Tamil voters in Britain behind London`s Sri Lanka stance: WikiLeaks

The UK govt led a concerted diplomatic effort against the government in Colombo to stem the violence.

Last Updated: Dec 04, 2010, 18:59 PM IST

Berlin: The British government`s concern for ex-pat Tamil voters in marginal constituencies at home drove London`s criticisms of the Sri Lankan government`s actions in last year`s ending of the country`s civil war, WikiLeaks diplomatic cables suggest.

David Miliband, then British foreign secretary in a Labour government, was outspoken in criticism of the actions of the Colombo government as it closed in on Tamil fighters in the north of the island, where many thousand civilians were also sheltering.

The cable noted "the `very vocal` Tamil diaspora in Britain, numbering over 300,000" people.

"With UK elections on the horizon and many Tamils living in Labour constituencies with slim majorities, the government is paying particular attention to Sri Lanka," read a cable from the US embassy in London from the spring of 2009.

As the Sri Lankan military made its final push in the early part of 2009 against the militant Tamil Tigers, human rights groups warned of extreme abuses taking place, and United Nations officials estimated that thousands of civilians might have been killed in the final weeks of fighting.

Another cable, from the US embassy in Colombo, highlighted that US diplomats had concerns over human rights abuses and the failure of the government to adequately address the charges.

"The responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country`s senior civilian and military leadership, including President (Mahinda) Rajapaksa and his brothers and opposition candidate General (Sarath) Fonseka," a message said.

The British foreign office led a concerted diplomatic effort against the government in Colombo, in an effort to allow humanitarian aid to reach Tamil civilians and stem the violence.

However, when Western governments finally did call Colombo before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, developing countries backed Sri Lanka in its dispute with its former colonial master.

The final resolution from the council ended up praising Sri Lanka`s government -- despite an outcry from human rights groups concerned for the mostly Tamil civilians in displaced persons camps.

But the cables also noted an "obvious split" between Tamils in Sri Lanka and the diaspora, with the ones in country less intent on pressing the issue of accountability for war crimes, while those abroad "would like to see the issue as an immediate top-priority issue".

The Tamils in the country, under pressure from the increasingly authoritarian government, felt themselves "vulnerable to political or even physical attack if they raise the issue of accountability publicly".

IANS