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British officials in race to stop ‘war crime’ by Sri Lankan forces

[Telegraph, Friday, 22 May 2009 18:24 One Comment]

b_nadesan_frontBy Dean Nelson in Colombo.

British ministers and diplomats were involved in a frantic last minute series of pleas to spare the lives of two Tamil Tiger leaders as Sri Lankan troops closed in.

The LTTE’s political chief B Nadesan and ‘peace secretariat’ head S Puleedevan had attempted to surrender, a senior United Nations official disclosed yesterday. The men were subsequently later found dead amid claims that they were shot while waving a white flag, and Western diplomats have warned the government could face war crimes investigation of the incidents.

The group’s leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was one of several hundred fighters killed after the Sri Lankan government declared victory in its 26 year-long civil war.

British and Norwegian ministers joined United Nations officials in trying to save them as the Sri Lankan army moved to ‘annihilate’ the rebels.

Friends of the two men asked Norway’s international development minister, Erik Solheim and British foreign ministers to intervene on Sunday and in the early hours of Monday morning.

Vijay Nambiar, the U.N Secretary-General’s envoy and chef de cabinet, said he was contacted by British officials who asked hime to make the Sri Lankan government aware that Nadesan and Pulideevan wanted to surrender.

Mr Nambiar said yesterday in Colombo that he conveyed the message to Sri Lanka’s foreign secretary Dr Palitha Kohona, but was told the safe surrender of the men could not be guaranteed. He said: "He said:’It may be too late, we’ll see."

Dr Kohona yesterday denied he had contact with Mr Nambiar, but said he had messages indicating the two men’s intention to surrender. A series of emails and text messages seen by The Daily Telegraph, Dr Kohona was asked: "will the troops fire?"

"Just walk across to the troops slowly," he replied. "With a white flag and comply with instructions carefully. The soldiers are nervous about suicide bombers."

He did not, however, inform any other official or officers at the front of their imminent surrender.

"Contacting me at that time about surrender was probably not a useful way of setting about it," he said.

He said he had heard a rumour that the two men may have been shot in the back by their own comrades but said they equally could have been shot by advancing soldiers.

"This was at dawn in the dark," he said. I don’t think the message got to the front that these people were coming with white flags," he said.

Mr Solheim said he had heard heavy gunfire in the background when one of the men had called pleading for help in surrendering.

Dr Kohona said he had not asked officers on the front line if they had shot the men as they surrendered:"You don’t ask questions like that. If you’re an investigator, yes, but you don’t ask questions like that unless you already know the answer."

A Foreign Office spokesman could not confirm ministers’ involvement but said "it would not be surprising" if they had passed on messages of this kind to the UN.

Britain’s relationship with Sri Lankan have deteriorated dramatically in the last three months as foreign secretary David Miliband has voiced increasing concern over the number of civilian casualties and the government’s failure to address genuine Tamil grievances.

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One Comment »

  • fdimul said:

    Here is a solid incidence where Srilankan Government could be directly rapped for their war crimes.