U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has been misled about conditions for Tamils in the north of the country, cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan, a Tamil and national hero, said today.
The lives of people are improving, Muralitharan, who took 800 test wickets, told reporters at an event in Colombo with Cameron to promote reconciliation on the island. Cameron, who traveled to the north yesterday, confronted President Mahinda Rajapaksa last night about refugees, intimidation of journalists and the need for an inquiry into alleged crimes against humanity at the end of the country’s 26-year civil war in 2009.
“In wartime I went with the UN, I saw the place, how it was,” Muralitharan said. “Now I regularly go and I see the place and it is about a 1,000 percent improvement in facilities,” he said.
Cameron, who is in Sri Lanka for a Commonwealth summit, praised Muralitharan’s work to bring people together and said he had been right to travel to the north to see for himself what is going on. The United Nations estimates 40,000 civilians were killed in the region during the final months of the civil war. Cameron visited refugees and a Tamil newspaper, which has been repeatedly attacked and had six of its journalists killed.
“I was told all sorts of things yesterday in the north and there are very strong views in this country, strong differing views on some of the issues,” he said at a press conference in Colombo, in response to questions about Muralitharan’s earlier comments to reporters. “I think I’ve given a fair reflection of some of the things that need to happen in terms of reconciliation, in terms of progress, in terms of human rights and free speech and I think it’s important to raise these issues.”
The U.K. prime minister, who has visited the area once only, was probably “misled by other people” about living conditions in the north, Muralitharan said.
Cameron said that if the Sri Lankan government fails to set up a transparent and independent inquiry into alleged war crimes he will use Britain’s membership of the UN Human Rights Council to press for an international investigation.
“There’s no justification for pre-determined international inquiry,” Nimal Siripala de Silva, a government minister, told reporters at the Commonwealth conference. “The allegations are unfounded.”
Muralitharan said the Sri Lankan army has helped his Foundation of Goodness charity by developing five cricket grounds for games bringing the different communities together.