London talks not on India: President

From Neville de Silva in London

President Mahinda Rajapaksa scoffed at news reports that he had come to London to seek Prime Minister Tony Blair's help to get India to give his government a sympathetic ear."I have good relations with India. I have always talked directly with the Indian Prime Minister and with India," the President told The Sunday Times shortly before leaving for Colombo on Friday night.

President Rajapaksa was surprised that anybody should think that he had to seek third party assistance to discuss matters with neighbouring India.

He was referring to reports that Norway's special envoy Jon Hanssen-Bauer had told a Norwegian radio station that Rajapaksa's meeting with Mr. Blair was "presumably an attempt to secure India's support in favour of Sri Lanka's policy" on the on-going conflict.

It is true, however, that terrorism and related issues figured prominently in the more-than-an-hour-long talks President Mahinda Rajapaksa had with Prime Minister Blair at Chequers, the premier's country residence. It seemed a natural enough subject for the two leaders to talk about since both Sri Lanka and Britain are victims of terrorism with Colombo trying to neutralise the LTTE and bring it to the negotiating table and Britain in the throes of a major investigation into an alleged terrorist conspiracy that targeted transatlantic flights out of London.

President Rajapaksa told The Sunday Times that he briefed the British prime minister on the situation in Sri Lanka.

"We also discussed international and other issues but I don't wish to go into them now," he said.

Though the president would not be drawn into it, The Sunday Times understands that fund raising in Britain by the LTTE and pro-Tiger front organisations figured in the discussions. This was particularly relevant in the context of the on-going investigations in the US and Canada about alleged attempts by the LTTE or its supporters to buy sophisticated weaponry and bribe officials to gain access to intelligence reports.

One of those arrested in the US in connection with these inquiries is a London-based Tamil doctor.

Asked about the Non-Aligned summit to be held for the second time in Havana, possibly as a tribute to Cuban President Fidel Castro, President Rajapaksa said he would attend the summit and thereafter the UN General Assembly sessions starting later this month.

Amnesty International Secretary-General Irene Khan who met President Rajapakse is believed to have expressed concerns about human rights violations and civilian casualties in the military clashes that began last month.

Allegations by the former SLMM Chief Ulf Henriccson that the Sri Lankan armed forces were responsible for the killing of 17 aid workers have been dismissed as without foundation by two prominent lawyers in a critique of Henriccson's statement.

Whether this piece of legal analysis was available to the Amnesty International's chief before she called on the president is not immediately known.

Later the reception held by High Commissioner Kshenuka Senewiratne for the visiting president on Friday evening was attended by Sri Lankans of all communities and representatives of various Sri Lankan organisations in Britain. Among the unusually large number of Sri Lankan Tamils present was TULF president V. Anandasangaree on a visit to London.

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