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recognise the importance of bringing an end to hostilities and improving the living conditions for all inhabitants affected by the conflict... bringing an end to the hostilities is also seen... as a means of establishing a positive atmosphere in which further steps towards negotiations on a lasting solution can be taken.
I greatly welcome and appreciate the efforts of the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), who is present today. He visited the country in November and met not only members of the Sri Lankan Government but non-governmental organisations and senior members of the LTTE. His wealth of knowledge of how the Northern Ireland peace solution evolved should be invaluable to both sides of the conflict. I welcome the friendly way in which he felt able to discuss that matter with me. It has been a considerable help in understanding the problems of Sri Lanka.
I believe that the example of Northern Ireland is particularly pertinent when considering a solution in Sri Lanka. For a long time, the IRA pursued a violent military campaign to try to force the British Government to concede to its demands, yet it finally realised that the British Government and the British people would not buckle to its tactics. Thankfully, we have now seen an end to the IRAs campaign of violence. The LTTE and others should take their lead from the IRA and involve themselves in the political process. The simple reality is that no Government can or should give in to the demands of those who would kill and maim innocent civilians. The use of violence to make ones voice heard is unacceptable in a civilised society.
Independent reports of bombings, shootings, the recruitment of child soldiers by the LTTE have resulted, as we heard today, in the organisation becoming proscribed by the EU, the US, Australia and India. The LTTE seeks to justify its actions because it claims that it faces discrimination from the Sri Lankan Government, while also claiming that it is denied the right to an independent homeland. However, there is never justification for a campaign of aggression on the scale that we have seen.
Let me turn briefly to deal with the role that the Sri Lankan Government could play in this conflict. The Government are internationally recognised as the democratically elected Administration of the country. Equally, it cannot be said that the Sri Lankan Government have played no part in exacerbating the conflict. I think that the Sri Lankan Governments decision to close the main A9 road to Jaffna and leave it closed for such a long time was unhelpful and I know that many right hon. and hon. Members, including
myself, called on the Government to open that road during the period that it was closed.
What makes the Sri Lankan Governments decisions unacceptable is that they have refused access to international aid agencies, which bring much-needed humanitarian relief to the people of that troubled north-east region. I know that the Minister met the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka and doubtless made that point to him. I also met him when he came here in early March and made precisely that point.
Political representation for the Tamil minority in Sri Lankan politics is another issue that needs serious consideration. If Sri Lanka is to be capable of creating a long-term and peaceful solution to its problems, engagement in an inclusive political process is essential.
The Tamil community has claimed for a long time that it faced discrimination by the Sinhalese establishment. It complains that it has been and continues to be marginalised and stopped from reaching positions of power. I believe that the Government of Sri Lanka should take that very seriously and should make every effort to rectify it and foster a lasting sense of understanding between the Sri Lankan Government and the Tamil population that will ultimately lead to peace. It must be made clear that the Tamil people will be allowed to share power and that their political involvement will be welcomed.
The best way for the Sri Lankan Government to defeat insurrection is to offer the Tamil people a peaceful and meaningful democratically accountable role in the Sri Lankan Parliament. Those affected by the conflict must be desperate for an alternative that will end violence, yet while no realistic alternative exists, the LTTE will continue to gain support from their populations. The Sri Lankan Government should seek to win hearts and minds in order to cut off support to that base and the extremists.
I welcome the actions of the Sri Lankan Governments security forces, including paramilitaries, but they must be careful that they are not seen to be abusing human rights. In that respect, I welcome the independent group of eminent persons, which the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) mentioned, so ably chaired by the respected Indian judge, Mr. Bhagwati, as well as Sir Nigel Rodley and an EU representative. The work that this independent acceptable group could do would be commendable.
The international community is rightly concerned that the Sri Lankan Government have not necessarily addressed serious human rights abuses, including torture, being perpetrated by the LTTE against civilians. The Minister recognised today that the LTTE is accused by UNICEF and others of having recruited more than 6,500 children for its armed campaign. That is quite unacceptable. As the Minister told me in a written parliamentary answer:
Officials regularly make clear that the use of child soldiers in Sri Lanka cannot be tolerated.[ Official Report, 9 October 2006; Vol. 450, c. 453-54W.]
Similarly, the LTTE continues to make allegations against the Government. It recently accused them of killing 10 Indian fishermen who had strayed into Sri Lankan territorial waters. The Tamil Nadu state Government in India, however, confirmed that the
LTTE was responsible for killing the Indian fishermen. Clearly, there is a certain amount of spinning and false propaganda.
