Rae 'dumbfounded' after Sri Lanka denies him entry

Liberal MP Bob Rae called Sri Lanka's decision this week to deny him entry over allegations he supported the Tamil Tigers 'astounding' and a 'huge misread' that reflects badly on the Sri Lankan government's willingness to engage in an open dialogue.

'To describe me as an LTTE supporter … is a lie, pure and simple'

Liberal MP Bob Rae was denied entry to Sri Lanka over allegations he supported the Tamil Tigers. ((Chris Young/Canadian Press))

Liberal MP Bob Rae says he's "dumfounded" at Sri Lanka's decision to deny him entry over allegations he supported the Tamil Tigers, calling it a "huge misread" that "reflects very badly" on the Sri Lankan government's willingness to engage in an open dialogue.

Rae, who will arrive back in Canada on Thursday, told CBC News in a telephone interview from London that his visit was planned for some time and had "very strong support" from Sri Lanka's Foreign Affairs ministry, as well as Canada's Foreign Affairs Department.

"I do find it frankly astounding that this is how they would treat officials from other countries who have had a long relationship with their country," said Rae, the Liberals' foreign affairs critic.

Rae was detained at Bandaranaike International airport in Colombo when he arrived late Tuesday night with two officials from the Canadian High Commission. Sri Lanka's intelligence services deemed his visit as "not suitable," said Sri Lankan Immigration Commissioner P.B. Abeykoon.

Officials accused the former Ontario premier of supporting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels, a claim Rae vehemently denied.

"We got some intelligence reports on this gentleman and the instructions were not to allow him into the country, so he is detained at the airport and he will be deported by the next available flight," Abeykoon said.

Rae said he was refused entry "on the grounds of national intelligence."

He added he is concerned by the fact that he was accused of being a Tigers sympathizer while the government is interviewing hundreds of thousands of displaced Tamils to assess whether they are tied to the rebels.

"I mean, I'm an MP — I can get a platform. I can fight back," he said. "But if the net catches me, it's going to catch an awful lot of other people."

Rae dismissed allegations he has ever supported the Tigers, which spent more than two decades fighting for a separate homeland for the Tamil minority. The government declared victory in the 25-year civil war with the separatist rebels in May.

Tori MP denied visa

Rae said he saw an email from a Sri Lankan army spokesman that described him as an LTTE supporter, which he called "ludicrous."

A Sri Lankan boy displaced by fighting returns to his home in Mannar, western Sri Lanka, on Tuesday. An estimated 70,000 people died in Sri Lanka's civil war and at least 200,000 were displaced. ((Reuters))

"I have never in any way felt that the violent tactics of the LTTE were in any way the right course, and I have made that view known on many occasions, including debates in Parliament," Rae said.

"A review of my record would also show that I have been a champion of moderate Tamil opinion and Tamil dissent. I have been a steady critic of the abuses of human rights that were part of the LTTE's tactics.

"To describe me as 'an LTTE supporter,' as an army spokesman has done today, is a lie, pure and simple."

Rae, the MP for Toronto Centre and a former premier of Ontario, has been outspoken in his criticism of the impact of the military's war against the LTTE rebels on civilians. Toronto has one of the world's largest Tamil populations.

Rae said he was detained at the airport for more than 12 hours before being placed on a plane departing for the United Kingdom. He said he had the full support of Canadian officials in Sri Lanka and Ottawa while at the airport.

Meanwhile, Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai said he was supposed to travel to Sri Lanka this week to check on displacement camps, but his visa application was denied by the Sri Lankan High Commission in Ottawa.

"Their excuse was that they could not accommodate me," said Obhrai, who serves as parliamentary secretary for Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon.

Canada's silence 'a disgrace'

Rae blogged about the conflict in Sri Lanka on his official website, calling the conflict tragic and saying he wept at the loss of life.

Rae was also critical of how Canada's Conservative government dealt with Sri Lanka, saying, "Canada's absence and silence are a disgrace." Rae called for more aid for what he called a humanitarian crisis and urged for a negotiated end to the conflict.

Rae previously visited Sri Lanka to take part in the peace process after a 2002 truce and has been a featured speaker at Tamil forums in Canada.

Samuel Lawrence, spokesman for the Canadian Tamil Congress, said Rae provided "balanced" perspective and "criticized both parties in the conflict" in his role as Liberal foreign affairs critic.

"The Sri Lanka government is determined to punish all those people … who worked relentlessly during the war to bring ceasefire," Lawrence said.

Sri Lanka has refused entry to several foreign officials and journalists it viewed as hostile to its fight to wipe out the LTTE.

The Tamil Tigers had been fighting since 1983 for an independent state for the country's Tamil minority, who say they have suffered decades of marginalization at the hands of governments dominated by the Sinhalese majority.

Estimates suggest that more than 70,000 people died in the civil war and at least 200,000 were displaced in the violent clashes.

With files from The Associated Press