UK furious over Fox visit to SL

British defence secretary Liam Fox is planning to defy the Foreign Office by making a personal visit to Sri Lanka this weekend to deliver a speech in honour of a former foreign minister, the reported.

The Foreign Office is debating whether to appeal to Downing Street to prevent Fox from visiting Sri Lanka.

The row erupted after Fox, who has personal links to Sri Lanka from his time as a Foreign Office minister in the 1990s and who has visited the country twice in the last 13 months, accepted an invitation to deliver the Lakshman Kadirgamar memorial lecture. The invitation was issued by the widow of the late foreign minister, who was murdered by a Tamil Tiger sniper in 2005.

Whitehall sources said that William Hague, the foreign secretary, is annoyed by Fox's decision. One Whitehall source said: "It is dreadful. William is appalled. It will take No 10 to haul him in." Britain wants to maintain pressure on Colombo in light of questions about its assault on the Tamil Tigers.

A spokesman for Fox said on Wednesday night that none of the cost of the trip to Colombo would be paid for by the Sri Lankan government. "He will be paying for the hotel himself and he will be paying for the flight. The speech is about international security. It's nothing to do with anything that's going on in Sri Lanka."

Fox is understood to have discussed the trip with the Foreign Office. Hague is aware of the visit.

Two weeks ago, Fox held a private meeting with the Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, during an abortive visit to Britain. Rajapaksa flew out promptly after the Oxford Union cancelled his speech because of a threat of mass protests while Tamil campaigners attempted to obtain a war crimes arrest warrant against members of his entourage.

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