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'Bandwagon jumper' Bildt in Sri Lanka snub

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'Bandwagon jumper' Bildt in Sri Lanka snub
10:58 CEST+02:00
Authorities in Sri Lanka have denied Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt a visa to enter the country, prompting him to recall Sweden's highest ranking diplomat from the country.

The surprise move scuttled Bildt's plans to join his British and French counterparts for talks with the Sri Lankan government about a possible ceasefire.

“Now those in Colombo have finally informed me that they don’t intend to accept me for the joint trip which [Britain’s] David Miliband, [France’s] Bernard Kouchner, and I have planned and announced,” Bildt wrote on his blog on Tuesday.

“The decision was given without any explanation whatsoever. And no one seems to understand what may lie behind this truly strange maneuver.”

As retribution for the diplomatic snub, Bildt added that he plans to recall Sweden’s chargé d’ affaires in Sri Lanka, Borje Mattsson, for consultations.

On his blog, Bildt said the recall was meant to send “a strong diplomatic signal” to the government in Colombo.

In Luxembourg attending a meeting of the EU foreign ministers, Bildt told reporters he didn't believe the rejection was permanent.

"I am not persona non grata because they say I am welcome at another time, but I am not intending to take up that invitation," he said.

A top Sri Lankan foreign ministry official said the government did not want Bildt to take part in a mission by his British and French counterparts.

"We invited the French foreign minister and then the British Foreign minister wanted to join him. We said OK. Then the Swedish minister also wanted to jump in on that bandwagon and we said no," the official said.

He said, however, that the visit by Miliband and Kouchner will go ahead as planned on Wednesday.

The trip was designed as a way support efforts by the United Nations (UN) by putting pressure on the government in Colombo to agree to a ceasefire which would allow civilians to leave the conflict area.

The United Nations estimates that up to 50,000 civilians remain the conflict zone, while the Sri Lankan government claims number is less than 20,000.

The government on Sunday rejected a ceasefire offer by Tamil Tiger rebels, prompting the three European foreign ministers to travel to Sri Lanka on short notice.

On Monday, government forces agreed, however, to stop using heavy artillery or air strikes in fighting the rebels.

Despite being denied a visa to travel to Sri Lanka, Bildt said he thought it best that Miliband and Kouchner make the trip without him, citing the “serious humanitarian and political situation” there.

Bildt said he plans instead to travel to Tromsö, Norway for a meeting of the Arctic Council – a meeting he had originally planned to attend before the Sri Lanka mission had been announced.

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