Protests greet EU official in Sri Lanka

European Union External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten has faced hostile protesters upon arrival in Sri Lanka to strengthen international efforts to resume stalled peace talks with Tamil Tiger rebels.

    Angry protesters burn an effigy of EU commisioner Chris Patten

    There are concerns about Patten's proposed meeting with Vellupillai Prabhakaran, the reclusive leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which the United States, Britain and India have labelled a "terrorist group". 

    About 100 policemen from Sri Lanka's elite anti-riot squad on Tuesday guarded Patten's hotel, as 150 to 200 protesters burnt his effigy and shouted slogans against him. Police used water cannons to douse the fire.  

    "Patten, vacate Sri Lanka. We don't need you," shouted one of the protesters. The demonstration was organised by The Patriotic National Movement (PNM), which is led by Sri Lanka's cricket World Cup winning skipper Arjuna Ranatunga and Marxist leader Wimal Weerawansa.

    "Do not talk to Prabhakaran," shouted another. Police kept the protesters away from the hotel entrance and locked all the gates. 

    Date with the rebel

    President Kumaratunga has set
    a deadline to resolve crisis

    Later, Patten met with President Chandrika Kumaratunga. No details of the meeting were immediately available. Patten will meet with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Wednesday.

    Patten is scheduled to travel to rebel-held areas in the north on Wednesday to meet with Prabhakaran who founded and leads the LTT, a separatist group that was embroiled in a 19-year civil war to establish a homeland in the northeast for the country's 3.2 million Tamils.

    "We want to ask the president and the foreign minister as to who has allowed this visit to go ahead," the PNM said in a statement on Monday. "We condemn this visit which insults the sovereignty of the nation."

    Adding to the ire of the PNM is Patten's meeting with the Tamil leader on his 49th birthday.The PNM said it wanted to know on what basis Patten was "attending Prabhakaran's birthday party".

    Power struggle

    Patten's visit was planned before a power struggle broke out between Kumaratunga and Wickremesinghe on 4 November. The two leaders are now talking, through their representatives, to see if they can agree on sharing power.

    Kumaratunga has set a 15 December deadline to resolve the crisis that threatens to damage efforts to end the civil war. She moved earlier this month to curtail the prime minister's power, taking control of three top ministries and suspending parliament.

    She accuses him of making too many concessions to Prabhakaran, who she says is recruiting new troops in violation of a ceasefire agreement.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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