Eight Western diplomats shun meeting with Sri Lanka minister on political crisis

COLOMBO (Reuters) – Eight Western countries stayed away from a meeting with Sri Lanka’s government on Monday to register their protest against President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to dissolve parliament, diplomatic and government sources said.

Japanese officials have said they will halt a $1.4 billion soft loan for a light rail project while the United States is holding off on a $480 million infrastructure grant until the political crisis is resolved and democratic rights are restored.

The EU has warned it could withdraw trade concessions if Sri Lanka backs off commitments on rights.

Sri Lanka has been in political turmoil since Sirisena fired Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe last month and appointed a pro-China former president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, in his place.


Foreign Minister Sarath Amunugama called the heads of 43 foreign missions for a meeting on the political situation on Monday but only a handful turned up, the sources said.

The ambassadors of Britain, Netherlands, Norway, France, Australia, South Africa, Italy, and Canada did not attend the meeting while European Union, the United States, and Germany sent representatives, the sources said.

 India, Sir Lanka’s nearest neighbour, sent a junior representative.

Western governments are especially concerned that the return to power of wartime nationalist strongman Rajapaksa could endanger halting steps toward national reconciliation.

The government defeated separatist guerrillas from the ethnic Tamil minority in 2009, after more than 25 years of conflict. Rajapaksa has said he wants to end religious and ethnic divisions.

Diplomatic and government sources said at least 20 heads of missions turned up for the meeting including those of China, Cuba, Afghanistan, Turkey, and Pakistan.

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