Miliband meeting ends in sharp exchange

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The Independent Online

By all accounts, Foreign Secretary David Miliband's meeting with Sri Lanka's powerful Defence Minister was not the smoothest encounter.

In Colombo on Wednesday to call for a ceasefire, Mr Miliband's comments did not please Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

An account in the pro-government newspaper The Island claims that Mr Rajapaksa "did not mince his words". The report says that when Mr Rajapaksa claimed that 100,000 civilians had been rescued without a shot being fired, Mr Miliband interrupted him to say he had evidence that civilians had been hurt by army firing. Mr Rajapaksa is said to have retorted: "Even BBC is dishing out LTTE propaganda material without verification."

The British envoy said his claim was not based on BBC reports but credible information from inside the war zone. The Defence Minister, known for his fiery temper, replied that all information coming from the war zone was spun by the LTTE, and added that it was time to decide whether to believe a terrorist group or a responsible officer of a legitimate government. A spokesman for the British High Commission in Colombo yesterday confirmed the meeting had seen an "open, clear and fair exchange of views".

He added: "There was no standing up or theatrics... It was strong views but no more than that."

It is not the first time Mr Miliband has ruffled feathers in South Asia. Earlier this year, the youthful Foreign Secretary was accused of failing to show sufficient respect to his aged Indian counterpart. He referred to the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh and the Foreign Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, by their first names.

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