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Exclusive Foreign Office admits to destroying hundreds of files from the start of Tamil uprising in Sri Lanka

Activists warn the true nature of the Thatcher government's collusion with Sri Lanka may never be known

BRITAIN’S Foreign Office is being accused of “shredding history” after it admitted to destroying nearly 400 diplomatic files from the start of a Tamil uprising in Sri Lanka.

Margaret Thatcher’s government armed Sri Lankan forces against left-wing Tamil independence fighters, but activists including superstar M.I.A. are now warning the full extent of this deadly collusion may never come to light.

The Foreign Office has shredded nearly twice as many files on the conflict than it previously admitted, a freedom of information request by the Morning Star has found.

Last year the department said it had destroyed 195 files from the late 1970s, when MI5 and SAS personnel advised Sri Lankan spies and commandos how to counter Tamil guerillas.

The Star can now reveal that diplomats shredded another 177 files from the early 1980s, bringing the total to 372.

Only lists of file names survive, many of them relating to arms sales.

Last night the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) condemned the destruction, saying the Foreign Office “cannot be allowed to erase its complicity” in Sri Lanka’s war crimes.

CAAT spokesman Andrew Smith said: “The conflict in Sri Lanka had devastating consequences, and killed tens of thousands of people.

“Britain’s role in the war might be embarrassing for the government, but if there is to be justice and accountability it needs to be fully exposed and understood.”

As well as arming Sri Lanka’s right-wing president throughout the 1980s, Britain also advised the country’s top brass.

The Star can reveal that Sri Lanka’s defence secretary General Attygalle made a secret visit to Belfast in 1984, just weeks after his forces massacred Tamil civilians.

The general dined with the head of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and discussed counter-insurgency tactics used in the Troubles.

The full details of this covert liaison may never be known as the Foreign Office has shredded a file from that year titled “Sri Lanka interest [sic] in Northern Ireland as a military problem.”

All government departments are supposed to preserve historic files and make them available to the public at the National Archives after 30 years, but the Foreign Office has repeatedly destroyed documents before they are due to be declassified.

The Morning Star has found that the Sri Lanka records were destroyed in 2014, just weeks after the Foreign Office apologised to top historians for burning files about Britain’s abuse of Mau Mau anti-colonial activists in Kenya.

We can also reveal that diplomats have now drawn up secret plans to destroy a further 40 files on Sri Lanka dating from the mid-1980s.

These files contain details about political asylum applications, training of Sri Lankan forces in Britain and nine volumes on arms sales.

Dr Rachel Seoighe, a Sri Lanka expert at Kent University, is trying to rescue the remaining files from government shredders.

Dr Seoighe warned: “The destruction of files is happening on an even larger scale than initially thought. They are shredding history.”

So far, diplomats have rejected her freedom of information requests to declassify the surviving files, forcing her to appeal to the Information Commissioner watchdog.

She told the Star: “The British government’s role in the conflict, particularly in arming and training the Sri Lankan forces, is not yet fully understood. That’s why its eagerness to destroy files from that period is suspect and concerning.

“We cannot allow for a rewriting of history through this selective destruction of documents.”

Last night, British Tamil activists also condemned the destruction. Vairamuttu Varadakumar, executive secretary of the Tamil Information Centre in London, is understood to be seeking urgent legal advice.

Pioneering Tamil superstar M.I.A. said Western powers supported Sri Lanka’s “atrocious armed actions against the Tamil people and their political struggle for equality and self-determination.”

She told the Star: “This support naturally includes erasing and rewriting history.”

Socialist group Tamil Solidarity said it was “appalled” by the scale of the shredding. Its international co-ordinator TU Senan asked: “what’s the British government trying to hide?”

The Foreign Office told the Star it was not able to comment until later on tomorrow.

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