The newly formed All Party British Parliamentary Group on Sri Lanka is planning to hold a summit of the principal stakeholders in the island's peace process at London in July.
Holding a summit was among the three decisions announced by group leader and Labour MP, Keith Vaz, during a debate on the Sri Lankan situation in the House of Commons on May 2.
The group will invite the Sri Lankan government, the LTTE and the Norwegian peace brokers to thrash out the problems bedevilling the peace process. In September, an all-party British delegation will visit Sri Lanka and talk to all the stakeholders including those in the LTTE-held areas. The LTTE's chief negotiator (presumably the political wing leader SP Tamilselvan) will be invited to address the British parliament.
As the Labour government expressed interest in facilitating the revival of the peace process without displacing Norway, Vaz pressed for a parliamentary debate and formed a MPs' group to keep up the pressure on the government. The debate on May 2 attracted 60 MPs.
Bid to get ban lifted
One of the principal aims of Vaz and his band of Labour MPs was to get the British government to lift the ban on the LTTE. "Six years have now passed and it is time to reconsider the ban and to look at ways in which we can help to ensure that the dialogue proceeds," Vaz said.
His party colleagues, Sadiq Khan and Stephen Pound, say that Tamils in their constituencies feel that the British government is not being even handed in a situation where the Sri Lankan government had also grossly violated human rights. Jeremy Corbyn said that declaring an organisation illegal did not help the peace process.
Simon Hughes (Liberal Democrat) said that there was no use harping on the "terrible history" and that the past could not be used to justify not talking to people. There would be no progress if that was done, he said. He recalled that the banning of Sinn Fein only sharpened the conflict in Northern Ireland.
Opposition to de-proscription
In his opening remarks, the minister for the Middle East, Kim Howells, said that in the absence of "full renunciation of terrorism in deed and word, there can be no question of reconsidering its proscribed status." He further said that he found it hard to give legitimacy to "suicide bombers, murderers, torturers and rapists." The LTTE might have legitimate grievances, but there was no justification for its campaign of aggression on the scale one saw, he added.
Howells went on to say that informal meetings with the LTTE had taken place. But John Macdonald (Labour) said that nothing could substitute a formal dialogue, and that necessitated de-proscription. The ban was a grievance which had contributed to the conflict, he pointed out.
But Conservatives MPs, except Clayton Brown, were very much against lifting the ban. Finally, Minister Howells said that if lifting the ban would take the peace process forward, it could be "seriously considered." He assured the anti-ban MPs that he would visit Sri Lanka with Paul Murphy (MP for Torfaen) and take whatever measures were necessary to push the process forward.
That the government was not totally averse to lifting the ban was evident when the Home Secretary told Vaz that the LTTE could use the provisions in the Terrorism Act to get the ban lifted. The Home Secretary said that one challenge had been successful and they the LTTE were now "in a new territory."