UK's junior Foreign Minister, Kim Howells, seen with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse, first raised the idea of British involvement in resolving the conflict during a visit to the island in early 2007
Britain licensed £7 million worth of weapons and military equipment for export to Sri Lanka this year alone, it was revealed during a debate in Parliament last Wednesday. The sum matches the amount of British aid provided in the wake of December 2004 tsunami.
Also Thursday the UK government said it was holding back half its £3 million annual aid allocation for this year citing British concerns over human rights in Sri Lanka.
“Inquiries that I have made reveal that £7 million-worth of [UK] arms were licensed for delivery to Sri Lanka in the last quarter for which figures are available,” Joan Ruddock, a ruling Labour party MP, told the House Wednesday during a landmark debate on Sri Lanka.
“Licenses were for armoured all-wheel drive vehicles, components for heavy machine guns, components for military distress signalling equipment, and many other types of equipment, including military aircraft ground equipment and communications equipment, and small arms ammunition,” she said.
“All of that is military equipment that could conceivably be used in the conflict,” she said.
“I know that our Government have obeyed the rules—the EU and the national criteria by which we agree export licences. There is no question of wrongdoing. However, … I ask the Minister to consider whether those export licences and similar licences should continue when a live conflict is clearly under way in the country.”
However, government ministers did not respond to Ms. Ruddock’s question.
Earlier in the debate, junior foreign minister Kim Howells said British Foreign Minister Margaret Beckett had met with Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister and “reiterated Britain’s commitment to peace and our willingness to get involved in that whole process.”
“She spoke of the terrible humanitarian impact of the conflict on the civilian population and the need for both sides to do more to protect that population. She repeated the message that there can be no military solution to conflict,” Dr. Howells said.
Later in the debate, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development Gareth Thomas said in the wake of the December 2004 tsunami, Britain “committed aid of about £7 million immediately after [it] struck.”
Of this sum, about £500,000 is outstanding, Mr. Thomas said. It had been allocated to “to develop the capacity of the North-East Provincial Council to lead the recovery process,” he added.
The council has since been disbanded when the North-East Province itself was demerged by the Sri Lankan government last year.
Meanwhile the British government said Thursday it will withhold £1.5 million of aid this year.
Britain agreed in 2005 to provide Sri Lanka £41 m ($81.6 million) in debt relief until 2015, in yearly instalments of 3-6 million pounds, as long as Colombo met a series conditions, Reuters reported.
Britain was due to make a payment of 3 million pounds this year, or around $6 million, and has paid just half.
"What we have said for this year is we are making half of the agreed payment because there is an ongoing consultation process about progress towards meeting the conditions agreed between the two governments," the spokesman for the British High Commission in Colombo said.
During Wednesday’s debate British ministers told Parliament the government had a coordinated approach to Sri Lanka’s conflict.
“We complement our high-level engagement with more practical assistance through a joint Department for International Development, Ministry of Defence and Foreign and Commonwealth Office peace-building strategy for Sri Lanka,” Dr. Howells said.
“[These departments] combine our operations in the country, and we are using funds from [our] global conflict prevention pool to support a series of programmes that will help to bring the sides together, slowly to try to create the conditions for a sustainable peace,” Mr. Thomas said.
“We want a peaceful solution to the conflict. … We will continue to be engaged in the search for peace in Sri Lanka.”