How is it funded? I am sure that hon. Members will be aware that the weapons used by the LTTE have increased in sophistication. Indeed, it recently acquired a light aircraft with a range of 600 miles in which it was able to carry out a series of air strikes across the country, damaging an oil depot owned by Royal Dutch Shell and the Indian Oil Corporation. The LTTE hit the main airport in Colombo earlier this week and the flights of three international airlinesCathay Pacific, Singapore and Emirates airlineshave been suspended. Evidence suggests that some of air raids were assisted by Canadian-trained Tamil engineers. With an economy that is heavily reliant on the tourist industry, the aims of the LTTE are obvious. It seeks to cripple the islands economy with its acts, harming the entire islands economic well-being.
Where does LTTE funding come from? The US State Departments annual country terrorism report, published on Monday, suggests that the LTTE finances itself from the Tamil diaspora based in North America, Europe and Australia, as well as by imposing local taxes on businesses operating in the areas of Sri Lanka that it controls.
As I said in my intervention, a chief fund raiser of the LTTE, Karunakaran Kandasamy, was arrested last week in the United States under charges of raising funds to support terrorism and fomenting terrorism in the United States. The assistant director of the FBI said:
Karuna hasnt merely supported the LTTE cause, he has orchestrated support in the US.
In a similar case yesterday, the Australian federal police arrested two men under suspicion of diverting funds intended to go to victims of the 2004 Boxing day tsunami to the LTTE in order to buy arms.
In addition to those two cases, numerous others demonstrate that the LTTE has a sophisticated and complex international fundraising network. The Minister was right in his response to some of his Back Benchers that we would need to be incredibly careful about de-proscribing the LTTE as a terrorist organisation. I hope that the Minister who replies to the debate will be able to tell the House what efforts the British Government are making to work with the international community to root out those who would raise money for the LTTE and other terrorist groups.
Mr. Love: I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentlemans speech, and I accept the general thrust of his remarks. Will he confirm, however, that the Opposition would welcome discussions with the LTTE, and that they believe that it will be necessary to speak to them if we are ever to reach a settlement in this conflict?
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I hope that my speech has made it crystal clear that there will have to be a political process, and that, just as in Northern Ireland, that will occasionally involve talkingperhaps covertlyto people to whom one would not necessarily wish to talk. Without talking to the other side, we can never understand where they are coming from, how a solution might be reached,
what areas of common agreement there might be or what the differences are. We need to work slowly on the differences until we reach a solution.
Peter Luff: I hope that when the Minister responds to the debate, he will be able to confirm that our deputy high commissioner in Sri Lanka is to visit the headquarters of the LTTE tomorrow to have precisely the kind of dialogue that my hon. Friend has described.
Mr. Davey: Further to the previous two points, it is also important to stress that the ceasefire agreement that was reached a few years ago was signed up to by the LTTE, who was very much engaged in talks with Prime Minister Wickramasinghe. It is only the election of the Rajapakse Government that has caused a big deterioration in the relationships. The hon. Gentleman is making some valid points about the shortcomings of the LTTE, but it was engaged in the peace process with the previous Sri Lankan Government, and it is important to put that firmly on record.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: I have made it clear that I want to see an inclusive political dialogue, and there can be a dialogue only between two parties. That means that the Sri Lankan Government must also become fully engaged in the process. As the Minister and I have said repeatedly, there cannot be a military solution, so it is in the interests of the Government and the people of Sri Lanka that we promote this dialogue from all sides. Anything that the international community can do to foster and facilitate that will be a good thing. I do not want to get into the internal politics of Sri Lankathat is not our businessbut I urge the Sri Lankan Government fully to participate in the process.
Before I conclude, I want to consider the role of the Indian Government, who have a significant role to play in solving the problems in Sri Lanka. It is clear that there is support for the cause of the LTTE among the people in the nearest Indian province to Sri LankaTamil Nadu. I asked the Minister what representations he and the Foreign Office had made to the Indian Government to determine how we might stop some of the funding.
I am sure that the House will join me in supporting the reinvigoration of the peace process and the Norwegian-led Sri Lankan monitoring missionthe so-called SLMN. We need to promote peace through this means. I also congratulate the co-chairs whom the Minister mentioned. However, a BBC news report on 30 March said:
There was always the suspicion that the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan Government turned up
only because of international pressure and without any real desire to talk peace...and a lack of progress seems to prove this.
