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From The Socialist newspaper, 20 January 2010

Sri Lankan government condemned

ON 14 January, the European International Committee on Trade meeting in Brussels, Belgium, heard powerful evidence from Senan, the international coordinator of Tamil Solidarity, and from Joe Higgins, Socialist Party MEP, Ireland, of gross human rights violations by the Rajapakse government in Sri Lanka which warrant trade sanctions.

They also warned of further abuses, whichever of the two main candidates wins the presidential election in Sri Lanka. The importance of a campaign for genuine democracy was stressed and backing urged for Siritunga Jayasuriya the presidential candidate of the United Socialist Party. Right, we print part of the Tamil Solidarity press release.

THE EU trade committee held a hearing on 14 January to debate the removal of the GSP Plus (generalised system of [trade] preferences) concession to Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka faces charges of human rights violations.

The Sri Lankan ambassador argued that Sri Lanka is improving its human rights record, claiming that "former combatants have been released and sent for rehabilitation or held back for closer investigation... All child combatants are being rehabilitated." This 'improvement' was challenged by Senan in the debate.

Senan accused the Sri Lankan government of creating 'transit centres' where released detainees are held and of, in effect, turning the north "into an open prison".

Tamil Solidarity pointed out that there is evidence that children as young as eight years old are kept in special detention centres, in effect, torture camps.

The ambassador stated that the "Reporters sans Frontieres website listed only one alleged attempt to kidnap a journalist in the last year". But Vincent Brossel of RSF explained that on the previous day "a local journalist from the BBC was beaten by supporters of a minister because she was covering the election campaign."

Hypocritically the ambassador made a plea on behalf of those suffering the aftermath of the tsunami in 2004. But the Tamil Solidarity coordinator pointed out that the majority of the aid and tax relaxation made available to Sri Lanka has not reached most of the victims. He accused the corrupt Rajapakse government of spending the aid on further curtailing democratic rights.

Joe Higgins MEP spoke in favour of GSP Plus withdrawal and accused the Sri Lankan government of spinning a 'good news story' which is far from the reality of the experience of ordinary people.

He said that "absolutely no one wants to create a situation that can cause problems for the ordinary working and poor people in Sri Lanka. But it is the government of Sri Lanka that will carry the full responsibility if a decision is taken to withdraw the special status."

In the end the European Commission representative reported that it will withdraw the GSP+ to Sri Lanka in six months if no genuine improvements are made.

Here is the link for the video of the Tamil Solidarity speech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03znhPYKdzQ

Tamil Solidarity Northern Conference

Saturday 6 February 12-4pm

Methodist Central Hall, Oldham Street, Manchester city centre

All welcome

see www.tamilsolidarity.org

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