15 Nov 2013

Cameron ‘good to his word’ in tackling Rajapaksa on human rights

David Cameron met Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, for a one-to-one meeting on Friday afternoon, following his return from Jaffna, in the Indian Ocean island’s former conflict zone.

Channel 4 News understands that the encounter was “pretty lively”, and the 45 seconds’ worth of television footage that has been released is revealing.

The prime minister is shown leaving the meeting, brushing past Sri Lanka’s high commissioner to London, who tried to engage him in conversation, before pacing past the camera with pursed lips. There is a strong sense from the pictures of the meeting having been brusque, curt and frosty.

A source who was present at the bilateral said the British prime minister had “repeatedly and robustly” raised war crimes allegations, human rights and freedom of the press.

He also spoke about the Channel 4 film No Fire Zone and the issues it had raised.

Mr Cameron said last week that he had watched the feature documentary and had found it “chilling”. In a tweet which he addressed to President Rajapaksa last Saturday, he said that he had “serious questions” to ask him.

The film, broadcast in the UK last week, examines the final 138 days of the civil war which ended in May 2009.

The United Nations says that at least 40,000 civilians were killed in the final few weeks of the 27-year-long conflict, which pitted Sri Lankan government forces against the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

The Sri Lankan rebuttal was largely made by the president’s brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the country’s unelected defence secretary. He is the power behind the throne and is accused by international human rights groups of war crimes, as it was he who was ultimately in command of the final assault in which so many civilians died.

The Sri Lankan president reportedly conceded that while progress had been made, more might be needed to be done to address the issues raised.

Before leaving for Sri Lanka, David Cameron had promised to send an uncompromising message to the Rajapaksa government. It appears that he was good to his word.

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