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Britain Suspends Aid Package to Sri Lanka


Britain has suspended aid payments to Sri Lanka, because of concerns about the country's human rights record and intensifying violence. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the suspension comes a year and a half after new fighting erupted between the Sri Lanka government and Tamil Tiger rebels.

A spokesman for the British High Commission in Colombo says Britain is withholding financial assistance to Sri Lanka until the government meets what he called "agreed human rights and defense spending conditions."

Britain was due to give Colombo $5.9 million this year as part of a debt relief package. Only half has been handed over so far.

British officials say the remaining money will be given if a series of conditions are met. These include what a statement called "no unjustified increases in military spending and no instigations of hostility."

In recent months, rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have criticized both the Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tiger rebels for a worsening human rights situation. They noted numerous cases of political killings, tortures, abductions and disappearances since the two sides resumed fighting.

The aid suspension was announced as a group of British diplomats postponed a visit to the rebel-held city of Killinochchi on Thursday. They were due to meet rebel leaders in a bid to revive the peace process, but the government asked them to delay the visit, apparently for security reasons.

The head of Colombo's Center for Policy Alternatives, Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, says the government does not appear to be in a mood for efforts to revive the peace process.

"It does seem diplomatic efforts are not coming to anything at all because I think the two parties are firmly committed to prosecuting military offensives against each other and looking to effect a balance of power on the ground, but at the same time there has been renewed efforts by countries to revive the diplomatic pressure and the peace process," Saravanamuttu says.

The Sri Lankan government also recently barred the Norwegian ambassador from traveling to Killinochi to talk to the rebels. Norway helped broker the now-defunct 2002 truce, and has continued to serve as a mediator.

The Tigers are fighting for a Tamil homeland in the north and east of Sri Lanka. The 2002 truce had raised hopes for an end to the quarter-century conflict, but more than 4,500 people have been killed in the last year and a half.

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