Sri Lanka

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 5:03 pm on 2nd May 2007.

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Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 5:03 pm, 2nd May 2007

I am grateful for that contribution. It could be said that we have both angles covered, as the Norwegians are independent but they are also co-sponsors who have the support and assistance of the EU, the USA and Japan.

If the Sri Lankan army is considering an extra push in the north-east of the island, that is a worrying development as it will lead to further suffering and loss of life. If the advances are resumed, it is likely that the LTTE will wish to reply in kind, and it could be years before there is a reduction in the violence.

Meanwhile, the LTTE has started making deadly air strikes on both Government troops and the infrastructure of Colombo. There have recently been strikes on an oil depot and on the main airport in the capital city, timed to coincide with the cricket world cup final. The Foreign Office website describes the situation in Sri Lanka as "no peace no war", but the brutal reality is that since the 2002 ceasefire the conflict has resumed and is in danger of escalating to a much greater scale. The ceasefire needs to be rekindled and the international community must make every effort to secure it.

Britain has a historical connection, of course, with Sri Lanka, and we should do whatever we can to bring peace to the island. I am mindful, however, that some former colonies are wary of British involvement in their now independent countries, which is why our involvement should be handled with sensitivity, helping as is necessary and appropriate. The Norwegians, operating with the support of the USA, Japan and the European Union, successfully negotiated the February 2002 ceasefire. They deserve our utmost praise and respect, and we should offer them all the support that they need and want from us. The ceasefire may have collapsed, but to the Norwegians' credit they have continued to maintain good links with both sides in the conflict, which may lead to further peace proposals.

We should also use our position in the international arena to encourage other countries to press both sides for peace. Britain has considerable influence in the United Nations by virtue of being a permanent member of the Security Council. Although we might sometimes have disagreements with our European Union counterparts, we still have influence in the Union. Nor should we forget our many friends in the Commonwealth, who should also be urged to press for peace.

India, too, has a major role to play in this conflict, not least because of its proximity to Sri Lanka and its own large Tamil population in Tamil Nadu. As India heads toward becoming a 21st-century superpower, it is important that it be included in the peace negotiations because of its own vested interest and its global and regional influence, which is increasing daily.