David Cameron presses Sri Lankan president over war crimes
A spokesman for the British Prime Minister has denied media reports from Sri Lanka on Thursday that David Cameron had had a “cordial” meeting with Sri Lankan President Mahinida Rajapakese during diamond jubilee celebrations in London.
Amid confusion as to the exact direction of British foreign policy towards Sri Lanka, Channel 4 News has learned that the British Prime Minister in fact demanded accountability for alleged war crimes when the two leaders met .
In May 2009, following the brutal end of a long civil war, President Rajapakse had promised the United Nations Secretary General that allegations of war crimes committed by Sri Lankan forces would be properly investigated.
The United Nations Human Rights Council said this year that a proper, independent investigation had yet to take place.
Hundreds of Tamil protestors had gathered outside Marborough House and burned and hanged effigies of the Sri Lankan President as he and other heads of government arrived for the lunch. The President was driven past the protestors in an unmarked police Range Rover.
The Sri Lankan Daily Mirror quoted the President’s spokesman, Bandula Jayasekera as saying that Mr Cameron and Mr Rajapakse had held a “cordial” meeting and that the President had briefed the Prime Minister “on the development in the country” [sic].
Mr Jayasekera told the Colombo Gazette that “Mr Cameron and Mr Rajapakse had held “one-to-one talks”. The paper said that “the details of that discussion [were] not immediately made available by the President’s office.”
Now it is clear why those details were not made available. Their “one-to-one” was not what most people would consider a “friendly” chat.
“The Prime Minister raised the issue of making sure that allegations of war crimes in Sri Lanka were properly investigated,” said Craig Oliver, the Prime Minister’s spokesman. At the request of Channel 4 News, he had checked directly with Mr Cameron during a prime ministerial visit to Norway on Thursday.
We have been unable to contact Mr Jayasekera for a response to this. Last night, the Sri Lankan president left London for Rome, where he is understood to have arranged an audience with the Pope at the Vatican. Recent efforts to secure an interview with the president by Channel 4 News were brusquely rebuffed by Mr Jayasekera.
The Sri Lankan government used an earlier presidential visit to London for apparently propaganda purposes at home, presenting Mr Rajapakse as being warmly welcomed – when that is not in fact what happened.
In December 2010 the president’s planned address at the Oxford Union debating society had to be cancelled because of security fears over planned demonstrations. The president was later photographed with the then Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, during a private meeting at the Dorchester Hotel, where Mr Rajapakse was staying.
The pictures appeared on the president’s website and in Sri Lankan newspapers and were presented as official British government endorsement of the president.
Following the screening of the award-winning Channel 4 documentary Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields last year, the Prime Minister said the “extremely powerful programme” had referred to what he called “some very worrying events”. The events in question were the reported killing of an estimated 40,000 Tamil civilians by government forces at the end of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009.
Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, Mr Cameron said that “the Sri Lankan government does need this to be investigated… and we need to make sure we get to the bottom of what happened… ”
In March this year, Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said that a follow-up Channel 4 documentary War Crimes Unpunished “reinforced the need for that investigation.”
The following week, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution calling on Sri Lanka to initiate “credible and independent actions” to ensure justice and accountability.