British Under Secretary’s ‘war picnic’, misleading comments, draw flak from Tamils

While Alistair Burt, British Under Secretary of State at FCO, endorsed on Twitter on Wednesday the self-determination of the people of the Western Sahara, in his Twitter discussions on Tuesday with Eezham Tamils, he opined that “Detail of political settlement must be for Sri Lankans themselves. We encourage TNA and govt to make serious progress.” Likewise, in a video recording taken with the British High Commissioner in Sri Lanka a few days back at the Mullaitheevu coast, which witnessed the worst massacres in May 2009, he welcomed the defeat of the LTTE calling it “terrorism” and picked only politically insignificant flaws with the Sri Lankan government. Civil society activists from the North remarked that the minister seemed to be on a sort of a “war picnic”, appreciating some aspects with Sri Lanka and criticizing others. Activists in the UK have also reacted to Mr. Burt’s comments.

Civil society activist and Jaffna University academic, Mr Guruparan Kumaravadivel had tweeted Mr. Burt asking him whether UK would support a call from the Tamils to hold a referendum towards a just political solution.

To this, Mr. Burt had replied that “Detail of political settlement must be for Sri Lankans themselves. We encourage TNA and govt to make serious progress.”

While stating in the video that CHOGM would likely be held in Colombo this year, Mr. Burt responded to a question of ACF France that “the UK has not yet decided on level of any attendance at CHOGM.”

Answering to a query of Freedom from Torture, Mr. Burt tweeted that UK was concerned about human rights situation in Sri Lanka, including torture, and that it would support action at the HRC.

He was also seen upholding the LLRC.

Responding to Mr. Burt’s overall observations from the island, British Tamils forum’s Parliamentary Coordinator Nad Mylvaganam told TamilNet “We were surprised by many of his comments, lack of political clarity and the ignorance in using diplomatic wordings without deep political understanding of the Tamil struggle. These statements have undermined the genuine efforts taken by Human Rights Defenders to bring an independent international investigation on Sri Lanka.”

Mr. Mylvaganam further added that “Tamils around the world see this statement as offensive, as it portrays that the struggle and the conflict ended with the end of the war. LLRC does not have any recommendations to address the root cause of the conflict. First and foremost the Minister must understand that there are two nations in that Island”.

A release by the BTF on Tuesday also criticized Mr. Burt’s perspective on the question of the Eezham Tamils.

“Here in Britain, it will be considered an insult to refer the Scottish or the Welsh people as minorities. Yet, labelling the Tamil people as minority goes unchallenged causing extreme distress to the Tamil people who see it as a direct attack on their nationhood. It is important that her Majesty’s government and its officers understand the nature of the conflict in Sri Lanka before trying to address it,” the release said.

“Given the fury raised by the statement by one of its minsters, the British Tamil people would like to have a formal clarification from Her Majesty’s government whether it considers the end of the war in May 2009 to be the end of the 65 year old conflict for which Britain bears substantial responsibility owing to her imperfect decolonisation process in the Island of Ceylon,” the BTF statement further noted.

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