Liam Fox cancels Sri Lanka trip

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Indy Politics

Defence Secretary Liam Fox has cancelled a controversial visit to Sri Lanka he had been planning to make this weekend.

There have been claims that Foreign Secretary William Hague was angry at the idea of Dr Fox visiting a country facing war crimes allegations.

But a spokesman for the Defence Secretary said the trip was postponed because he was staying longer than expected on another visit to the Gulf.

Instead of what would have been a private visit, he will now be conducting an official visit next year.

"Dr Fox has postponed his private visit to Sri Lanka due to an extension to his scheduled official visit to the Gulf," the spokesman said.

"He intends to carry out an official visit to Sri Lanka next year during which he proposes to fulfil the speaking engagement that he had planned."

The Defence Secretary was meant to be making a speech in honour of a former foreign minister on Saturday.

He has a close interest in Sri Lankan affairs going back to his time as a Foreign Office minister in John Major's government and has made several visits there in the past.

However, the country has a highly questionable human rights record and its government is accused of committing war crimes against Tamil Tiger rebels.

Downing Street insisted earlier that Prime Minister David Cameron had not discouraged Dr Fox from making the visit.

Shadow foreign secretary Yvette Cooper said the episode raised questions about Dr Fox's judgment and who was in charge of British foreign policy.

"Chaotic diplomacy like this does no good for the Government's standing on such a significant issue. It also raises serious questions about the Defence Secretary's judgment," she said.

"The Sri Lankan government are failing to produce an independent and transparent investigation into allegations of war crimes. Evidence of summary executions and civilians being used as human shields has never been properly investigated.

"There must be no mixed messages on an issue of such important humanitarian concern. Governments across the world need to keep up consistent and determined pressure for the Sri Lankan government to agree to an internationally-backed investigation.

"Instead the Defence Secretary seems to have been freelancing on his own. What on earth has he been doing holding 'private' meetings with the Sri Lankan president while refusing to say if he has pressed for the war crimes investigation we need or supported the Foreign Secretary's position?

"William Hague must be spitting mad. This is a sensitive area of foreign policy. Who is in charge of policy on Sri Lanka, the Foreign Secretary or the Defence Secretary?

"Every member of the British government should be pressing consistently for the independent war crimes investigation Sri Lanka needs."