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Sri Lanka President Rajapaksa defiant on rights row

2013 Nov 18

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Mr Rajapaksa said Sri Lanka would "take its own time" in probing alleged abuses

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has reacted defiantly to the UK's call for an inquiry into alleged human rights abuses, saying "people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones".

He was speaking on the second day of the Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka.

British PM David Cameron had urged Mr Rajapaksa to ensure an independent inquiry or face a UN investigation.

The abuses are alleged to have been committed mainly against Tamils since the end of the war in 2009.
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image of Charles Haviland Charles Haviland BBC News, Colombo

President Rajapaksa's response to David Cameron's remarks was not as direct as that of some of his colleagues but he still seemed indignant.

On the other hand, he declined to criticise Mr Cameron for travelling to northern Sri Lanka saying he was "welcome" to do that, even calling their discussions very cordial and friendly. Mr Cameron later said he had held a second round of talks with his host, which showed that the "conversation" was continuing and difficult issues could not be solved in one visit.

But the British prime minister has injected a new dynamic by being the first foreign leader to place an ultimatum for an inquiry before Sri Lanka. Diplomatic tensions will remain high. Mr Rajapaksa defended his own domestic war commission and insisted that international pressure "won't do anything".

Pro-government commentators have pointed to alleged abuses under British colonial rule to suggest Britain has no moral right to criticise Sri Lanka.

And Mr Rajapaksa made an oblique reference to Bloody Sunday, when 13 civilians were shot dead in Northern Ireland by the British army in 1972.

He said some investigations took 40 years to emerge, referring to an inquiry into the shootings which reported in 2010 and laid responsibility for the events on the army.

Mr Rajapaksa also accused his critics of ignoring deaths during the period of the civil war.

"Every day for the last 30 years people were dying... so we have stopped it," he said.

"We will take our time and we will investigate into 30 years of war," he added.

Mr Rajapaksa has said the end of the war has brought peace, stability and the chance of greater prosperity to Sri Lanka.

Basil Rajapaksa, President Rajapaksa's brother and a senior minister in his government, had already rejected Mr Cameron's call for an inquiry, saying it "definitely" would not be allowed to take place.

The government is carrying out its own investigation but denies civilians were killed in the last stages of the war when government troops routed Tamil Tiger rebels in their last stronghold.

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Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa dismissed David Cameron's call for an independent investigation

Leaders spent the second day of the summit in retreat at a hotel discussing development and debt, trade and young people's issues, the BBC's Charles Haviland reports from Colombo, but the subject of human rights was never far away.
'Long-term pressure'

The prime minister met Mr Rajapaksa on Friday, and urged Sri Lanka's president to go further and faster over human rights issues and reconciliation.

Mr Cameron called for Sri Lanka to ensure "credible, transparent and independent investigations into alleged war crimes" and said if this did not happen by March he would press the UN Human Rights Council to hold an international inquiry.

He said strong views had been expressed but the meeting with the president had been worthwhile.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron playing cricket in Sri Lanka, 16 November 2013 David Cameron faced the bowling of Sri Lankan cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan, who said the PM had been misled about the situation in the country
David Cameron at the Sabapathi Pillay Welfare Centre in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, 15 November 2013 Mr Cameron travelled to the northern Jaffna region on Friday to hear the concerns of local Tamils who complain of human rights abuses
Sri Lankan girls in traditional costume at the Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka, 15 November 2013 The Commonwealth summit opened on Friday amid traditional displays highlighting Sri Lanka's cultural heritage
Wives and first ladies at the Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka The government hoped the summit would showcase the country on the international stage but the meeting has been overshadowed by the human rights

Spin bowler "Murali" backed the prime minister's decision to travel to Sri Lanka but said he had been misled about the situation in the country.

Murali told journalists: "He must have been misled by other people. People speak without going and seeing the things there. I go on and off. I see from my eyes there is improvement.
Meeting boycott

Before his talks with the president, Mr Cameron became the first international leader to travel to the Tamil-dominated north of the country since Sri Lankan independence in 1948.

At one point, the PM's convoy was surrounded by more than 200 protesters holding pictures of loved ones who they claim were killed by the Sri Lankan armed forces or have disappeared.

Mr Cameron said the visit - in which he also toured a temporary refugee camp and a newspaper office whose printing presses had been burned - had "drawn attention to the plight" of the Tamil minority in the country.

The Tamils' treatment at the end of the civil war in 2009 has dominated the run-up to the the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm), taking place in Colombo.

The prime ministers of Canada, India and Mauritius have stayed away from the summit in protest over the allegations.

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