Saturday, May 9, 2009

Tamil refugee camp horror stories ‘wrong’ - Malcolm Bruce

Horror stories in Britain about conditions in Sri Lanka camps housing hundreds of thousands of Tamil refugees are wrong, a north-east MP said last night

Gordon Liberal Democrat Malcolm Bruce, chairman of the Commons overseas development committee, said there may be shortages but refugees he spoke to were happy to have escaped the fighting in the north of the island state.

Back from a two-day flying visit, he said his delegation, led by ex-Scottish secretary Des Brown, was the first international group to have reached the war-torn area near Vavuniya, where 123,000 men, women and children are surviving in primitive conditions in government camps.

The delegation faced an angry tirade from President Mahinda Rajapaksa when they arrived in the capital of Colombo asking questions about what had happened.

The president was “aggressively defensive” about the campaign against the rebels, who have conducted a terrorist campaign for decades – including the earliest suicide bombers – in support of the fight for independence.

“The president lost his temper with us and accused us of treating Ceylon like a colony,” said Mr Bruce. “He categorically denied the Sri Lanka army has bombarded civilians and said we had been killing civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan and we should not be lecturing him.”

The mood calmed after the MPs said they had no previous links with Sri Lanka and were not there to support the Tamil rebels but to see what help could be offered coping with the refugees.

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