Sri Lankan president stung by British protests, WikiLeaks cables
After Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa was met with protests during a private visit in Britain on Thursday, his supporters rallied today outside the British mission in Colombo.
Hailed as a war hero at home, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa received a hostile reception this week in Britain from Tamil protesters incensed by alleged war crimes during last year’s defeat of the Tamil Tigers.Skip to next paragraph
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The uproar in Britain comes amid the release of secret US State Department cables from its embassy in Colombo, as part of the recent WikiLeaks document dump, that reveal deep US skepticism over Sri Lanka’s pledge to hold its own forces accountable for any battlefield abuses.
Fending off calls for an international tribunal, Rajapaksa has appointed a “truth commission” that many critics say is hamstrung by a weak mandate.
In the January cable, Patricia Butenis, the US ambassador to Sri Lanka, described the war crimes allegations as “the most difficult issue on our bilateral agenda” and complicated by the fact that responsibility “rests with the country’s senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers and … General Fonseka.”
Sri Lanka's ruling elite is largely inured to outside pressure and will push back against all claims of war crimes, says Lal Wickrematunge, chairman of Leader Publications, whose newspaper, the Sunday Leader, is fiercely critical of the Rajapaksas. Last year, unknown gunmen shot dead the paper’s editor, Mr. Wickrematunge’s brother Lasantha, during his morning commute, sowing fear among local journalists.
“The government is strong within the country. They will market this [cable] in a manner that the US is interfering in internal affairs,” he says.
Adding to Rajapaksa’s discomfort, Britain’s Channel 4 aired footage during his private visit of alleged abuses by troops during the war. The government has described this and other gruesome videos provided to foreign broadcasters as propaganda of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), as the Tigers are known.
Wimal Weerawansa, an outspoken nationalist minister, said Thursday that Britain was a “failed state” that couldn’t safeguard a visiting foreign dignitary. He held a small protest Friday outside Britain’s mission in Colombo. “We condemn anti Sri Lankan act of British,” read a large banner.