I do not know whether that it true or not; that is the BBCs view. Suffice it to say that anything that the British Government and the international community can do to encourage the Norwegian-led peace process has to be a good thing.
There are some who say that Britain should take a stronger role. However, I believe that the position of Britain as the former colonial power opens us up to allegations of interfering in independent territories. Similarly, the large number of members of the Sri Lankan diaspora in this country makes if difficult for us to take a bilateral role. Of course we should encourage the Norwegian-led peace process and any UN peace process, and we should welcome the all-party report that is about to be presented in the Sri Lankan Government, but it would be wrong for the British Government to take a bilateral role.
To conclude, I have a number of questions, and I would be grateful if the Under-Secretary of State for International Development were able to answer them when he sums up. What further ideas do the British Government have to resolve the situation? How can the Sri Lankan monitoring mission be strengthened? In the Governments view, does it have adequate funding, resources and access to all sides in the debate? Do the Government have any plans, during our chairmanship of the Security Council, to raise the matter in the Security Council or General Assembly? What direct representations has the Minister or the Foreign Office made to the Indian Government, to whom I have just referred, regarding the advancement of the peace process or the funding to the LTTE from the main continent of India?
As I asked the Minister, is intelligence between the EU, United States, Australia and India being properly co-ordinated, and are the Government satisfied that all the necessary channels of communication are in place to do that? I want to ensure particularly that those who commit atrocities, who are well known, should be brought to trial, and that external funding to purchase the increasingly sophisticated weaponry that I have mentioned is halted, as it seems to me that it can only worsen the terrorist insurrection.
Sri Lanka is a beautiful islandsome have called it the gem of the Indian oceanwith a wonderful, friendly, hospitable people, whose suffering as a result of this dispute is a monumental tragedy. It is the responsibility of anyone who has interests in the future prosperity and well-being of the people of Sri Lanka to ensure that their actions do not facilitate further violence. Above all, it is the duty of the international community to act in a co-ordinated way to help to facilitate a much-needed peace solution.
Jim Dowd (Lewisham, West) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman has justifiably spent much of his speech criticising the LTTE and many of the outrages that it has perpetrated. The human rights record across the island of Sri Lanka is among the worst in the world. While he did say, in concluding his remarks, that all parties must recognise their responsibility, there was little in his speech that referred to some of the mistakes, not to say excesses, of the Sri Lankan Government, whose actions, over time, have produced a disproportionate number of Tamil civilian casualties.
I welcome that intervention. Of course, we should be totally even-handed. It is wrong for outside observers to criticise one party without
examining the actions of the other. Of course, the Sri Lankan Government have committed faults, as I said, and the armed forces and special forces of the Sri Lankan Government have committed human rights abuses. The Sri Lankan Government must be clear that those are properly investigated, and anyone in a position of official power who has committed atrocities and human rights abuses should be brought to book and prosecuted too.
I hope that the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Jim Dowd) will not think that the Opposition have a one-sided view; we certainly do not. Our sole objective in holding the Government to account today is to try to bring the hostilities to an end and return the island to its former status as a beautiful, prosperous, happy and safe place with which we can do business, with the diaspora in this country prospering too.
The interchange between the hon. Member for Cotswold and my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Jim Dowd) touched on the issue of human rights, and that must be set in the context of the 65,000 to 70,000 people who have perished on that island in about 30 years. I will deal with the Northern Ireland comparison later, but the two situations are uncannily similar in terms of the proportionate number of people who have died, been injured or been displaced: Northern Ireland has a population of approximately 1.5 million, and some 3,500 people died there.
When I visited the island in November I was struck, as my hon. Friend the Minister of State and the hon. Member for Cotswold said, by what a beautiful island it was, and how talented, courteous and decent the people were from whatever background they camecertainly to me personally, in my limited experience. Incidentally, I saw no examples of religious intolerance on that island. Travelling late at night from the airport to the capital city, we turned one corner and saw a statute of St. Anthony of Padua, and turned another corner and saw a Buddhist shrine. When I went to the north, I saw a cathedral at the end of a street, and the sacred cows of the Hindus walking in the same street. Of course, a substantial minority of Muslims also play an active role in the country.
I was struck by the fact that all those to whom I talked, whatever their background or experience, were very complimentary about our own country. I felt that, in accordance with the deep relationship between Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom and its peoplenot least, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Minister, the diaspora of 200,000 who live in our landthose on the island were still very sympathetic to us, as a country and as British people.
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