May 07, 2009

Foreign Secretary on World at One - Sri Lanka (29/04/2009)


SPEAKER Foreign Secretary David Miliband

DATE 29/04/2009

Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, was interviewed on the BBC's World at One following his visit to Sri Lanka on 29 April 2009.
Read the transcript

Martha Kearney: Well earlier the Foreign Secretary David Miliband told me from Sri Lanka what he’d heard as he was visiting a refugee centre there.

David Miliband: Well the so called safe zone is not safe at all, that’s where the conflict has been ongoing. The Sri Lankan Defence Secretary confirmed there will be absolutely no more heavy shelling, that must be put in to practice, but of course it’s a stop to the fighting that the European Union and the G8 have been calling for. At the moment the civilians are trapped by LTTE, the Tamil Tigers, a terrorist organisation that is stopping them leaving this so called no fire zone but the Government’s obviously got responsibility that it needs to live up to as a democratic member of the United Nations applying the rules of international humanitarian law.

MK: Alongside the French Foreign Minister you’re on an EU mission to try and urge an immediate ceasefire by the Sri Lankan Government, how have you been getting on with that?

DM: There isn’t going to be a ceasefire today as a result of this visit. There is an ongoing struggle for territory in this country, this civil war has claimed eighty thousand lives over the last twenty five years. What we have is a very clear focus on the civilians in the conflict zones who are desperate for water and food and never mind safety.

MK: But isn’t it a fact that the Sri Lankan Government is paying no attention to international opinion, to delegations such as yours, isn’t it time for a UN Security Council resolution?

DM: Well this is the first delegation that’s been allowed in, media are not being allowed in to the north east of the country which only adds to the concern. I think that we were right; Britain, France, the US, to raise this issue at the United Nations last Friday this does belong on the United Nations Security Council agenda. This is a civil war that does have regional and wider ramifications and, obviously, a massive civilian emergency as well.

MK: Do you think that war crimes have been committed here? You’ve got the Sri Lankan Government using heavy artillery even though they’ve stopped now, and also the Tamil Tigers using people as human shields?

DM: The truth is we don’t know, there’s no question that there has been abuse of civilians by the Tamil Tigers, preventing people leaving the conflict zone and, obviously we’re very concerned about the heavy pounding that has been going on in the conflict zone as well. One reason for a proper access is to promote not just civilians’ welfare but also proper accountability on all sides for what has happened.

MK: We’ve seen big protests here in Britain do you think pressure can be brought to bear on the Tamil community in exile?

DM: I think that people around the world will be very worried about the situation here. A hundred and fifteen, a hundred and twenty thousand civilians have been displaced by this conflict and I think it’s right that there is international concern reflected not just in the UN Security Council by countries like Britain and France but also on the streets in peaceful demonstrations.

MK: Another way out of the situation of course would be for the remaining Tamil fighters, the rest of the LTTE, to surrender and so then the civilians would be freed, are you asking for that to happen?

DM: Well we’re certainly demanding that the LTTE stop sheltering civilians, keep holding them hostage would be a better way of putting it. It’s vital all along that we don’t forget that this is a civil war where a terrorist organisation has blown up people on buses and in shopping centres in, right across Sri Lanka. The real voice of the Tamil people is for decent rights and proper recognition in a peaceful way in Sri Lanka. The deeper political crisis is one of representation and recognition and that certainly needs to be addressed.

MK: Should the Tamil Tigers surrender though?

DM: We, we’ve said all along we want them to renounce violence because violence is never the way to deliver political progress in a democratic country and this is a country that needs the international community. The international community will engage but it wants to see a proper recognition of Tamil aspirations for recognition of their needs and that can be done within a unified Sri Lanka but it does need to be based on clear political rights. And the consequence of the fighting is that while the Sri Lankan Government may win the war the danger is that they lose the peace and we have twenty five more years of terrorism because Tamil communities across Sri Lanka are so appalled by what they’ve seen.

MK: The Foreign Secretary David Miliband speaking to me from a refugee camp in Sri Lanka.