World News

UK names former defence secretary as Sri Lanka envoy

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain named a special envoy to Sri Lanka Thursday to try to ease hardship caused by the country’s long-running civil war and to help in the search for a political solution.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the priorities were to achieve a cease-fire and to get a political settlement in Sri Lanka, where tens of thousands of civilians are trapped in a small area held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

“I’ve asked Des Browne, our former defence secretary, to be an envoy for Sri Lanka,” Brown told a parliamentary committee.

“I want him to be involved in seeing whether there is scope for political progress in Sri Lanka as well as looking at the issues of humanitarian aid.”

Sri Lanka’s military, intent on crushing the separatist rebels and finishing a civil war that started in 1983, has surrounded the 175 sq km (67 sq mile) area held by the Tigers.

Thousands of people have streamed out of the war zone, and wounded witnesses escaping with the help of the Red Cross have reported rebels shooting at civilians trying to flee.

“The important thing is to emphasise to all partners that without a cease-fire and then an attempt at a political process we will be back to the same problems that we’ve had before,” the prime minister said.

Browne, who lost his job as defence secretary in a cabinet shuffle last October, will work with the Sri Lankan government, leaders of all communities in Sri Lanka, international agencies and other countries, a statement from Brown’s office said.

Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Sophie Hares