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Australia’s warship gift to Sri Lanka under fire

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has defended giving military hardware to a country the United Nations has accused of war crimes, saying the gift of two ships to stop people smuggling will "preserve lives at sea".

But critics say this is ‘collaboration’ with a regime that has come under fierce criticism for its human rights record.

"The Prime Minister's silence on human rights abuses in Sri Lanka was inexcusable complicity, but this is nothing less than collaboration and it is abhorrent," Greens leader Christine Milne said.

See the Sydney Morning Herald’s reports here and here.

Mr. Abbot defended the donation of warships as a ‘humanitarian measure,” The Australian newspaper said.

But the deal was immediately slammed by the Refugee Council of Australia, which said it was the first time Australia had directly co-operated with a refugee ''source'' country.

''This is an arrangement between Australia and a country where people are fleeing, in situations where many people believe that they have a well-founded fear of persecution,'' chief executive Paul Power said.

 ''So, Australia is co-operating with a state with a very poor human rights record from which quite a number of people have fled and have been found to be in need of refugee protection.''

Mr Abbott's laudatory assessment of Sri Lanka's human rights progress since the end of its civil war was in stark contrast to British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Mr. Cameron  infuriated the Sri Lankan regime when he upstaged the Commonwealth summit in Colombo this weekend with a historic visit to Jaffna and threatened his government would seek an international inquiry into war crimes.

Australia told Sri Lanka at the UN last year it must ''take action to reduce and eliminate all cases of abuse, torture or mistreatment by police and security forces … and eliminate abductions and disappearances''.

But Mr Abbott claimed this weekend that significant progress had been made since the end of conflict.

By contrast, Mr Cameron was critical of reconciliation efforts and of continuing abuses allegedly by Sri Lanka security forces, and in a crucial move, set Colombo a deadline of March to investigate war crimes or Britain would pursue an international probe.

Also by contrast, Canada said this weekend that the Tamil community continues to be fearful of the country's leadership.

Canada’s Premier, Stephen Harper had refused to attend the summit over Sri Lanka’s human rights record, as did the leaders of India and Mauritius, who also withdrew his government's offer to host the next Commonwealth summit in 2015 (it will now be held in Malta).

Instead, Deepak Obhrai, a parliamentary secretary to Canada's foreign affairs minister, was sent to Sri Lanka “to keep the country's human rights record front and centre.”

Mr. Obhrai had also travelled to the island’s north and during his visit laid a wreath in the former warzone to commemorate the victims of the conflict.

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