Sri Lanka denied entry Wednesday to a Canadian lawmaker who was outspoken in his criticism of the military's war against the Tamil Tiger rebels, a senior government official said.
Immigration Commissioner P B Abeykoon said parliamentarian Bob Rae of Canada's Liberal Party was briefly detained upon his arrival in the country and then forced to leave.
"We got information from the intelligence services that his visit to the country was not suitable," Abeykoon said. Rae had called on Canada to be more outspoken in its criticism of Sri Lanka's recent offensive against the rebels, which left more than 7,000 civilians killed in the last months of fighting, according to the United Nations.
"Canada's absence and silence are a disgrace," he wrote on his blog on April 27, as the war entered its final weeks. In a statement Wednesday, Rae said his treatment showed the Sri Lankan government was "afraid" of discussion and engagement. He said he had been unfairly labeled as a supporter of the Tamil Tigers.
"To describe me as 'an LTTE supporter,' as an army spokesman has done today, is a lie, pure and simple," Rae said, using the acronym of the rebel group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. "I have been a steady critic of the abuses of human rights that were part of the LTTE's tactics."
Sri Lanka's high commissioner in Canada, Daya Perera, said Sri Lanka's foreign ministry approved Rae's visit but intelligence and immigration services denied him entry.
"The country has nothing to hide," Perera told The Associated Press. "Seeing him and having have a look by himself might have been advisable."
Rae, a former premier of Ontario and one of Canada's most prominent politicians, said he understood that he is not welcome in Sri Lanka to discuss humanitarian issues and ethnic reconciliation. Sri Lanka is "afraid of dialogue, afraid of discussion, afraid of engagement. All I can say is shame on them," he said. Canada has objected to Sri Lanka's deporting of Rae. "It is absurd to suggest that Mr. Rae represents a threat to Sri Lankan national security or is a supporter of the LTTE," said Emma Welford, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Affairs department. "We have registered to the Sri Lankan government our dismay and displeasure concerning this unacceptable treatment of a Canadian parliamentarian."
Canadian Conservative lawmaker Deepak Obhrai said he was supposed to travel to Sri Lanka this week to check on displacement camps, but his visa application was denied by the Sri Lankan High Commission in Ottawa.
"Their excuse was that they could not accommodate me," Obhrai said.
Sri Lanka has sustained considerable international criticism in recent months and in at least one other case, was accused of barring a top foreign diplomat.
In April, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said he was denied a visa to visit Sri Lanka as part of European delegation pressing for a cease-fire in the war. His British and French counterparts were allowed to come. Sri Lanka maintained Bildt had never formally told the government he planned to visit.
Since the war ended, there have been several senior foreign visitors, including from India and Japan and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Also Wednesday, Sri Lanka released a merchant ship with its 15-member crew which was sailing under a Syrian flag last week when it entered Sri Lankan waters without permission and was intercepted by the navy.
The "Captain Ali" was carrying food and medicine collected by ethnic Tamil expatriates in Europe for fellow Tamils displaced by the war.
Navy spokesman Mahesh Karunaratne said officials found no war materiel on the ship but it was still not allowed to unload its cargo. Those on board included an Icelander, a Briton, two Egyptians and 11 Syrians.