CHOGM to begin amid allegations of rights violations by Sri Lanka

Colombo, Nov 14: The absence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his counterparts from Canada and Mauritius has cast a shadow over the three-day CHOGM summit that begins here tomorrow amid allegations of human rights violations against the Tamils in Sri Lanka's war against the LTTE.

Unfazed by repeated references to the "war crimes" and the demand for an independent investigation into them, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has picked on the opportunity to host the summit of the 53-nation grouping to showcase the peace in the last four years after the elimination of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The President even sought to downplay the absence of Singh at a CHOGM-eve press conference saying he was satisfied with the presence of External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, who is representing India at the summit after the Prime Minister backed out in the wake of strong sentiments in Tamil Nadu.

Rajapaksa noted that the Indian Prime Minister had not attended the previous 2011 summit in Perth, Australia, an explanation that was also given by Indian officials when Singh decided not to attend the summit after the Congress Core Group's decision against his going to Colombo.

Political parties in Tamil Nadu had stepped up pressure against Singh's participation and the Tamil Nadu assembly even passed two resolutions demanding a total boycott by India. But Khurshid, who is representing India at the summit, has justified his presence saying there was need for India to remain engaged with Sri Lanka in the interest of Tamils of the island and also in the enlightened national interest of India.

Political parties in Tamil had stepped up pressure against Singh's participation

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Mauritian counterpart Navin Chandra Ramgoolam also chose to keep away from the summit citing the "poor" human rights record of Sri Lanka while British Prime Minister David Cameron has said he will attend the summit to express his country's reservations on the issue.

Attending the summit does not mean Britain endorses all that had happened in Sri Lanka, he had said justifying his decision to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). India, with 60 per cent of the 2.3 billion population of the grouping, has a key say in the Commonwealth, and along with big democracies like Britain, Australia and Canada, it can influence the way it moves forward.

Asked about the Sri Lankan government's claim regarding implementation of the measures suggested by the Lessons Learnt and Rehabilitation Commission (LLRC) set up after the end of the war against LTTE, Sambanthan said several recommendations of the Commission were referred to the Human Rights Commission in 2010 and 2013.

"Four years have rolled by since the end of the hostilities. I am extremely disappointed that in not a single issue of concern, the (Central) government has demonstrated any commitment in advancing any meaningful progress, be it resolution of land issues, questions of accountability and the question of missing persons or fundamental matters of independence of judiciary which is getting more and more politicised," he said.

To a question about the decision of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to skip the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), Sambanthan said it was entirely for the Government of India to decide on the presence (of the Prime Minister).

"People who had raised objections (to his presence) had many reasons for their objection. There is no question about it. Whether the Prime Minister should have come or not, it is entirely for him to take (the decision)," he said.

Indian officials said the meeting was essentially for the Foreign Secretary to understand the political process that was playing right now with regard to the Tamils and also discuss the problem of the fishermen of the two sides.

They said Singh congratulated the TNA on its victory in the provincial elections and invited Chief Minister C V Wigneswaran and other leaders to visit India at an appropriate time.

Singh's meeting with the TNA delegation was also to find out from the Tamil leaders as to which areas India could be of assistance to the Northern province.


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