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Britain's Foreign Office admits to destroying hundreds of files regarding start of LTTE uprising in Sri Lanka

21 January 2019 - 1655   - 0

The UK's Foreign Office is being accused of “shredding history” after it admitted to destroying nearly 400 diplomatic files from the start of the LTTE uprising in Sri Lanka, the Morning Star reported.

The Foreign Office has shredded nearly twice as many files on the conflict than it previously admitted, a freedom of information request by the Morning Star has found.

Last year the department said it had destroyed 195 files from the late 1970s, when MI5 and SAS personnel advised Sri Lankan spies and commandos how to counter Tamil guerillas.

The Star  now reveals according to a recent report that diplomats shredded another 177 files from the early 1980s, bringing the total to 372.

Only lists of file names survive, many of them relating to arms sales.

Last night the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) condemned the destruction, saying the Foreign Office “cannot be allowed to erase its complicity” in Sri Lanka’s war crimes.

CAAT spokesman Andrew Smith said: “The conflict in Sri Lanka had devastating consequences, and killed tens of thousands of people.

“Britain’s role in the war might be embarrassing for the government, but if there is to be justice and accountability it needs to be fully exposed and understood.” As well as arming Sri Lanka’s right-wing president throughout the 1980s, Britain also advised the country’s top brass.

The Star can reveal that Sri Lanka’s defence secretary General Attygalle made a secret visit to Belfast in 1984, just weeks after his forces massacred Tamil civilians.

The general dined with the head of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and discussed counter-insurgency tactics used in the Troubles.

The full details of this covert liaison may never be known as the Foreign Office has shredded a file from that year titled “Sri Lanka interest [sic] in Northern Ireland as a military problem.”

All government departments are supposed to preserve historic files and make them available to the public at the National Archives after 30 years, but the Foreign Office has repeatedly destroyed documents before they are due to be declassified.

The Morning Star has found that the Sri Lanka records were destroyed in 2014, just weeks after the Foreign Office apologised to top historians for burning files about Britain’s abuse of Mau Mau anti-colonial activists in Kenya.

We can also reveal that diplomats have now drawn up secret plans to destroy a further 40 files on Sri Lanka dating from the mid-1980s.

These files contain details about political asylum applications, training of Sri Lankan forces in Britain and nine volumes on arms sales.

Dr Rachel Seoighe, a Sri Lanka expert at Kent University, is trying to rescue the remaining files from government shredders.

Dr Seoighe warned: “The destruction of files is happening on an even larger scale than initially thought. They are shredding history.”

So far, diplomats have rejected her freedom of information requests to declassify the surviving files, forcing her to appeal to the Information Commissioner watchdog.

She told the Star: “The British government’s role in the conflict, particularly in arming and training the Sri Lankan forces, is not yet fully understood. That’s why its eagerness to destroy files from that period is suspect and concerning.

“We cannot allow for a rewriting of history through this selective destruction of documents.”

The Foreign Office told the Star it was not able to comment until later on tomorrow

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