Sri Lanka accused of rights abuse

Place: Sri Lanka | Courtesy: BBC
| Date: 20000717

By: Alastair Lawson in Colombo

Two British members of the European Parliament have strongly criticised the Sri Lankan Government's human rights record.

The MEPs, Richard Howitt and Robert Evans, say the government has not done enough to protect civilians caught up in the war against Tamil Tiger rebels and is covering up their suffering.

The men accuse the authorities of implementing an oppressive press-censorship policy and of not allowing essential supplies, including baby food and medicine, to be distributed in areas controlled by the Tamil Tigers.

They say that the government has made no progress against the Tamil Tigers on the battlefield, and that its proposals to end the fighting through constitutional reform will not work.

Civilian plight

The MEPs visited the northern town of Vavuniya, where they met Tamil civilians displaced by fighting in the northern Jaffna peninsula.

There are a large number of soldiers - some of them very young, some of them female - on duty Robert Evans, MEP Mr Howitt said that the authorities were not doing enough to minimise civilian casualties.

The plight of displaced people in and around the conflict area was as bad as the suffering endured by civilians in Sierra Leone and Chechnya, he added.

He also strongly criticised the government's censorship policy and its restrictions on travel.

"It's part of their effort to maintain their own population's support for the war, but it is covering up a major humanitarian crisis," he said.

Peace talks needed

The two MEPs have met members of the Sri Lankan Government and will be reporting back to the European Parliament.

Mr Evans, a member of the Parliament's South Asia delegation, said that President Kumaratunga's proposals to end the civil war would not work unless she sat down and negotiated with the Tamil Tigers.

The army is spending vast amounts of money, says the report "The Sri Lankan Government and the Sri Lankan army are undoubtedly spending huge amounts of money, vast amounts of resources, with very little to show for it.

"There are a large number of soldiers - some of them very young, some of them female - on duty, and no evidence that they are making any progress at all," he said.

Mr Evans denied suggestions - prompted by the large number of Tamils in his London constituency - that his visit to Sri Lanka was opportunist.

He said it was not opportunist to take up the plight of Tamil people, whom he said were being tortured and oppressed.

The findings of the MEPs are likely to be warmly welcomed by the Tamil Tigers, who in recent months have themselves been strongly criticised by a variety of human-rights groups.