British HC defends UK govt. members attending GTF conference 

By Shamindra Ferdinando 

The British High Commission yesterday said that the participation of senior government members at the recently concluded third anniversary conference of the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) in the House of Commons shouldn’t be considered as an endorsement of "every policy position taken by the host or partner organization." 

A spokesman for the British High Commission was responding to a query by The Island whether Deputy Premier Nick Clegg and Conservative Party Chairman Grant Shapps participation meant the British government supported the GTF’s call to shift Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) from Sri Lanka.

 Ministers regularly attended various community events hosted in Parliament to demonstrate their support for those communities as well as recognize their contribution to the UK, the spokesperson said. 

In the run-up to the GTF conference on Feb 27, the Sri Lankan government told the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that participation of UK government members would be detrimental to ongoing national reconstruction and reconciliation efforts.   

Asked whether the ruling coalition comprising Conservatives and Liberal Democrats had approved the GTF conference in the House of Commons, the spokesperson said that the grouping had the support of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils (APPG-T). The official said that APPG-T didn’t form part of the government therefore its participation didn’t reflect British support for the GTF.

 A senior GoSL official alleged that APPG-T had been working closely with the GTF for some time, while recalling the circumstances under which Vice Chair of the grouping recommended the production team responsible for Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields for Nobel Peace prize last year. 

Commenting on the forthcoming CHOGM, the official said: "As the UK has repeatedly stated, we have not yet decided on the level of any attendance at CHOGM, but we will be looking to Sri Lanka, as we would any host, to demonstrate its commitment to upholding Commonwealth values. The UK has consistently called for an independent, thorough and credible investigation into the allegations of war crimes. We believe that the process of reconciliation between Sri Lanka’s communities has a greater chance of success if investigations are Sri Lankan led rather than externally imposed.  We will continue to work with international partners to support the Sri Lankan people in their pursuit of enduring peace and reconciliation, including with the assistance of relevant international organizations." 

Asked why the Chilcot Inquiry decided to further delay the final report, the official said: "The Inquiry into the Iraq War, led by Sir John Chilcot, is independent of government. In his most recent letter to the Prime Minister in July of 2012, Sir John said that the Inquiry would present its report once any witnesses facing potential criticism have had the chance to respond and present their case. This process is due to begin around the middle of 2013."

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