February 13, 2009
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COLOMBO (AFP) — Sri Lanka on Thursday rejected the appointment of former defence minister Des Browne as a special envoy to the island, accusing London of interfering in its internal affairs.
Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said the government in the former British colony saw Browne's appointment as a unilateral move by London and decided not to accept him.
"It is tantamount to an intrusion into Sri Lanka's internal affairs and is disrespectful to the country's statehood," the minister told AFP, warning "there could be major repercussions" for relations with Britain.
He dubbed Britain's move "extremely unhelpful" but did not specify if any measures would be taken in retaliation.
"There is no further discussions with London on the matter," Bogollagama said, after the British Foreign Office has said talks were ongoing to resolve the dispute.
Earlier in London, Prime Minister Gordon Brown's office said Browne, who left office last October, would work with all sides.
"In this new role, Des Browne will focus on the immediate humanitarian situation in northern Sri Lanka and the government of Sri Lanka's work to set out a political solution to bring about a lasting end to the conflict.
"As special envoy, he will work closely with the Sri Lankan government, leaders from all communities in Sri Lanka, international agencies and the wider international community," it said in a statement.
The statement, also issued by the British High Commission in Colombo, quoted Browne as saying he was "looking forward to contributing to Britain's efforts to improve the serious humanitarian situation and liaising with all parties."
Sri Lanka has resisted calls for a "no-fire period", amid claims from relief agencies that a "humanitarian catastrophe" was unfolding in the island's war zone, where tens of thousands of civilians are trapped.
Downing Street had no comment on Sri Lanka's rejection of Browne.
Senior Sri Lankan government officials said here that London had not consulted with Colombo before making the appointment.
The appointment came two days after nationalists protested outside the British High Commission here, demanding that international officials keep out of Sri Lanka's internal affairs.
Hardline nationalists accuse Western governments, aid agencies and humanitarian organisations as well as international media of supporting Tamil Tiger guerrillas, who are cornered in a small area in the north of the island.