Sri Lanka: Fear and fury as leaders fly in for Commonwealth conference

Minister of Mass Media and Information accuses David Cameron of treating the country 'like a colony'

The contentious Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting that begins in Colombo on Friday descended further into acrimony when a minister in the Sri Lankan government accused David Cameron of treating the country “like a colony”.

The prime ministers of India, Canada, Mauritius and Trinidad and Tobago have already pulled out of the summit, while Mr Cameron said that he wanted a personal meeting with the Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa at which he would raise questions about allegations of war crimes by government forces during the civil war with Tamil rebels that ended in 2009. Mr Cameron will visit the north of the country on Friday where he will meet Tamil leaders.

Keheliya Rambukwella, Sri Lanka’s Minister of Mass Media and Information, responded to Mr Cameron’s demands by telling the BBC: “We are a sovereign nation. You think someone can just make a demand from Sri Lanka! We are not a colony.”

Mr Rambukwella then reportedly said Mr Cameron’s concern was to win votes among London’s “150,000-strong” Tamil community, according to a BBC source.

Earlier in the day journalists from Channel 4 News were prevented from travelling to the Tamil areas of the north by hundreds of government loyalists, who denounced the team as “terrorist liars” and supporters of the Tamil Tigers as they brought their train to a standstill near the northern city of Anuradhapura.

The reporters were escorted off the train and told to head back south by police, the latest in a series of incidents that have disrupted the team since it arrived in Sri Lanka at the beginning of the week.

Channel 4 has commissioned a series of documentaries exposing evidence of atrocities by both sides in the civil war, including the alleged massacre by government forces of 40,000 people in 2009.

Journalists travelling with the group said the President  was reneging on promises before the summit to grant free access to foreign media. They added that the campaign of harassment cast doubt on the British Government’s justification for attending the conference – namely that it would provide an opportunity for Mr Cameron and the Foreign Secretary William Hague to hold the Sri Lankans to account.

Mr Hague arrived in Sri Lanka before Mr Cameron, who is meeting his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, and will arrive in Colombo on Friday.

Ben de Pear, the Channel 4 News editor who is part of the team in Sri Lanka, told The Independent: “What No 10 and the Foreign Office have said in terms of engagement with Sri Lanka has not been borne out. It is clearly impossible for us to travel or work freely and the official British presence here is having absolutely no effect.

“We are not in physical danger but how can we work and interview people from any side if everywhere we go we are followed by a group of people screaming that we are terrorist liars?”

The Channel 4 team said they were tailed on to the train by state intelligence agents as they travelled to interview civil war survivors in the north. The team, whose presence has been front-page news in the Sri Lankan press, were asked to leave the train by police who said they had orders to return them to the capital “for their own protection”.

The Foreign Office said Mr Hague had raised the treatment of the Channel 4 team with his Sri Lankan counterpart. Mr Hague also tweeted: “Urge gov to let journalists report as promised.”

An FCO spokeswoman said: “It’s important that journalists and those they speak to are not harassed, and where this is happening we are raising it at the highest levels.”

Mr Hague also urged the Sri Lankan authorities to launch an investigation into allegations mass rape was used by government forces both during and after the civil war.

Arts and Entertainment
TV Review: Sabotage, a meltdown and, of course, plenty of sauce
News
newsVideo for No campaign was meant to get women voting
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
i100'Geography can be tough'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Louis van Gaal looks dejected after Manchester United's 4-0 defeat by MK Dons on Tuesday night
sport
News
Actor, model and now record breaker: Jiff the Pomeranian
Video
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
i100
News
Down time: an employee of Google uses the slide to get to the canteen
scienceBosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary Teacher

£90 - £145 per day + travel expenses: Randstad Education Newcastle: Year 3 Tea...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Network Security Engineer, CCNP

£200 - £300 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Network Security Engineer, CCNP Lon...

SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teacher required with Early Years...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?