In an unprecedented gesture, British ruling Labour Party MP Keith Vaz last week said that the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils (APPG) had agreed to invite Leader of LTTE`s Political Wing S.P. Thamilselvan to visit Britain and address parliamentarians.
At a debate on the conflict in Sri Lanka, in the British House of Commons, last week, Vaz said that Thamilselvan had been invited to attend parliament to obtain his views on the ethnic conflict. Thamilselvan is also the chief negotiator of the LTTE.
`We were determined to take the issue [of peace] forward, and on that basis we agreed on three things,` Vaz said.
`First, at the end of September a delegation of all party members should visit Sri Lanka, particularly the areas under the control of the Tamil Tigers, to engage in a dialogue in a positive and constructive way.
`The third thing that we agreed upon was to hold a summit meeting here in July at which all parties could participate as a means of exploring how to take the issue forward,` he added.
A day before the debate, British lawmakers from all main parties formed Westminster`s first ever all-party group for Tamils with the stated aim of `promoting peace with justice and dignity for the Tamils in the island of Sri Lanka.`
Keith Vaz MP of the Labour Party and Simon Hughes MP of the Liberal Democrats were elected Chairman and Vice-Chairman respectively of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG).
According to media reports, amongst the group`s plans are: `(i) Arranging a summit in London between representatives of the Sri Lankan Government, the LTTE and the Norwegian Government, (ii) invite the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Donald C McKinnon, to meet with the group to discuss the situation on the island and (iii) visit Sri Lanka; in particular the worst affected areas of the conflict.`
On Wednesday, opening the three hour debate at Westminster on Sri Lanka`s conflict, junior Foreign Minister Kim Howells said the LTTE had to stop causing violence before UK`s ban on the terrorist could be lifted.
`We have repeatedly urged the LTTE to move away from the path of violence. In the absence of a full renunciation of terrorism in deed and word, there can be no question of reconsidering its proscribed status,` he said.
Referring to the extensive contributions Britain`s Tamil community was making to the country and their efforts to lobby the government, Vaz said that the ban on the LTTE should be lifted. `I firmly believe that the ban on the Tamil Tigers?certainly as regards to the way in which they operate in this country?should be lifted as soon as possible,` said Vaz.
`The proscription by the Government of various organizations in 2001 happened because of certain events that were occurring worldwide at the time, and we reacted by imposing that ban on a number of organizations,` he said.
`I know that governments sometimes have to react in a knee-jerk manner, but six years have now passed and it is time to reconsider the ban and look at ways in which we can help to ensure that the dialogue proceeds.`
Lawmakers from the ruling Labour party and opposition Liberal Democrats, Britain`s third largest party, argued that the ban on the LTTE was preventing dialogue towards a solution to Sri Lanka`s conflict. They pointed out that the ban prevented engagement with the LTTE and Tamils and added that the latter refrained from speaking out for fear of falling foul of anti-terrorism laws.
During the debate MPs from the main opposition Conservative Party supported the ban but endorsed dialogue with the Tigers regardless.