Thursday, December 13, 2007

Sri Lanka objects to British envoy's remarks on Tamils

Sri Lanka Thursday expressed "deep displeasure" to Britain's top envoy here over his remarks that political aspirations for carving out a separate Tamil state was not illegal.

British High Commissioner (ambassador) Dominic Chilcott was summoned to the foreign ministry following his public speech on Monday in which he warned the country to clean up its human rights record or risk international sanctions.

"Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona drew attention to the High Commissioner's comment, 'I am not saying that the political aspiration for Eelam (separate Tamil state) is illegitimate' and expressed the government's deep concern," the foreign ministry said.

The statement said that Kohona made it clear that Chilcott's remarks were unacceptable "given the British government's categorical rejection of the creation of a separate State in Sri Lanka."

"At a time when the painstaking process of evolving a negotiated political settlement was under way, such sentiments would have a negative impact and send confusing signals," Kohona said.

Chilcott had said that Britain had a direct interest in ending the separatist conflict in its former colony, partly because of the law and order problems in London caused by rival Sri Lankan groups.

Chilcott, making his final public appearance before his posting as number two in the British mission in Washington early next year, issued thinly veiled warnings on the government to improve its rights record.

Sri Lanka has repeatedly resisted calls for United Nations monitoring of human rights amid allegations that over 1,000 people had been killed or disappeared at the hands of government forces fighting Tamil rebels this year.

Chilcott warned that it would be a mistake to view something as sensitive as human rights as a purely internal matter.

"Those who argue for the inviolability of the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a country are swimming against the tide of history," he said while adding that intervention may not always mean military action.

"There are many non-military interventions that a country can make -- from arguing and persuading, to economic and political sanctions," he said.

Chilcott said Britain was against the tactics adopted by the Tiger guerrillas, but did not consider their demand for a separate state as illegal.

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