As you drive north through the green belly of Sri Lanka, slowing for the roadblocks and barbed wire at the old front line, the huge murals of the President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, thin out and finally vanish. Tamil country. I was there this year, visiting the northern Tamil city of Trincomalee - a trip I’ll write about at length in the future. When Downing Street said that David Cameron would go to Colombo to attend the Commonwealth summit because he wanted to draw attention to Sri Lankan human rights abuses, I was sceptical. Their President would use the photos of him shaking hands with our PM for his own ends, right?
Mr Cameron’s visit yesterday to war-scarred Jaffna did drag dozens of British journalists to an area they might not otherwise have visited, a city blitzed by the army at the brutal end of the 26-year civil war. It also allowed Tamil protesters to mob his motorcade, lamenting the disappearance of their relatives.
His request that the Sri Lankan government submit to an inquiry into war crimes, intimidation, torture, kid- nappings and the murder of opponents will come to little; there is insufficient international pressure. The BBC’s George Alagiah, born in Sri Lanka, says: “That will serve only to reinforce the habit of impunity.” But the three-day event, supposed to showcase Sri Lanka’s economic revival after the war and tsunami, has become a PR night- mare for the President. No 10, unwilling to countenance cancelling the visit, has made the best of a bad situation.
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