Thank you for the concerns expressed for the future of Sri Lanka (leading article, 27 January). Reconciliation indeed, is what President Mahinda Rajapaksa offered, until the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), or Tamil Tigers, who abruptly broke peace talks on flimsy grounds, attacked a civilian bus, killing 65 early-morning passengers in a remote village, blocked an irrigation channel, starving the rice fields of 30,000 people and sent a woman suicide bomber to target the country's army commander who was severely injured.
When the government recaptured the sprawling Eastern Province, we brought back democracy. A rehabilitated former child soldier of the LTTE has become the Chief Minister of the provincial governing body. Thousands of Tamil Tigers who surrendered are being rehabilitated and given occupational training. Child soldiers are being rehabilitated separately, with UN help.
Devolution of power will be brought to the North under the 13th amendment of the constitution. Sri Lankan and foreign governments are readying themselves with millions for rapid development in the Tamil areas ravaged by war for decades. In Sri Lanka, there is no quarrel over reconciliation with the Tamils most of whom now live among the Sinhalese.
But no sovereign nation would be able to reconcile with Prabhakaran, who kidnapped children to make them into soldiers, made suicide bombers out of them, and killed a President of Sri Lanka and a Prime Minister of India. He and his close cronies will have to face the halls of justice not only in Sri Lanka and India but also in the international arena.
Minister Counsellor, Sri Lanka High Commission, London W2
Neutrality of the Red Cross
The image illustrating Dominic Lawson's article "When charities turn political" (27 January), a red cross dripping with blood, was regrettable, both in its misuse of the protected emblem of the red cross and for what it implies about the role of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.
The neutral and impartial provision of aid to those in need is the vital principle upon which the Movement was founded. Respect for this neutrality allows Red Cross/Red Crescent teams to access those in desperate need when others cannot.
In response to the present crisis in the Middle East, Palestine Red Crescent hospitals, medical teams and ambulances have been working around the clock to respond to the needs of people in Gaza. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has a surgical team in Gaza helping local doctors, and, working together, the ICRC and Palestine Red Crescent Society have reached more than 31,000 people with aid in Gaza since 19 January.
In Israel, the Magen David Adom (National Society of Israel) is providing first aid and ambulance services to people injured by rockets and missiles in the south of the country. A clinic close to the Erez checkpoint has also been opened on the Israeli side of the border to provide medical care to injured inhabitants of Gaza. The Egyptian Red Crescent is helping get medical supplies into Gaza and evacuating the critically wounded to hospital.
The Movement's commitment to impartiality and neutrality means we are able to provide a response of this scope, offering unconditional help to people in need whoever and wherever they are, and whichever side of a conflict they are on. Hundreds of thousands of civilians affected by conflict or disaster around the world rely on the red cross emblem for their protection and safety, as do the medical services of the Armed Forces.
Its use is, in fact, protected under both British and international law. Recognition of our neutrality and respect for the emblem saves lives; we cannot allow this to be put at risk.
Sir Nicholas Young
Chief Executive, British Red Cross, London EC2
Dominic Lawson throws up all the usual arguments about who's biased and who does what to whom but ignores one simple fact. Ordinary people, men, women and children, with no power or choice of their own, are desperately in need of aid. The appeal is designed to achieve this, and previous occasions, Congo and Burma for instance, have shown the power of the BBC in this respect. In defence of the BBC refusal, Mr Lawson argues that the charities have become "politicised". This says more about the inherent fear and guilt of those (on both sides) who perpetrate such violence in the first place. The state of Israel is "political". Hamas is "political". Organised life is "political".
It must be almost impossible to witness the effects of war and not develop an opinion. To worry about "balance" and "bias" is to place perception before people. A maimed child is just that, a maimed child, and one who needs our help. Mr Lawson, with children of his own, should support any measure that might help that child. The BBC should ignore the posturings of critics and countries. People are suffering and dying now. They need our help.
Hospital parking charges welcomed
Our experience of hospital parking charges is very different from your correspondent's (letters, 24 January). Our NHS Trust has two hospitals, and charges for parking. Recently, we had to go frequently to the Friarage at Northallerton be-cause my mother-in-law was dying. For the last few days, we were told by the nurses not to worry about paying for the parking and if there was any problem they would sort it for us.
At the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough, the parking used to be about £2 for 24 hours. The car-park used to be used for park-and-ride; people working in Middlesbrough would leave their cars in the hospital car-park all day and get lifts to work or use the buses. Since the charges changed to hourly rates, parking to visit the hospital has suddenly become much easier. Long may charges stay if it means the car-parks are available for those who need them.
