Thursday, December 02, 2010

Oxford Union cancels Sri Lankan president's talk as Tamil groups protest

By Dean Nelson and Laura Roberts | The Telegraph

Mr Rajapaksa had been due to address the Oxford Union on Thursday night, but protests were expected following the release of a video that purports to show a Tamil Tiger leader under interrogation by army officers despite government claims he was killed in combat.

Pro-Tamil supporters from across the country including students were intending to protest outside the Union and will now gather outside the London hotel where Mr Rajapaksa is staying on Thursday.

“It is no surprise the event has been cancelled given the release of the video. There is some relief that Rajapaksa won’t just be allowed to walk around with impunity,” said James Martin, 33, a student at SOAS.

“The new video that has emerged is devastating and its sad to see the response of the Sri Lankan government. There needs to be an independent investigation.”

In a statement, the Oxford Union said: "Due to security concerns surrounding Mr. Rajapaksa's visit which have recently been brought to our attention by the police, the Union has regretfully found that the talk is no longer practicable and has had to cancel his address."

In the video, which has been seen by The Daily Telegraph, a prisoner who identifies himself as Col Ramesh, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam's leader in eastern Sri Lanka, is shown being interviewed by a series of men in army uniform. Colombo has said Col Ramesh was killed at the end of the country's three-decade civil war.

The London-based Global Tamil Forum last night claimed the video confirmed that he had surrendered in the last days of the war and appeared to have been later killed in breach of the Geneva Covention.

A government spokesman said he could not comment on the video or the Global Tamil Forum's claims, but reiterated his government's claim that Col Ramesh had been killed in fighting.

The Ministry of Defence had confirmed Col Ramesh's body had been discovered along with two other Tamil Tiger leaders on May 17 last year.

But according to a spokesman for the Global Tamil Forum, Col Ramesh had surrendered to Sri Lankan forces at a camp for civilians displaced by the fighting along with his niece on that day. They had since been told by their sources in the Sri Lankan military that he was later killed.

"This is a breach of the Geneva Convention. Someone had surrendered and they have killed him while he was in custody," claimed the spokesman.

Mr Rajapaksa expressed regret after the Oxford Union cancelled the scheduled speech by him amid security concerns, his office said in a statement on Wednesday.

“I am very sorry this has had to be canceled, but I will continue to seek venues in Britain and elsewhere where I can talk about my future vision for Sri Lanka,” the president’s office quoted him as saying.

Sri Lanka’s minority Tamil community in London had planned a demonstration to coincide with Thursday’s event. They also staged a protest when Rajapakse arrived in London on Tuesday.

“This (cancellation) is a decision that has been made unilaterally by the Oxford Union, reportedly as a result of pressure applied by pro-LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) activists,” Weeratunga said.

Mr Rajapaksa had been due to appear at the Oxford Union before his recent inauguration for a second term but the visit was postponed on fears that he could be arrested under British laws allowing arrest warrants to be issue for human rights abuse. The government subsequently gave assurances that he would be treated as a head of state and immune to arrest, allowing the visit to go ahead.

The Ministry of Justice on Wednesday published an amendment to a law that puts visiting officials at risk of arrest for alleged war crimes.

The bill, which will be debated in parliament in the coming weeks, proposed that any arrest warrant for war crimes under universal jurisdiction provisions must be approved by the government’s chief prosecutor.

Calls for a war crimes inquiry intensified yesterday following President Rajapaksa's arrival in Britain as up to 50 MPs signed a letter to David Cameron, the prime minister, calling for a war crimes inquiry.

William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, has demanded a transparent investigation into war crime allegations against the Sri Lankan government.

Up to 10,000 civilians were killed in the last months of the war.

© The Telegraph

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