Sri Lanka

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 6:22 pm on 2nd May 2007.

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Photo of Andrew Love Andrew Love Labour, Edmonton 6:22 pm, 2nd May 2007

I congratulate the Government on making time for the debate. The fact is that Parliament has been rather remiss when it comes to Sri Lanka, especially in view of the number of people who have died and the fact that the conflict has been ongoing since 1983.

I pay tribute—as we all seem to be doing—to my hon. Friend Barry Gardiner and to the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, who will reply to the debate. Both played a prominent role in Sri Lankan affairs before they became Ministers, and—as has already been mentioned—both their constituencies contain significant Tamil communities.

I want to make a number of points in the limited time available to me. The first concerns the drift back to war that has been going on for some time. Almost immediately after the ceasefire agreement in 2002, despite six rounds of talks that seemed to be very positive—the LTTE discussed prisoner exchanges and was going to drop the idea of an independent state—by 2003 the LTTE had pulled out, suggesting that it had been sidelined. That resulted in a serious loss of momentum. It was nearly four years before the next major effort was made to bring the two communities together, and although they met in February 2006 and agreed to meet again in April, that subsequent meeting never took place. I pay tribute to Norway for its unsuccessful attempt to bring the two communities together in Oslo in June that year.

There are many reasons for the failure of those efforts, but I shall cite three that I consider particularly important. In October 2003, there was an interim self-governing agreement. Unfortunately, that split the Sinhalese community, and in subsequent parliamentary elections the United National party, which was more sympathetic than some others to finding agreement, was defeated. A consequence of that defeat was that the LTTE and the Tamil community began to wonder about the limitations of the peace process in delivering genuine change for them.

Secondly, 35,000 people were killed as a result of the tsunami and Members know from debates in this House that there was no direct aid to Tamil areas; it had to be filtered through the Government. There was an agreement between the Government and the LTTE: the post-tsunami operational management system or PTOMS. However, that was challenged in the supreme court, and consequently the aid was slow in getting through and the Tamil community began to wonder whether its suffering caused by the tsunami was being recognised.

The third reason was the assassination of the Foreign Minister, Mr. Kadirgamar. Although it is widely assumed that that was carried out by the LTTE, no one has claimed responsibility. That has further deepened the hostility between the communities.

The drift into war became a slide after April 2006. The new Government of the Sri Lanka Freedom party came under pressure from the more nationalist smaller parties to take a tougher response to the negotiating process. The LTTE abandoned any prospect that peace would be delivered, and returned to the low intensity insurgency of some years before. There was also the defection of the Karuna faction, which felt that it was not being listened to within the LTTE, and the belief of many in the military and the Sri Lankan Government that they could exploit that split. The consequence of all of that is that some believe that there can be a military solution. We should make it clear—every Member who has spoken has done so—that there is no military solution. That is not only because the LTTE remains much stronger than many people think, especially in the north of the island, but because, as we have seen in recent weeks and months, it still has the ability to disrupt Sri Lanka and to fight back when necessary. Because we should not underestimate the LTTE, it is crucial that the international community starts to bring the two communities together.

We have talked a lot about Norway and some Members have been critical, but Norway cannot succeed alone. It needs the help of the international community. That was clear from what happened to the Sri Lanka monitoring mission. The LTTE said that it had to get out of its areas, and it had to retreat back to Colombo and remove monitors who were from European Union countries. The international community has a role to play, and it must do more.