After an unprecedented visit to Jaffna,UK Prime Minister David Saturday today set a deadline of March for Sri Lanka to set up an independent inquiry commission failing which he will move the UN Human Rights Commission seeking an “international probe” into alleged rights abuses in the last phase of the war against the LTTE.
The demand was,however,instantly rejected by the Sri Lankan government which ruled out any inquiry under any “pressure” or allow an independent international probe.
Cameron,who met Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa last night after returning from a historic visit to war-ravaged Jaffna,the first foreign head of government to be there since the island’s independence from Britain in 1948,said the two had a “free and frank” discussion on all issues including an independent and credible probe,reconciliation and rehabilitation of Tamils.
“I told President Rajapaksa that there is need for a credible,transparent and independent internal inquiry into the events at the end of the war (against LTTE) by the end of March. If that does not happen I will use our position to move the UN Human Rights Commission and work with the Rights Commissioner for an independent inquiry ” Cameron told a press conference on the sidelines of the CHOGM summit here.
Ultimately it is about Sri Lanka’s reconciliation with the affected Tamils of the northern province and rehabilitation of the people displaced by the war,he said.
Asked why he should wait till March for an independent probe,Cameron said the President told him that he needed time as they were still recovering from the effects of the war.
He said he accepted that position that Sri Lanka needed time for reconciliation.
“I understand it needs time,” he added.
“There is a need for an independent probe into what happened in the no-war zone. I will fully back an international inquiry,” he said.
He said,he cited to Rajapaksa,the Northern Ireland example when Britain suffered for years from terrorism and how Britain took steps to reconcile with them.
To a question recalling his statement he had some questions to ask of the President and whether he put them all to him,the British Prime Minister said the two had frank discussions but admitted that Rajapaksa did not accept all that he had told him.
He impressed on the President the need for settling the issue of human rights,journalistic freedom and to ensure that the Tamil people lived a life of dignity and respect.
For all this there is need for the right track to be taken by Sri Lanka,he said.
Maintaining that it was ultimately a question of reconciliation,Cameron said there was a need for healing and it will happen only if these are addressed and ignored the rehabilitation of the people of Jaffna,Killinochi and Mullaitivu where the Channel IV had shown some “chilling events”.
He said he had discussed with Rajapaksa all the issues he had on his agenda and told him there is an opportunity for him to do the reconciliation.
“It is important to come here and make these points,” he said in an apparent reference to the boycott by some prime ministers including those of India,Canada and Mauritius.
He said the objective of his visit to Jaffna accompanied by journalists of some reputed international organisations was to “shine a light on the chilling events” and as a member of the family of the Commonwealth. He thanked the Sri Lankan government for facilitating the trip.
Referring to his visit to the office of Tamil daily “Udayam”,which had brought out the paper under trying circumstances,the Prime Minister said there was need for journalistic freedom and hoped Sri Lanka would allow it.
Asked why he wanted to go to Jaffna and what were his reflections after the visit,Cameron said he wanted to visit because as a politician and a prime minister they should be able to learn first hand and only by visiting,”we can see and understand. It’s very important to see both the good and bad.”
To a question whether it was true that the Sri Lankan President did not agree with one word of what he had told him and would change his ways,Cameron said,”That is not my impression. It was a frank meeting. Both sides expressed strong views. I have told the Sri Lankan government to go faster on the path of reconciliation. They suffered for 30 years and it takes time and reconciliation.”
He said he had a good meeting with the newly-elected Chief Minister of Northern Province C S Wigneswaran and wanted to work with him on issues of welfare of the people of the province and the trip to Jaffna was to convey to the people the voice of the world.
However,at the outset,he noted that,”Nobody wants the return of the Tamil Tigers,who did dreadful and brutal things.”
To a question on how he would guarantee that Sri Lanka will not be vindictive towards the people he had met in Jaffna,especially after the way they were treated after the visit of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay,Cameron said the,”World would be watching the response (of the Sri Lankan government).”
“I think the authorities respect international opinion. I think the Sri Lankan people would treat them (Tamils) with dignity and respect they deserve,” he said.
Shortly after Cameron’s press conference,a battery of three Sri Lankan Ministers – Himal Sripala de Silva,Keheliya Rambukwelle and Douglas Devananda – addressed the international media to say that the Commonwealth cannot become an “international” policeman.
They said they had the opportunity to listen to Cameron’s press conference and declared that,”No country can be allowed to impose their views on us. We eradicated the shadow of imperialism (an apparent reference to Britain) and it cannot be allowed to disturb the country now.”
Rejecting the demand for an international probe into the alleged war crimes,they said,”We will resist any international inquiry. There is no reason for an international inquiry. In a short time we had done our best. We have already done internal inquiry and some indictments have been done.”
On Cameron’s reference to Northern Ireland,de Silva said he was told in Northern Ireland that they felt cheated by Britain.
On the safety of the people of Jaffna,who had met Cameron yesterday,Rumbakwelle said,”The people will be safe. There will be no persecution of them and that is not our culture.”
Cameron said through his visit to Jaffna he had given,”the Tamils in the north a voice,and a voice that the world needs to listen to”.
He said no one wants to return to the days of the LTTE when they did “dreadful and brutal things”.
Cameron said Sri Lanka needs to be allowed space to achieve reconciliation and told Rajapaksa that he was presented with a real opportunity to be magnanimous.
Cameron said to achieve reconciliation,there needs to be full press freedom.
“Attacks against the brave newspapers like the one I visited yesterday must stop,” he said referring to his visit to the Jaffna-based ‘Uthayan’ newspaper.
“This is an extraordinary country with enormous potential,you can really feel that when you are here. I am hugely optimistic about the future of this country,” Cameron stressed.