Monday, January 28, 2008

Top Sri Lankan official denies helping Karuna go to Britain

Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has denied he helped breakaway Tamil Tiger leader 'Colonel' Karuna get a forged diplomatic passport to go to Britain.

'I did not help Karuna in this matter,' Rajapaksa told IANS Sunday.

'And it was wrong on the part of the British judiciary to have said that I helped him get the passport, without first verifying with me,' the top Sri Lankan official added.

'An accused may say many things in a confession. But these cannot be taken as the truth and made public, without proper verification. The British judiciary has been unfair in this matter,' Rajapaksa said.

When Karuna was sentenced by the Islesworth Crown Court in West London last Friday, the prosecution read out a statement quoting him as saying that Rajapaksa had 'arranged everything' to get to him to the UK.

Karuna had confessed to coming on a false diplomatic passport and was sentenced to nine months' imprisonment.

'I do not know how Karuna got the passport. But to my mind, the question that needs to be asked is, how he got a British visa?' Rajapaksa said.

'The British visa is not easy to get. There is a lot of scrutiny. The visa seeker, other than a minister of the government, has to go to the High Commission for a detailed interview. This being so, how was Karuna given the visa?' he asked.

Rajapaksa said that it was true Karuna had, 'a long time ago', asked him for help to go Britain as he wanted to see his children who were already there. And he did try, through a friendly third country, but the efforts failed.

'I then abandoned the idea of helping Karuna in this matter. And that was a long time ago,' Rajapaksa said.

The powerful defence secretary, who is President Mahinda Rajapaksa's brother, argued that he had no reason to want to send Karuna away from Sri Lanka.

'Why should I want to send him away when he could be useful in Sri Lanka?' he asked.

Rajapaksa charged the British government of violating human rights by preventing Karuna from joining his family in the Britain.

'Preventing a family from being united is a violation of human rights.'

Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama had also denied that the government had issued a diplomatic passport in the name of one Kokila Gunawardena, which Karuna had used to go to Britain in September last year. He also denied that the government had requested the British high commissioner to issue a visa.

Karuna, who had broken away from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in March 2004, had floated an armed Tamil militant group cum political party called Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP) or Tamil Peoples' Liberation Tigers.

The TMVP has been acting as an adjunct of the Sri Lankan armed forces in the latter's fight against the mainstream LTTE in the eastern districts of Sri Lanka.

But international human rights organizations had alleged that the TMVP was violating human rights by extorting money from Tamils and Muslims, killing political rivals, and forcibly recruiting Tamil children for its fighting units. Top UN officials had gone a step further and accused the Sri Lankan government of being 'complicit' in the crimes committed by Karuna.

Cooling his heels in a jail in London, Karuna may have to face trial for 'war crimes' if the West-based international human rights organizations have their way.

Irish SUN