameron] and Foreign Secretary [William Hague] was, at best, to muddy what ought to have been an unambiguous message [from the UK]. His later “clarification” that his meeting was in a personal capacity understandably did nothing to dissuade the Colombo Government to make political capital from it,” the paper added.

The working relationship between Dr. Fox and Mr. Werritty have been at the centre of a political and media storm in the past few days.

Mr. Werritty, it is revealed, has no official link to the Ministry of Defence, but has accompanied Dr. Fox on dozens of official trips abroad and to meetings with foreign government officials, industrialists and even US commander, all whilst claiming to be acting as “an advisor to the Defence Secretary”.

Moreover, Mr. Werritty had met with Dr. Fox at the MoD offices at least 22 times in the 18 months the latter had been in post. Dr. Fox had also instructed MoD officials to make his official diary accessible to Mr. Werritty to arrange meetings.

Amidst the widespread press coverage, several British broadsheet newspapers and Channel 4 television have increasingly produced details of the role played by the two men in support of the Rajapska regime.

The Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian are amongst newspapers that have revealed details of Dr. Fox and Mr. Werritty’s links with Rajapaksa regime.

Last week The Guardian newspaper released video footage of Dr. Fox and Mr. Werritty meeting President Rajapaksa in London in December 2010, as well as photographs of the duo on a visit to Sri Lanka in July 2011.

On Tuesday Channel 4 quoted Sri Lankan officials as saying Mr. Werritty had offered to arrange arms sales to Sri Lanka.

On Monday The Daily Telegraph said Mr. Werritty had “played a central part in arranging [Dr. Fox's] contacts with members of the Sri Lankan government [in 2010 and 2011].”

Mr Werritty had flown to Colombo several days before Dr Fox’s scheduled arrival in December 2010 – a trip aborted at the UK government’s behest, the paper says.

“When the [Foreign Office] intervened, it was Mr Werritty, and not the British embassy, who told Sri Lankan ministers that the trip had been called off,” the paper added.

Sri Lankan foreign minister GL Peiris is understood to have asked Mr Werritty to ensure that the trip was described as postponed instead of cancelled, and the MoD later issued a statement saying Dr Fox’s visit had been “postponed,” it added.

On Monday, The Times revealed Dr Fox sent a senior delegation of British naval officers to the inauguration of Rajapaksa in what the Sri Lankan regime believed was a gesture of support for his second term as President.

In an editorial the same day, the paper noted: “Mr Werrity has been deeply involved with the Government of Sri Lanka, and aided Dr Fox in private meetings and discussions with President Rajapaksa. … Those meetings have rightly caused considerable unease in Whitehall.”

“[The Defence Secretary’s] foreign policy freelancing undermines not only the Foreign Secretary, but any notion of Cabinet collective responsibility. It is all the more dangerous if there is any whiff of corruption. And the smell of corruption, political and economic, within the Sri Lankan armed forces is strong,” the paper added.

A day later Channel 4 and other media reported on how the Sri Lankan regime had sought Mr. Werritty’s assistance in purchasing arms.

The full text of The Times editorial on Wednesday follows:

Despite a tortuously worded apology, with judicious use of the passive voice, Liam Fox has many questions to answer about the role of a personal friend at the Ministry of Defence. But one aspect of this imbroglio is already clear: in his dealings in a particular part of the world, Dr Fox exceeded the bounds of his ministerial remit.

The issue is Sri Lanka, on which Dr Fox appears to have been conducting his own independent foreign policy. That policy is wrong in itself and Dr Fox had no legitimate business pursuing it. But beyond that issue, he needs urgently to explain why Adam Werritty attended meetings with Sri Lankan officials.

Dr Fox has a longstanding interest in Sri Lanka. It stems from his role, as a junior Foreign Office minister in the 1990s, in helping to negotiate a deal between Sinhalese authorities and insurgent Tamils. A long civil war on the island came to a bloody end on a strip of beach in May 2009. The Times revealed at the time, and a UN report later confirmed, that the Sri Lankan armed forces had killed tens of thousands of civilians by shelling an area that had been designated a no-fire zone.

There is no dispute about the brutal tactics used by Tamil separatists, including widespread suicide bombings. But the actions of Sri Lanka’s armed forces in response were grotesque and criminal. The country’s political leaders lied about them at the time and lie still. President Rajapaksa has said, feebly and evasively, to The Times that his forces “never killed any civilians as such”.

That is the political context of recent Sri Lankan policy. Regardless, Dr Fox met Mr Rajapaksa last December when he visited the UK. He did so even though David Cameron and William Hague passed up the opportunity of similar meetings. Video footage appears to indicate that Mr Werritty was also present at the meeting.

For Dr Fox to circumvent the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary was, at best, to muddy what ought to have been an unambiguous message. His later “clarification” that his meeting was in a personal capacity understandably did nothing to dissuade the Colombo Government to make political capital from it. Only a month earlier, a senior British naval delegation had attended the inauguration of Mr Rajapaksa for his second term of office. Their presence was widely interpreted as a gesture of support.

These meetings were far from idiosyncrasies or mere courtesy calls. Dr Fox made four visits to Sri Lanka as a guest of its Government, accepting hospitality amounting to some £8,000, in the year before the UK general election of 2010. The MoD has confirmed that on one of those visits Dr Fox was joined by Mr Werritty, while stating that this was a private rather than official presence.

The apparent blurring of Dr Fox’s official duties and private concerns is the central question about his relations with Mr Werritty, whose business cards declared that he was an adviser to Dr Fox even though he held no post at the MoD. The Defence Secretary’s links with the Sri Lankan Government make this question still more pressing.

Mr Werritty is a private citizen, with no role in government, who has participated in Dr Fox’s unilateral interventions in foreign affairs. The foreign government in question has committed war crimes that it declines to allow the UN to investigate. Regardless of whether Mr Werritty acted as an intermediary, these relations are rotten.

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