Tamil campaigners were stopped from serving a war crimes arrest warrant on a Sri Lankan general by his premature departure from Britain. An application was lodged at Horseferry Road magistrates court, central London, but inquiries by Scotland Yard established that he had left on Thursday night. Tamil groups blame the president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and his senior officers for the deaths of 40,000 civilians in the final stages of the civil war last year. The Oxford Union withdrew an invitation for Rajapaksa to speak this week citing threats of mass protests.
A Rajapaksa-aligned journalist in Sri Lanka wrote this embarrassing defense of his dear leader (indeed, truly independent and critical voices inside Sri Lanka are rare these days):
The Sri Lankan leader had arrived in Britain with a large entourage for the main purpose of addressing Oxford’s prestigious Oxford Union. Now the union had cancelled it unilaterally at very short notice.
It was definitely a political snub for the man who had successfully defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militarily in Sri Lanka. In an ironic twist supporters of the LTTE in Britain had struck back by compelling the Oxford union to backtrack on an extended invitation.
The unilateral cancellation was indeed a political embarrassment for President Rajapaksa. He had been riding the crest of a victorious wave in recent times. Now he was being forced to eat humble “kola kenda” by the Oxford union which had unilaterally cancelled the scheduled speech
Shabby treatment was being meted out to Sri Lanka’s popular head of state who had come all the way to Britain to address the Oxford union. Apart from the insulting conduct of the union the issue was also a denial of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s freedom of expression.
And here’s one Sri Lankan who thanks former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband for standing up for Tamils last year (even if the reasons were less than pure):
On Thursday morning I opened the newspaper to a photograph I have seen before. One lone, damaged coconut palm and a handsome Singhalese soldier against an explosive-blackened sky. Beneath was the story of a diplomatic scandal. Nothing unusual, only this time it was, to my surprise, about a country that I love. So, thank you David Miliband for bringing Sri Lanka back into the news. While some may be outraged at your seemingly artful ploy to win Tamil votes, I, as a Sri Lankan, am delighted.
Incredible though it may seem, any mention of my island home (no matter what British political scandal it may involves), is most welcome. For here is a chance for the world to stop its hurried turning, pause a moment, and remember that savage kingdom in the Indian Ocean. To read once more of the 100,000 Tamils thought to have died in a few balmy days last May.
So David Miliband, maybe you did see a window of an opportunity and try, by focusing on the humanitarian plight of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, to affect the marginal seats in the last British election. I am quite prepared to believe that maybe your motives were less than saintly. But one thing is clear, you have brought the place I still call home back into the public eye. Sri Lanka is a country that plays games with itself. Now there is a war, now there isn’t. Look, here are honeymoon resorts, boutique hotels, marvellous beaches. In the midst of the economic gloom in Britain, who can resist taking the simple view and forgetting what lies beneath such affluence? As for the 300,000 Tamils in Britain, trying and failing to have a voice, weren’t they all terrorists, anyway?