Sri Lanka

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:12 pm on 5th February 2009.

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Photo of Virendra Sharma Virendra Sharma Labour, Ealing, Southall 2:12 pm, 5th February 2009

I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention and I agree with him.

The Sri Lankan Government are seriously mistaken if they think they can resolve this problem through military means. After 25 years of conflict, it is clear that there is no military solution. A peaceful negotiated long-term settlement that enshrines the rights of the Tamil people in a federal constitution that devolves real power to the Tamils is desperately needed. All parties need to agree to an immediate ceasefire and get back to the negotiating table. Norway, the broker of the 2002 to 2005 ceasefire, and India, Sri Lanka's neighbour, need to be brought back into the picture to help bring about a lasting peace. I have used my own contacts with the Indian Government and Parliament to help in this regard and will continue to do so. It is in the interests of India and all the other neighbouring countries for there to be a resolution of this long-running conflict and for there to be regional stability.

I pay tribute to the efforts made by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for International Development to get an immediate ceasefire and to help tackle the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the conflict zone in the north-east of the island. I welcome yesterday's joint statement issued following the meeting between the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton and the Foreign Secretary, which emphasised that

"both sides need to allow civilians and wounded to leave the conflict area and to grant access for humanitarian agencies".

I also welcome the pledge of an extra £2.5 million from the UK Government to help with the humanitarian crisis, but I urge them to do all they can to ensure that the aid actually gets to the people. Reports from my constituents' families in Sri Lanka suggest that this humanitarian aid is not getting through to the people. It has been of great concern to me that the Sri Lankan Government have not allowed international aid agencies, apart from the Red Cross, into the conflict zone since late summer last year.

More than 250,000 Tamil civilians are trapped in the war zone having fled their homes after shelling, and today we hear further reports that the one hospital in the war zone is being subject to sustained shelling and the dropping of cluster bombs on it. The UN, overnight, reported that 52 civilians had been killed and 80 wounded, some inside a "safe zone". A UN spokesperson said that the Puthukkudiyiruppu—PTK—hospital in the war zone was evacuated after 16 hours of shelling. A dozen patients were killed in the shelling. Both sides deny that they are responsible, but reports suggest that air strikes were used and only the Sri Lankan army has such a capability. The attacking of hospitals and the killing of patients with cluster bombs is an obscene outrage, and those responsible need to be brought to account and punished.

The international community and the whole world need to put pressure on the Sri Lankan Government to end these attacks on civilians and to enter into a new dialogue, so that a new round of peace talks can begin and a just settlement can be reached that recognises the legitimate rights of the oppressed Tamil people of Sri Lanka.

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