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Sri Lanka stands firm in row over British envoy

world Updated: Feb 19, 2009 10:06 IST

AFP
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Sri Lanka's cabinet refused to withdraw its opposition to a British special envoy despite fresh talks between the two sides on the island's growing humanitarian crisis, a minister said Thursday.

Ministers who met on Wednesday evening took up the British request to send special envoy Des Browne to assess the unfolding plight of civilians trapped in the island's northeastern war zone, a minister who declined to be named said.

"The cabinet rejected the fresh calls to accept the British special envoy on the basis that there had been no prior consultation and that there was no real need for his visit," the minister said.

Sri Lanka's foreign secretary Palitha Kohona confirmed that there was no shift in Colombo's position regarding Browne's
nomination by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

"Our position remains unchanged," Kohona told AFP.

The appointment announced last week caused a diplomatic row between London and its former colony. Sri Lanka described the move as "unilateral" and an interference in its internal affairs.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband telephoned his Sri Lankan counterpart Rohitha Bogollagama after the row and said discussions were continuing on the appointment.

Although Browne was unwelcome in Colombo, the Sri Lankan government invited UN humanitarian chief John Holmes.

Holmes plans to discuss the humanitarian situation arising from Colombo's military offensive against Tamil rebels with representatives of the government, UN member states, the Red Cross and non-governmental organisations.

UN deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe confirmed that Holmes will also meet with people displaced by the conflict.

Sri Lankan officials said Holmes, who begins his visit Thursday, would look at arrangements for thousands of civilians caught in the war zone.

Holmes's visit comes after UN-appointed experts expressed concern earlier this month over "rapidly deteriorating conditions" and the "significant number of civilian casualties."

A pro-government Tamil legislator said on Tuesday that 288 civilians had been killed during one week this month while nearly 800 were wounded in crossfire in the shrinking territory still under rebel control.