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Foreign Policy Priorities from the British Treasury
Stephen Timms

The Peace Secretariat deeply regrets the recent intervention by yet another British Minister in what seems a resumption of the campaign by some elements in British public life to harass Sri Lanka and its people. Mr Stephen Timms, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, is reported to have written to Members of Parliament to the effect that ‘The UK did not support the IMF’s proposed Stand-By Arrangement. The UK believes that it is not the right time for this programme to be taken forward’.

Sri Lanka is well aware that the more irresponsible of the British were behind moves to save the LTTE in the middle of May. The statement of a distinguished journalist, who is admittedly a strong supporter of the Conservative party, that the scurrilous reporting of the Times had been sourced by the British Foreign Office was not entirely surprising, though it must also be granted that more circumspect individuals such as the DFID Deputy Minister and some of the MPs who visited were much more positive about this country.

Sadly, perhaps because of renewed pressure on British politicians, now from the LTTE rump that has control still of vast amounts of illegally collected funds, the British Treasury has decided to get involved in the on-again off-again persecution of this country. The rump seems now to have coalesced around Mr Pathmanathan, who is wanted by Interpol for the unsavoury manner in which he collects money, but who has been slipping in and out of Britain recently, and has also been interviewed by Channel 4, which has faithfully been playing its part in the denigration of Sri Lanka.

All this is very sad, because we are aware that there are elements in Britain which would like to engage with the Sri Lankan government in a positive fashion, and contribute to the development of the country, and in particular its North and East, so as to ‘secure long-term peace and prosperity for Sri Lanka through reconciliation between its communities’ as Mr Timms is reported to have sanctimoniously said. Mr Timms sadly seems to believe that this is what the UK alone wants, not Sri Lanka, which he evidently assumes is thirsting for war and penury and continuing antagonism between its people.

Certainly, not having studied the question, he has doubtless been convinced that peace and prosperity and reconciliation can be achieved only through the privileging of Mr Pathmanathan, who had managed, doubtless through his contacts in Britain, to send in shiploads of weapons to the Tigers in the last couple of months, according to the latest article by D B S Jeyaraj. That these weapons, along with the refusal by the British Foreign Secretary to categorically demand that the LTTE surrender, encouraged the Tigers to fight on, and keep so many thousands of our citizens hostage, evidently matters not a whit to the more blackguardly elements in a nation of shopkeepers.

What is sad is that such behaviour takes away from the saner approach of British professionals in the field. Though I have no idea whether the comment by one Western ambassador, that capitals do not always listen to the views of their representatives on the ground, applies to the British now in Sri Lanka, I believe the British High Commission here is much more positive in its approach, and will try to dissipate the miasma of suspicion that British behaviour in May roused.

The Americans, who were so reliable through much of our struggle against terror, seem to have succeeded in dissipating the doubts roused by some untoward statements earlier this year. Though their abstention on the IMF loan has to be seen as part of the monolithic approach to foreign relations that the West has adopted with regard to Sri Lanka recently, they have not gone out on a limb as Mr Timms has done. Unfortunately, as I found when I contrasted the different approaches of the US and the UK at the Special Session in Geneva that was designed to attach Sri Lanka, many Sri Lankans do not distinguish between these two leaders as they see it of the Western World, and assume indeed that Washington will follow the lead of London.

The Timms pronouncement then will damage the bridge building that is so essential now. Ironically it was made in a context in which even the Times seems to be mellowing. Though it had one article last week that was typically harsh on Sri Lanka, another said ‘To deny any IMF reconstruction funding now would particularly hit the cities in the North and East that suffered most from the depradations of the Tiger leadership’. That seemed to indicate that the saner voices in the Foreign Office were finally being heard, so it would be immensely ironic if the British Treasury thought otherwise, with the LTTE, as Jeyaraj put it, no longer having a presence in Sri Lanka, but hoarding its wealth in Western capitals.

In the context of the generous assistance given us by so many other countries, in the context of the commitments made by Sri Lanka to friendly nations that consistently opposed terrorism whilst encouraging us to pursue the pluralistic reconciliation that Mr Timms seems to think only he had thought of, the grudging approach of some Westerners can only damage the inclusive future, in every sense, that we are working towards. One can only hope then that more enlightened nations, and even more enlightened politicians in Britain, will rein in the myopic and contribute actively to government efforts to ensure lasting peace.

Prof Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretary General
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process

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