Sri Lanka backtracks on opposition to French FM

May 24, 2007 (AFP) – Sri Lanka distanced itself Thursday from opposition to Bernard Kouchner, who was named by the European Union to monitor human rights on the tropical island and is France’s new foreign minister. Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said he was not against Kouchner, even though the troubled island’s ambassador-designate to Geneva had opposed the EU appointment.

“I am the foreign minister and I speak on foreign policy and not the ambassador-designate,” Bogollagama told reporters in Colombo.

“I did not oppose the appointment of Mr. Kouchner.”

Ambassador-Designate Dayan Jayatilleka had opposed the EU’s move, claiming it could set the stage for the partition of Sri Lanka, which suffers from a bloody separatist conflict.

The European Union nominated Kouchner late last year to an International Independent Group of Eminent Persons, a panel set up by Colombo to ensure that human rights investigations in Sri Lanka meet international standards.

Kouchner has said international monitoring was having an impact on Sri Lanka’s rights record, which has come under severe criticism in recent months.

He said the eminent persons’ group could reduce suffering in the country,