British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said Tuesday his government backs a Canadian investigation to determine whether India was involved in the killing of a Khalistani separatist, in a case that sent ties between Ottawa and New Delhi nosediving.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday alleged the involvement of “agents of the Indian government” in the killing of Sikh separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June and announced a probe by Canadian intelligence.
Hardeep Singh Nijjar has been accused of carrying out terrorist attacks in India. But the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said the idea it ordered a hit was “completely absurd.”
James Cleverly, who is in New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly, told AFP he had met with Justin Trudeau on Monday and discussed the case.
“I think it’s incredibly important that we allow the Canadian authorities to conduct their investigation,” said Mr Cleverly, adding it would be “unhelpful” to speculate on their outcome.
“Obviously, we have a very strong relationship with Canada, a very strong relationship with India,” he continued, adding he expected “full cooperation” by India in the probe.
Ottawa has expelled a diplomat it described as the head of India’s foreign intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing in Canada, prompting a tit-for-tat order from Delhi for a Canadian diplomat to leave.
Hardeep Nijjar, a Canadian citizen whom India had declared a wanted terrorist, was gunned down on June 18 in Surrey, a suburb of Vancouver.
Canada has the largest population of Sikhs globally outside of India, and Delhi has long been unhappy with Canada’s handling of Sikh separatists.
Nijjar was part of a movement that advocated the creation of an independent Sikh state to be carved out of Punjab.
In the UK – which is home to some 500,000 Sikhs – Khalistani separatist Avtar Singh Khanda died in a hospital in Birmingham in June after suddenly becoming ill, giving rise to speculation it may have been an intentional killing.
But “the West Midlands Police have already said that they don’t believe there to be any suspicious circumstances there,” said Mr Cleverly.
Analysts say Canada’s accusation would bracket India with nations like Saudi Arabia that assassinate political opponents abroad.
Punjab, which is 58 per cent Sikh and 39 per cent Hindu, was rocked by a violent separatist movement in the 1980s and early 1990s, in which thousands died.
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