US envoy arrives in Sri Lanka for talks pressure builds over war crimes

Updated 01 February 2014
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US envoy arrives in Sri Lanka for talks pressure builds over war crimes

COLOMBO: A top US envoy on Friday pushed for reconciliation in Sri Lanka which is under intense international pressure to probe rights abuses during the final stages of the island’s decades-long separatist war.
Nisha Biswal, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, held talks with Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris over a range of issues including allegations that government troops killed thousands of Tamil civilians during the final months of the war in 2009, official sources told AFP.
Biswal, who arrived in Colombo on Friday, is the second US envoy to travel to Sri Lanka in recent weeks after war crimes investigator Stephen Rapp stirred controversy by visiting a former Sri Lankan battleground earlier this month.
The visits come ahead of a UN review of Colombo’s human rights record. A third US-initiated censure motion against Sri Lanka is set to be discussed at the UN Human Rights Council in March.
During her two-day visit, Biswal will travel to Sri Lanka’s former war zone to meet ethnic minority Tamil leaders, a US embassy spokesman said.

“She will discuss with Sri Lankan (government) officials on the need to do more to ensure reconciliation and accountability,” he said.
Neither side disclosed details of Biswal’s closed-door talks.
However, Sri Lankan opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe told reporters that Biswal was pushing for progress in reconciliation following the end of the 37-year-old separatist war.
“We talked about issues pertaining to (the upcoming UN Human Rights Council Meeting in) Geneva,” Wickremesinghe said.
Sri Lanka has come under increasing pressure to investigate allegations that troops committed war crimes during the decades-long conflict between troops and Tamil rebels, or face international investigations.
Sri Lanka has consistently denied what the UN calls credible allegations that up to 40,000 civilians were killed by Sri Lankan troops in the final months of the war that ended in 2009.
The opposition Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which controls the highest level of local government in the former war zone of Jaffna, has said it will send a representative to Geneva for the upcoming UN meeting.
Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron warned during a Commonwealth summit in Colombo in November that he would use London’s position at the UN to press for an independent investigation unless Colombo showed progress in probing its own troops.


Three UK Conservatives quit party in protest at “disastrous Brexit“

Updated 20 February 2019
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Three UK Conservatives quit party in protest at “disastrous Brexit“

  • Three resign to join independent group in parliament
  • Blow to PM May in efforts to clinch deal on exit from EU

LONDON: Three lawmakers from Britain’s governing Conservatives quit over the government’s “disastrous handling of Brexit” on Wednesday, in a blow to Prime Minister Theresa May’s attempts to unite her party around plans to leave the European Union.
The lawmakers, who support a second EU referendum and have long said May’s Brexit strategy is being led by Conservative euroskeptics, said they would join a new independent group in parliament set up by seven former opposition Labour politicians.
The resignations put May in an even weaker position in parliament, where her Brexit deal was crushed by lawmakers last month when both euroskeptics and EU supporters voted against an agreement they say offers the worst of all worlds.
While the three were almost certain to vote against any deal, the hardening of their positions undermines May’s negotiating position in Brussels, where she heads later to try to secure an opening for further work on revising the agreement.
With only 37 days until Britain leaves the EU, its biggest foreign and trade policy shift in more than 40 years, divisions over Brexit are redrawing the political landscape. The resignations threaten a decades-old two-party system.
“The final straw for us has been this government’s disastrous handling of Brexit,” the three lawmakers, Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston, said in a letter to May.
Soubry later told a news conference that the Conservative Party had been taken over by right-wing, pro-Brexit lawmakers.
“The truth is, the battle is over and the other side has won. The right-wing, the hard-line anti-EU awkward squad that have destroyed every (Conservative) leader for the last 40 years are now running the ... party from top to toe,” she said.
May said she was saddened by the decision and that Britain’s membership of the EU “has been a source of disagreement both in our party and in our country for a long time.”
“But by ... implementing the decision of the British people we are doing the right thing for our country,” she said, referring to the 2016 referendum in which Britons voted by a margin of 52-48 percent in favor of leaving the EU.
Asked what May would say to others considering resigning, her spokesman said: “She would, as she always has, ask for the support of her colleagues in delivering (Brexit).”

INDEPENDENT GROUP
The three sat in parliament on Wednesday with a new grouping which broke away from the Labour Party earlier this week over increasing frustration with their leader Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit strategy and a row over anti-Semitism.
Another former Labour lawmaker joined their ranks late on Tuesday, and several politicians from both the main opposition party and Conservatives said they expected more to follow from both sides of parliament.
What unites most of the group of 11 is a desire to see a second referendum on any deal May comes back with, now that the terms of Brexit are known in detail — something the prime minister has ruled out.
For May’s Brexit plan, the resignations are yet another knock to more than two years of talks to leave the EU, which have been punctuated by defeats in parliament, rows over policy and a confidence vote, which she ultimately won.
Britain’s 2016 EU referendum has split not only British towns and villages but also parliament, with both Conservative and Labour leaders struggling to keep their parties united.
May has faced a difficult balancing act. Euroskeptic members of her party want a clean break with the bloc, pro-EU lawmakers argue for the closest possible ties, while many in the middle are increasing frustrated over the lack of movement.
Those who have resigned have long accused May of leaning too far toward Brexit supporters, sticking to red lines which they, and many in Labour, say have made a comprehensive deal all but impossible to negotiate.
But May will head to Brussels hoping that her team will get the green light to start more technical negotiations on how to satisfy the concerns of mostly Brexit supporters over the so-called Northern Irish backstop arrangement.
The “backstop,” an insurance policy to avoid a hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland if London and Brussels fail to agree a deal on future ties, is the main point of contention in talks with Brussels.
British officials are hoping they can secure the kind of legal assurances that the backstop cannot trap Britain in the EU’s sphere to persuade lawmakers to back a revised deal.
But May’s argument she can command a majority in parliament if the EU hands her such assurances is getting weaker. A government defeat last week showed the euroskeptics’ muscle.
One pro-Brexit Conservative lawmaker, Andrew Bridgen, said: “I would find it very difficult to accept a legal document from the same (party) lawyer whose definitive advice four weeks ago was that we could be trapped in the backstop in perpetuity.”