5th February 2009
Keith Simpson calls on the Government to continue to put pressure of the Sri Lankan Government to allow humanitarian aid and access for international media.
Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): I concur with nearly everything the Minister said. One of the most depressing aspects of this debate is that the war-and it is a war-has been going on since 1983. I suspect that the Sri Lankan Government are probably their own worst enemy, as was suggested earlier. They might believe that this final military campaign will end the war and they will achieve total victory, but our own history is littered with far too many examples to show that, although there will be a military victory and they will occupy the last areas held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, we will then see a new form of war that will probably be conducted in a much more ferocious and violent way. It is up to us, who regard ourselves as friends of the Sri Lankan Government, to persuade them of the undoubted errors of their ways.
Keith Vaz: I welcome the bipartisan approach that is being taken here today. That is different from the debates that we have had in the past. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this is a matter not only of achieving a ceasefire, but of commencing a peace process immediately afterwards? Does he also agree that Britain has an important role to play, as we have in the past, in ensuring that the peace talks get going as quickly as possible?
Mr. Simpson: I agree absolutely with the right hon. Gentleman. Indeed, the history of the conflict is one of stop-start peace negotiations, during which it is possible to allocate blame at different times to both sides. The House will know that my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), when he was a Foreign Office Minister in 1997, actually brokered a ceasefire and an agreement, which held for a considerable period. There are examples from both sides of the House of attempts to get the ceasefire moving.
My assessment is that, at the moment, it is not in the narrow military interests of Sri Lanka's Government to allow what everybody has been asking for. They genuinely believe that the war will be finished within the next two or three weeks, so they are going to endure the pressures, the criticisms and the pleas from the international community, and particularly the British Government, to accede to the suggestions that have been made, whether it be to let in the international media, to allow humanitarian aid, or whatever. It is in the Government's interests not to do that, whereas it is obviously in the LTTE's interests desperately to hope for a ceasefire to prevent, as it were, the final endgame.
Mr. Love: Is not the fallacy in the Sri Lankan Government's position the fact that the legacy of enmity and bitterness created in the north of the island and the polarisation of opinion will militate against the conditions in which a peaceful settlement can actually be agreed?
Mr. Simpson: I fear that the hon. Gentleman may well be right, but I also want to put on record, as I suspect did the Minister, the view that dreadful wrongs have been done on both sides. In trying to take a view on who is right and wrong, we should remember that at different times, both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Government have decided to end a ceasefire. However noble the cause that the LTTE sees itself as defending, it needs to be recognised that it has indulged in some appalling terrorist atrocities: it is an incredibly effective terrorist organisation, which has provided an example of terrorist methods for many other such organisations. However much it believes in its cause, we must remember that the LTTE assassinated a Sri Lankan president and was involved in the assassination of the Prime Minister of India, so the fear and loathing felt by the majority population is understandable. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right.
My only hope lies in the possibility that if, at the end of two or three weeks, the Sri Lankan Government see that they have won a victory, there will be some voices within that Government calling to open up new negotiations. However, I could well understand it if the LTTE, having suffered such a humiliating defeat, decided not to engage in them and ratcheted up the terrorism.
The objective of all of us and of the British Government is, as the Minister said, to put as much pressure as possible over the next two or three weeks on the Sri Lankan Government to carry out the humanitarian action that is required. Indeed, it is in that Government's best interests to do so, as they will eventually have to come to terms with international opinion. Secondly, we should protest as much as we can when the media are attacked or intimidated by either side; we must make certain that we have an absolutely fair balance. Finally, we should spell out to the Sri Lankan Government the types of ultimate sanction that the international community could impose. A number of organisations could do that.
I shall not speak further, as I know that many hon. Members have constituency interests to raise. The situation is appalling. I fear that the Sri Lankan Government, for military reasons, will not give way on the issues we have raised. Nevertheless, it is crucial that we continue to press them.
Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): I know that my hon. Friend is a military historian. It is important to be clear that, however the Sri Lankan Government see the position militarily, there can be no international credibility in a purely military victory-indeed, that will not be a victory. Anything that happens militarily must be accompanied by solutions that involve suffrage for the Tamil community. Should we not say to the Sri Lankan Government that the model established for the eastern provincial council elections, whatever its imperfections, provides a way forward, in that it involves the Tamil community in the suffrage process?
Mr. Simpson: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Our history and the history of the world are littered with instances where majorities have tried to impose an undemocratic system on a minority. There is ultimately a solution, as history shows: it involves driving the minority out completely. That, I suspect, will prove impossible in Sri Lanka, and I think that some elements within the Sri Lankan Government and within the majority recognise that. Although the situation is dark and one has great reason to be pessimistic, we should nevertheless continue our best efforts to reach a solution that successive British Governments have worked so hard to achieve."