Rail companieson wrong track
I work for a theatre company on low rehearsal pay and we don't know until a Friday what our next week's rehearsals are going to be. The train companies say I can get home for £11 single, but these tickets are very restricted and must be booked well in advance. In practice. the fare ends up being between £51 and £107 single in standard class. Last week, I had to go to London for an audition and had to negotiate with the theatre company about timing because the only ticket I could get cost £84 and I could use it only between 9.30am and 2.55pm. The journey takes nearly three hours so this leaves little leeway.
If rail companies think £84 with draconian restrictions is inexpensive they are barking mad. A return is going to cost me far more than driving home. The railway companies' reaction to the inevitable loss of passenger numbers is to cut services and hike prices, thus driving more people off the railway system.
I am at a loss about why they cannot increase services and cut prices; their trains will be full and they will make a profit and more people will leave the car at home. And the top price for a return should be no more than £50, with more available carriages and fewer ridiculous and unworkable restrictions.
The truth about Butlers
You quite properly published an apology about your article (19 January) suggesting that Butlers was responsible for councils losing £470m. How you then came to allow a repeat of the allegation in your Letters page yesterday is baffling. May I please repeat that Butlers, referred to yesterday as Michael Spencer's company, did not give investment advice to local authorities.
ICAP, London EC2
Mike Sheard is correct and we apologise for our error in publishing the letter which repeated this allegation.
Need for reform of Lords is urgent
The recent allegations about members of the House of Lords raise serious questions about the way in which our parliamentary system works. If members of either House are there to represent the general population, which they are by definition, they should be accountable to the electorate and no others. This clearly cannot apply to the members of the House of Lords who are either hereditary or appointed.
This recent problem highlights the need for the reorganisation of the Lords to be completed with urgency. But the government's suggestions that some lords remain to be appointed still leaves the accountability problem, and it seems clear that all members of our parliamentary system must be elected if accountability is to be achieved.
That alone would not stop the problem of MPs and peers having paid consultancies. Members of our legislature are paid by the people to represent them, and if they have other paymasters, they are bound to be swayed in their opinions by considerations presented by their consultant employers, and thus may not present the wishes of the electorate.
The only solution is for MPs and peers to be forbidden to hold any other positions which offer a pecuniary advantage. Apart from the difficulty of being able to follow the demands of two masters, the work of the legislature should be a full-time job, precluding further employment.
To work as an MP or peer is a privilege, one which already gives a high level of financial reward and which also should give a high level of satisfaction at being allowed to serve the British people.
Hard work will get you into Oxbridge
Ellie Levenson has missed the point of what a university is for (letters, 22 January). Its primary function is research; all students attending the university, are, effectively, parasites exploiting university resources for their own ends.
I am at Cambridge, and came from a state school. I got here through hard work, just like the other students here; no elitism, only finely honed entrance criteria that allow in the best students from around the world. If Ms Levenson is happy to throw that away, along with 800 years of fine educational prowess, she is entitled to her opinion.
What should happen is that the state educational system be improved so every student gains a quality education similar to those at private schools.
King's College, Cambridge
I write to thank you for "The lives of the Presidents". I have enjoyed this admirable series, and the quotes and minutiae have brought this recent history to vivid life. British Prime Ministers next?
Belfast, Co Antrim
Lib Dem treachery
"The euro should never be introduced in Britain without public consent confirmed in a referendum." So said Nick Clegg (report, 26 January). Will that pledge form part of his party's manifesto? If so, why should we believe him after the Lib Dem treachery over the Lisbon Treaty? And why does he consider adoption of the euro more worthy of public approval than the constitution itself? Headline grabbing?
We all have rights
Like Johann Hari, I believe people have an absolute right to voice their beliefs, and the price they pay is that I have the right to respond as I wish (Comment, 28 January). It is a right I extend to those of a religious disposition who insist their god has a dislike of homosexuals. Some people will find it offensive, but, as he says, no one can demand to be protected from offence.
Dr Les May
Unjust to inmates
It was shocking enough to read that Jack Straw has abolished arts-based rehabilitation courses in prisons, but it is impossible to describe the anger I experienced on realising these programmes are provided by charities and volunteer groups, thereby costing the average red-top reader little or nothing.
A must for MPs
Every day, one seems to read of more and more of our freedoms being legislated away in Parliament. There is a superb exhibition at the British Library called "Taking Liberties: The Struggle for Britain's Freedom and Rights". Our MPs should be frogmarched from their ivory tower to inspect this exhibition. They will see how many people, over hundreds of years, fought and died for the freedoms these politicians are so readily and carelessly giving up.
Tart about art
Reading "Guernica" (Life, 28 January), I remembered that when Nazi soldiers raided Picasso's wartime Paris studio, an officer pointed to Guernica and said: "Did you do that?" Picasso replied: "No, you did."
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