Striving for peace in Sri Lanka
EAST Ham MP Stephen Timms discusses the situation in Sri Lanka, in his latest exclusive column for the Recorder. He writes: WE want to see an end to this terrible conflict that has already claimed too many lives and gone on for far too long. The situati
EAST Ham MP Stephen Timms discusses the situation in Sri Lanka, in his latest exclusive column for the Recorder. He writes:
"WE want to see an end to this terrible conflict that has already claimed too many lives and gone on for far too long. The situation is unacceptable.
"We will do everything in our power to prevent more deaths, but ultimately it is for the government and people of Sri Lanka to bring this about."
These were the words of Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell when he spoke in the Commons recently about the shocking current situation.
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Sri Lanka is a beautiful country, and many in Newham have their roots there. For much of the last 25 years it has suffered fighting between the forces of the mainly Sinhalese government and the Tamil Tigers, who want an independent homeland in the north and east.
Both communities are represented in Newham. The conflict has caused many Tamils to flee Sri Lanka, and Newham's large community is reflected in the successful Tamil-owned businesses - plus temples and a church - along High Street North, Manor Park.
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The fighting has become more bloody and the humanitarian situation has deteriorated in recent weeks. I have been contacted by constituents rightly appalled at the bloodshed. The conflict has claimed the lives of at least 70,000 people and is daily claiming more. Some 250,000 people have been displaced.
Fighting has continued, even within the government-declared safe zone. A hospital that had been declared a no-fire zone has been shelled three times. The United Nations reports that at least 50 civilians died at the hospital. Many more have been injured, including women and children.
The British Government has been adamant in pressing for a humanitarian ceasefire, and for both sides to allow the wounded to receive medical treatment, to allow civilians to leave the conflict areas and to allow access for humanitarian agencies.
I met the president of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, when I paid a ministerial visit in 2006. I emphasised the British Government view that peace required a political settlement. On January 20, the Prime Minister wrote to President Rajapakse outlining his concerns at the humanitarian situation. The Foreign Secretary followed up with a phone call on January 30, again pressing for a humanitarian ceasefire. On his recent visit to Washington, the Foreign Secretary discussed the conflict with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. They jointly called for a no-fire period to allow civilians to leave the conflict area and to allow humanitarian agencies access.
The Government is also taking immediate practical steps to alleviate suffering, allocating a further �2.5 million, on top of �2.5 million committed in October last year, to support humanitarian agencies in Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lankan government says it is close to capturing the Tamil Tigers' capital in the north, but the truth is that there can be no lasting solution which is purely military. A political solution, which addresses the legitimate concerns of all communities, is the only way to bring an end to the conflict for good.