Britain backs probe into killing of Sikh leader in Canada

LONDON (AFP): British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said Tuesday his government backs a Canadian investigation to determine whether India was involved in the killing of a Sikh leader, in a case that sent ties between Ottawa and New Delhi nosediving.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday that “credible allegations” linked Indian agents to the June slaying of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, and announced a probe by Canadian intelligence.

Nijjar was accused by New Delhi of carrying out terrorist attacks in India. But India’s foreign ministry said the idea it ordered a hit was “completely absurd.”

Cleverly, who is in New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly, told AFP he had met with Trudeau on Monday and discussed the case.

“I think it’s incredibly important that we allow the Canadian authorities to conduct their investigation,” said 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 service in Canada, prompting a tit-for-tat order from New Delhi for a Canadian diplomat to leave.

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 New Delhi has long been unhappy with Canada’s handling of Sikh separatist activists.

Nijjar was part of a movement that advocated the creation of an independent Sikh state to be carved out of part of northern India.

In the UK — which is home to some 500,000 Sikhs — Sikh activist 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 Cleverly.

Analysts say Canada’s accusation would bracket India with nations like Saudi Arabia that assassinate political opponents abroad.

The Indian state of Punjab, which is 58 percent Sikh and 39 percent Hindu, was rocked by a violent separatist movement in the 1980s and early 1990s, in which thousands died.