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UK welcomes renewed defence ties with Sri Lanka and calls for more land releases

Britain’s High Commissioner to Sri Lanka praised renewed defence links between the two governments and called on the military to release more land, which is currently being occupied by the armed forces in the North-East.

In a speech at Sri Lanka’s Defence Services Command and Staff College, James Dauris commended the Sri Lankan armed forces on the land releases that have taken place over the past year, but said “not yet as well as it could or needs to be”.

“Handing land back has required some tough decisions, I know,” said the High Commissioner. “Making it work is harder than it sounds and requires clear sighted and determined leadership.”

He went on to state,

“Further land returns will win further confidence and that a further shift in the relationship between the soldiers and airmen and sailors who are doing their duty in the north, and local populations will also win further confidence.”

“Things are much better, but all is not yet as well as it could or needs to be.”

A UK government press release also quoted Mr Dauris as commenting “that truth and accountability work in both the national interest and the armed forces’ self-interest, and are necessities for modern militaries”.

“High Commissioner Dauris explained that a process of truth and accountability advances reconciliation and prosperity – this is in the wider national interest,” it added.

The High Commissioner also welcomed the renewal of links between British and Sri Lankan armed forces that have taken place since January 2016.

The growth in the relationship between the two governments has seen the appointment of defence attachés and programmes involving army, navy and air force personnel.

“In the UK we are proud that our country is a close and long-standing friend of Sri Lanka,” he said. “And we welcome the steps your government has taken, and which it wants to take, that have enabled the renewal of the partnership between our forces that we are enjoying today.”

His comments come as large swathes of land across the Tamil North-East remain occupied by the Sri Lankan military.

Last week in London, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils Chair Paul Scully criticised the slow pace of reforms. Speaking at a panel, Mr Scully said,

“When you’re looking at truth and reconciliation the appropriated land should be returned. There are clear examples of military run resorts on Tamil Land in the North-East. That can’t be right. You have friends in parliament that will keep pushing on this. We know that things are moving far too slowly. We’re in a similar situation in Burma also. Where Aung San Suu Kyi offered hope but has now been slow in implementing change and reform. “

One example of the continuation of occupied land is in Iranativu, where protestors have been demonstrating for over three months for the return of their land from the Sri Lankan Navy.