British policy on Lanka angers Tamils

From Neville de Silva in London

Swathes of London’s Tamil community have reacted with disappointment or anger to the British Government’s policy on Sri Lanka and recent developments there.

A British minister was heckled and shouted at during a question and answer session at a meeting in Harrow last week when he said his Government “fully supported” the banning of the LTTE, that its leader was not an elected representative and support for Eelam was out of the question unless the whole of Sri Lanka wanted it.

Lord Malloch-Brown, the foreign minister in charge of Asia, Africa and the UN who was brought to a meeting by another ministerial colleague Gareth Thomas found the Tamil enthusiasm at his participation and the early applause he received quickly evaporate and turn to heckling and slogan shouting in favour of the LTTE and its leader. “Tamils want Eelam, Prabhakaran is our leader,” they intoned.

Meanwhile other Tamils groups such as the Tamil Democratic Congress (TDC) and EROS who distance themselves from the LTTE have not only welcomed Malloch-Brown’s reiteration of British policy but actually praised him for it.

The TDC called it a “balanced speech” that was critical of both the Sri Lanka Government and the LTTE. The TDC said that the minister’s remarks were “unpalatable to the LTTE-men”.

Nesan Shankar Raji of EROS “praised” the minister and expressed his “gratitude” for his unbiased speech that clearly set out British policy. He said that had Malloch-Brown known that the meeting was organised by pro-LTTE Labour Party MPs and “front” organisations of the group, he would not have attended it.

An unusually candid statement summarising the proceedings released by the British Tamils Forum (BTF) which was largely instrumental in encouraging the Tamil community, mainly from the Harrow constituency, into attending the meeting, indicates that Lord Malloch-Brown had rejected a Kosovo-style independent state in Sri Lanka, that he had said Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Government was hugely popular in large parts of Sri Lanka though not understandably in Tamil areas and that Eastern Province Chief Minister ‘Pillayan’ was an elected politician whereas LTTE leader Prabhakaran was not.

Applause from the gathering - variously estimated at between 600 to 1000, depending on whom one speaks to in the Tamil community - for Malloch-Brown when he said that the Tamils were entitled to political self-government, quickly turned to silence and anger. It was his qualifying remark that political self rule must be “within a united Sri Lanka” that produced the deafening silence, according those present, which prompted the British minister to remark on the changed mood.

Among Malloch-Brown’s responses to queries from the audience that did not enamour him to some in the audience, especially the pro-LTTE sections, were:

  • justification of the ban on the LTTE
  • Pillayan, unlike Prabhakaran, is an elected local government leader however flawed the election. The LTTE has never stood for elections. Meeting somebody does not mean endorsing his policies.
  • Kosovo was not a precedent to support a case for Tamil independence. Supporting every minority that wants to cede from the majority will lead to fragmentation that makes it difficult to sustain international affairs.
  • did not meet Prabhakaran because he is not only difficult to find but he is the leader of a proscribed group.
  • Sri Lanka has a democratically-elected government and not an authoritarian one and so cannot be classified as a failed state.
  • Great Britain is doing everything possible to pressure the Sri Lanka Government through the UN and its High Commissioner. But there is only that much it can do for Sri Lanka is a sovereign state.
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