Sri Lanka

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 6:31 pm on 2nd May 2007.

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Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Party Chair, Co-operative Party 6:31 pm, 2nd May 2007

I will come later to the question of the UN and the discussions that we have been having through it. We have made it clear that access is necessary by road and sea. I take this opportunity again to urge the LTTE and the Government of Sri Lanka to recognise that they have a responsibility to facilitate access for humanitarian and development agencies. That is a responsibility on the Government of Sri Lanka, but it is also one that the LTTE must recognise.

I touched on what we as a Government have been able to do to respond to the humanitarian needs. In September last year, we contributed $1 million to the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross for their response to the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Sri Lanka. An assessment mission has recently returned again from Sri Lanka and we will assess the recommendations in its summary report in the next few weeks with a view to considering what else we can do to help mitigate the impact.

Much has been said about human rights. As a number of hon. Members have said, in areas under LTTE control, there is no tolerance of dissent or of freedom of expression. The LTTE needs to develop its role as a credible partner for peace. It cannot continue to persecute Tamils just because they have opposing views. As my hon. Friend Jim Dowd made clear in one of his interventions early on, there have been credible reports that members of the Government security forces have been involved in extra-judicial killings and there have been repeated allegations that some civilians detained during large anti-terrorist operations have disappeared. I know of concerns from my own constituency case load, as well. It appears that anti-LTTE paramilitary groups have also been engaged in violence and intimidation. Despite promising to do so, the Government of Sri Lanka have not succeeded in preventing those armed groups from operating in Government-controlled areas. There are allegations of collusion by the security forces.

The four leading international players in the peace process—the co-chairs—have made it clear that they believe that both parties have failed to deliver on their responsibilities in that respect, including on the commitments made at the Geneva meeting in 2006. We share that view and the concern that has been raised in the House about the serious restrictions that have been put on freedom of expression, with journalists and newspaper distribution agents being intimidated and, in some cases, killed.