Constitutional safeguards proved inadequate – High Commissioner

[TamilNet, Friday, 21 July 2006, 00:57 GMT]
Britain’s trust in the safeguards built into the constitution of Ceylon at independence was misplaced and their weakness is to blame for the island’s present problems, the British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Mr. Dominic John Chilcott, said in an interview with the Sunday Virakesari. In a wide-ranging interview last weekend, Mr. Chilcott said that LTTE and the Sri Lanka government must now negotiate an end to the conflict. The UK and the United States were in agreement on their policies on Sri Lanka, he also said, adding that India also wants a negotiated solution to the conflict.

British High Commissioner
British High Commissioner, Dominic Chilcott
The UK High Commissioner was asked to comment on accusations that ‘divide and rule’ policies of the British colonial administration precipitated the present ethnic crisis in Sri Lanka.

“When the British came to Ceylon in 1796 there were three distinct kingdoms. The British made it one country for purposes of administrative convenience,” Mr. Chilcott explained.

“In over half the number of countries in the world the British colonial rulers adopted a ‘divide and rule’ policy. In that regard this policy was not unique to the island alone.”

“If one were to truly examine Britain’s role one important aspect deserves special mention. That is the constitutional arrangement that Britain left behind. It left behind the Soulbury Constitution. Britain considered the Soulbury Constitution as having the necessary arrangements to provide for safeguards for minorities.”

“Britain thought that the rights of the Tamils in particular would be safeguarded by these arrangements. However history has proved otherwise that these safeguards were inadequate and not robust enough. I regret that Britain’s policies have to such an extent been the cause for the problems,” the High Commissioner said.

Asked about present British policy, the UK wanted the Sri Lankan government to engage the LTTE in negotiations, the High Commissioner said.

“There is an imperative not only for the Liberation Tigers but also the government of Sri Lanka to move forward to arriving at a negotiated settlement.”

“In the end, the final settlement that’s reached must be satisfactory to both parties. The present impasse must not be allowed to continue. The government of Sri Lanka and the Tigers must both dedicate themselves to peace. By some means, both parties must return to peaceful negotiations. There is no other way.”

Saying “there have to be changes to [Sri Lanka’s] political system,” as part of a solution to the conflict, the High Commissioner said: “although we cannot say much in this connection, Britain’s view is to move forward to a political settlement that’s based on the 2002 Oslo Declaration … on federal lines in a united Sri Lanka.”

Asked about the position of the United States, Mr. Chilcott said: “the US has, from time to time, taken a contrary view from Britain in world affairs. However in Sri Lanka’s conflict, Britain has been in agreement with America.”

“It’s noteworthy that India is [also] fully in favour of a political settlement achieved through peaceful means,” he added later.

Given the present climate of international opposition to the use of violence to pursue political goals, the LTTE “could achieve more through negotiations than through violence,” Mr. Chilcott said.

If the LTTE returned to the negotiating table then Britain could ask the EU to reconsider its proscription of the LTTE, the High Commissioner said.

Meanwhile, Britain’s proscription of the LTTE in 2001 was not an impediment to direct contact between the UK and the Tigers, Mr. Chilcott said. British policy was that direct contact was necessary to move the LTTE towards peace.

Asked about the status of Mr. Anton Balasingham, the LTTE’s Chief Negotiator and Political Strategist who resides in London, the High Commissioner said: “Mr. Balasingham is a British Citizen. He has the right to live in Britain. Britain had banned the LTTE way back in 2001. It’s been five years since the ban was imposed. As such the ban does not affect Mr. Balasingham.”

“I do not think there would be any change in respect to Britain’s attitude to Anton Balasingham,” Mr. Chilcott added. “Similarly, there would not be any significant change in this respect in view of the ban imposed by the EU.”


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