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Sri Lanka

Volume 487: debated on Wednesday 11 February 2009

4. What recent discussions he has had with the Sri Lankan Government on aid to that country; and if he will make a statement. (255788)

The UK does not have a bilateral aid programme with Sri Lanka. However, due to the unfolding humanitarian crisis resulting from the conflict in the north, we have committed £5 million to support agencies such as the Red Cross to deliver vital humanitarian aid. The Government regularly press the case for an end to the conflict and for allowing a full humanitarian needs assessment.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I emphasise that it has been three weeks since humanitarian aid got through to Vanni. What are we doing about a ceasefire?

The severe restrictions on humanitarian agencies operating in the Vanni area means that it is difficult to get a clear picture of what is happening on the ground and how many people are affected by the conflict. That is why we have this week dispatched three departmental humanitarian experts to Sri Lanka to see for themselves the situation on the ground and to report back directly to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

The Minister has already said that the Government are applying pressure to try to relieve the position in the north of Sri Lanka. What pressure can they apply to stop the persecution of independent newspaper journalists in Colombo and journalists in the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation? Sri Lanka is meant to be a democratic country. What can we do to ensure that it remains so?

We impress on the Government of Sri Lanka the need to uphold humanitarian law in the country. We also agree with the EU Commission’s duty to initiate an investigation into the generalised system of preferences plus—GSP plus— trade preference scheme, which depends on Sri Lanka’s maintaining a good humanitarian record.

Has my hon. Friend seen the reports that health Ministers in Colombo have issued a final warning to the eight doctors and 1,000 medical staff in Mullaiththeevu and Ki’linochchi districts to leave the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam-controlled territories, and that defence Ministry officials were threatening them with

“dire consequences for helping supporters of terrorists”?

Will my hon. Friend do what he can to ensure that the Sri Lankan Government respect health facilities in the Tamil areas and fulfil their human rights obligations to the Tamil people?

We utterly condemn threats, violence and intimidation against humanitarian workers and aid agencies, and against civilian doctors and nurses who treat people. That forms part of the content of a letter that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wrote to the Sri Lankan President only yesterday, reinforcing the need to look after all civilians in Sri Lanka.