ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday November 18, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 25

Pressure mounts on Britain over Karuna

From Neville de Silva in London

While an embarrassed British Government ponders what to do with Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, popularly known as Col Karuna Amman, now in its custody, there are growing pressures on the authorities to bring the LTTE’s former eastern commander to trial for war crimes and human rights abuses.

The international watchdog Amnesty International’s call to try Karuna under Article 6 of the Geneva Convention was followed once more by the New York-based Human Rights Watch on Friday. The HRW urged the British Government to begin investigations into Karuna’ alleged offences in Sri Lanka under provisions of British law.

Col. Karuna Amman

British authorities continue to remain tightlipped about the ‘Karuna affaire’ save confirm his arrest and detention for immigration offences. However, it is understood that Lord (Mark) Malloch-Brown, a Foreign Office minister for Asia, Africa and West Asia, did broach the subject with Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama who was in London last week to attend an emergency meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) to discuss the Pakistan situation.

Besides sitting on the same CMAG committee, Bogollagama had a separate meeting with Lord Malloch-Brown during which he raised the issue of the LTTE’s fund- raising and other activities in the UK. It is also rumoured that the British Foreign Office raised the issue with Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner Kshenuka Senewiratne following Karuna’s arrest on November 2 when he was found in possession of a diplomatic passport which was not obviously his though it contained his photograph.

The speculation is that the British authorities sought clarification from the High Commission about this diplomatic passport on which he is said to have travelled to Britain and found at the time of his arrest in affluent Kensington in London where he was residing with his wife and children.

The stories could not be checked as attempts to contact appropriate diplomats at the High Commission failed. On Friday, the HRW called on the British authorities to open a “formal investigation” saying that the “case provides an important opportunity for justice for victims of human rights abuses in Sri Lanka.”

In London, HRW’s Asia Director Brad Adams said that the British Government had previously shown that it could successfully prosecute those who have committed serious abuses abroad, citing the 2005 case of a former Afghan warlord Faryadi Sarwar Zardad who was convicted by the UK courts for acts of torture and hostage-taking in Afghanistan.

HRW accuses Col Karuna of long being linked to the summary execution and torture of civilians and the use of children as soldiers.“Tamil Tiger forces under Karuna’s command were directly involved in some of the worst crimes of Sri Lanka’s ongoing civil war. In June 1990 some 400 to 600 police officers in the east who surrendered to the LTTE were bound, gagged and beaten. The Tamil Tigers including forces under Karuna’s control then executed the Sinhalese and Muslims among them,” says Brad Adams.

The British authorities are holding Karuna in an immigration detention centre in Oakington and are said to be question him before deciding on what action to take. The British are said to visibly annoyed that they were hoodwinked into issues Karuna with a entry visa under false pretences in which the Sri Lanka foreign ministry is said to be involved.

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