David Miliband called for Sri Lanka aid 'to win votes'

Asia Correspondent,Tom Peck
Thursday 02 December 2010 01:00
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The former Foreign Secretary David Miliband's campaign to champion international aid and human rights during last year's humanitarian rights crisis in Sri Lanka was driven largely by the need to win the votes of the UK's large Sri Lankan Tamil population, according to the latest Wikileaks releases.

Richard Mills, a political officer at the US embassy, reported: "He said that with UK elections on the horizon and many Tamils living in Labour constituencies with slim majorities, the government is paying particular attention to Sri Lanka."

Other documents released by Wikileaks show US diplomats believe the Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, bore responsibility for mass killings that marked the bloody end to the country's civil war.

The roles of Mr Rajapaksa, his brothers and other leaders in the final stages of the military operation that destroyed the Tamil Tigers were a reason there has been no Sri Lankan investigation, according to the message from the US ambassador.

The UN has estimated that 10,000 civilians, holed up in a so-called "no-fire zone", may have been killed as a result of shelling by both sides in the spring of 2009. Mr Rajapaksa has always rejected demands for an independent inquiry.

Mr Rajapaksa is visiting the UK and last night met Defence Secretary Liam Fox. He had also been expected to deliver an address at the Oxford Union, but the event was cancelled by the student debating society because of concerns about protests being planned.

The cable sent in January this year by the US ambassador Patricia Butenis said any attempt to push for prosecutions would be counter-productive. "There are no examples we know of a regime undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops or senior officials for war crimes while that regime or government remained in power.

"In Sri Lanka this is further complicated by the fact that responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country's senior civilian and military leadership including President Rajapaksa and his brothers and opposition candidate General Fonseka."

General Fonseka, who led the military fight against the Tamil Tigers, took on President Rajapaksa in this year's presidential election but was beaten. He was later convicted of fraud, in what his supporters claimed was a politically motivated campaign against opponents of the President. Most of the leadership of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were killed during the final fighting but thousands more mid and lower-level fighters continued to be held, according to the cable. "It is unclear whether any such prosecutions will meet international standards," the ambassador wrote.

Tamil activists yesterday released new video footage they claimed shows the interrogation of a senior Tamil rebel military commander after he had surrendered to government troops.

The family of Colonel Ramesh say they have had no news of him since he gave himself up to government troops. The Sri Lankan military reportedly said at the time he had been killed in fighting.

There was no immediate word from Mr Rajapaksa last night about the cancellation of his address, and the Sri Lankan military was unavailable for comment on the emergence of the video.

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