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UK Foreign Office accused of cover up after destroying hundreds of files on Sri Lanka

The British Foreign Office stands accused of “shredding history” after it emerged that it had destroyed almost 400 files related to its links with the Sri Lankan government as it waged a war against the Tamil armed struggle.

A freedom of information request by the Morning Star found that the Foreign Office had destroyed nearly twice as many files on its engagement with Sri Lanka from the 1970’s onwards, than it had previously admitted.

Though the British government admitted last year that it had destroyed 195 files from the 1970’s, the Morning Star revealed that shredded another 177 files from the 1980s, bringing the total to 372.

At the time, the British government had sent MI5 and SAS personnel to advise and train Sri Lankan spies and commandos as they launched military offensives against Tamil separatists.

One such file was labelled “Sri Lanka interest [sic] in Northern Ireland as a military problem,” and may have contained details such as Sri Lanka’s defence secretary General Attygalle secret visit to Belfast in 1984, where he met with the head of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and discussed counter-insurgency tactics.

The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) said the UK government “cannot be allowed to erase its complicity” in Sri Lanka’s crimes, with spokesman Andrew Smith saying,

“The conflict in Sri Lanka had devastating consequences, and killed tens of thousands of people.

“Britain’s role in the war might be embarrassing for the government, but if there is to be justice and accountability it needs to be fully exposed and understood.”

Dr Rachel Seoighe from Kent University, warned that, “the destruction of files is happening on an even larger scale than initially thought”.

“They are shredding history,” she added.

She went on to state,

“The British government’s role in the conflict, particularly in arming and training the Sri Lankan forces, is not yet fully understood. That’s why its eagerness to destroy files from that period is suspect and concerning.

“We cannot allow for a rewriting of history through this selective destruction of documents.”

Tamil artist M.I.A. told the Star that Western governments had backed “atrocious armed actions against the Tamil people and their political struggle for equality and self-determination.”

“This support naturally includes erasing and rewriting history,” she said.

See more from Phil Miller for The Morning Star here.