Protesters mob Cameron’s car during visit to former war zone

HUNDREDS of Tamil protesters condemning Sri Lanka’s human rights record took to the streets as Prime Minister David Cameron visited the civil war-scarred area of the island.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 16th November 2013, 12:01 am
David Cameron meets Tamil refugees in the welfare village of Sabapathopillaia, in northern Sri Lanka, who were made homeless during the 26 year long civil war.
David Cameron meets Tamil refugees in the welfare village of Sabapathopillaia, in northern Sri Lanka, who were made homeless during the 26 year long civil war.

Up to 200 demonstrators brandishing photographs of missing relatives gathered around the Prime Minister’s motorcade as he made the first visit to the Tamil-dominated region by any foreign leader for more than 60 years.

At least two women were able to get up close to the windows of Mr Cameron’s car, and were seen to be thrown aside by Sri Lankan police.

Mr Cameron said the powerful scenes he witnessed in the city of Jaffna reinforced his commitment to seek a full inquiry of alleged war crimes by regime forces and to pressing the president of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, to promote reconciliation.

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Downing Street said the Prime Minister “pressed his points very directly and robustly” in an hour-long face-to-face meeting with Mr Rajapaksa at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

Mr Cameron was fired up after hearing about murdered journalists and speaking to displaced Tamils who have spent more than 20 years in a temporary camp.

But the president – who denies claims of war crimes and ongoing abuses – is believed to have hit back and accused Mr Cameron of seeking votes from the UK’s large Tamil community.

Mr Cameron has come under fire from campaigners for not joining the leaders of Canada, India and Mauritius in boycotting the summit in protest over human rights.

But he insisted that his visit justified his judgment that he could achieve more by attending and using the occasion to highlight issues and raise them directly.

As many as 40,000 civilians are estimated to have died in the final months of the regime’s 26-year fight with Tamil Tiger separatists in 2009, according to the UN, whose call for an international investigation if no new inquiry is held are backed by Mr Cameron.

During his visit to Jaffna, he heard of ongoing issues and was particularly struck when he visited a Tamil newspaper office to hear about the murder and assaults of its staff and see bullet holes in the walls from attacks.

He was told that as recently as this year armed raiders had burned down the presses of Uthayan in an unsuccessful bid to silence the title.

Speaking after visiting the makeshift homes of people still living in a so-called “welfare village” after two decades, he then urged the regime to win the peace as well as the war.

Reconciliation efforts have included regional elections in the north – and Mr Cameron said he was impressed by the region’s new Tamil chief minister.

But he said that far more needed to be done, adding: “Seeing pictures of journalists, shot and killed, on the walls and hearing stories of journalists who have disappeared long after the war has ended, that will stay with me.

“And also the image, in this camp, of talking to a young woman who came here when she was very young and wants nothing more than to go to her own home.”

He added: “The fact is about this country that there is a chance of success because the war is over, the terrorism has finished, the fighting is done.

“What’s needed is generosity, magnanimity, proper devolution of power.

“The Tamils and Sinhalese can live in peace on this island.”

But shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said: “Tragically, the Prime Minister has blundered badly on Sri Lanka, and has found himself unprepared for the growing controversy surrounding the reluctance of president Rajapaksa to alter his approach to the human rights of his own citizens.

“The harrowing scenes we are seeing today serve to emphasise the widespread concern that human rights organisations have consistently raised about the reported war crimes and atrocities committed at the end of the civil war in 2009, and the regime’s reluctance to fully investigate them.

“David Cameron must now yield to the long-standing calls from Labour and others for an international investigation into these alleged crimes. If he fails to then he risks missing another opportunity to influence the Sri Lankan authorities.”