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David Cameron leaves CHOGM summit, lands in Sri Lanka`s Jaffna

Last Updated: Friday, November 15, 2013 - 18:06

Zee Media Bureau

Colombo: Sri Lanka, Friday, witnessed the beginning of three-day summit, meant to showcase post-war Sri Lanka, amidst boycotts and allegations of war crimes.

The summit opened with a dazzle of dancers, words from Buddha and red-carpeted stairway lined with smiling children to greet leaders from Britain and its former territories.

Leaders of India, Canada, and Mauritius are all staying away over the bloody end in 2009 to one of Asia`s deadliest civil wars.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is chairing the November 15-17 meeting here, defended the government`s record while opening the summit.

"We in Sri Lanka are stepping into a new era of peace, stability and premium economic opportunities," he told heads of state and officials from 49 countries. "In ending terrorism in 2009 we asserted the greatest human right, the right to live."

The agenda of the summit, opened by Britain`s Prince Charles, includes sessions on debt restructuring and climate change.

In what could be termed as a historic visit, Britain`s Prime Minister David Cameron on Friday landed in the war-torn Jaffna region to meet victims of Sri Lanka`s ethnic conflict.

The British PM landed at the Palaly airbase, around 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Jaffna town, in a Sri Lankan military plane at around 2:00 pm (0830 GMT), the sources said.

Cameron is in Sri Lanka to attend a Commonwealth summit in Colombo.

His visit to Jaffna, which has infuriated the Colombo government, is the first by a foreign leader since Sri Lanka obtained independence from Britain in 1948.

Earlier in the day, leaders of the Commonwealth of mostly former British colonies gathered in Colombo for a biennial summit that has brought with it intense scrutiny of Sri Lanka`s human rights record four years after the civil war ended.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa had hoped the November 15-17 meeting, which two heads of state have boycotted, would prove an advertisement for progress and economic growth in the island state of 21 million off India`s southern tip.

Instead the build-up to the summit has been overshadowed by allegations of state-sponsored rape and torture, and political pressure, including from Cameron who has vowed to press Sri Lanka on its human rights record.

"I will be clear with the Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa: it`s time the appalling and chilling events in his country are investigated," Cameron wrote on Twitter.

Opening the summit, Rajapaksa defended the government`s record, after saying this week it had "nothing to hide".

"We in Sri Lanka are stepping into a new era of peace, stability and premium economic opportunities," he told heads of state and officials from 49 countries. "In ending terrorism in 2009 we asserted the greatest human right, the right to live."

Rajapaksa invoked Buddha in his opening speech with a quote that appeared to gently chastise nations questioning the Buddhist Sinhalese-majority nation`s commitment to democracy and human rights.

"Pay no attention to the faults of others, things done or left undone by others. Consider only what by oneself is done or left undone," he said.

Separatist Tamil rebels battled government forces for 26 years until an Army offensive crushed them in 2009.

A UN panel has said around 40,000 mainly Tamil civilians died in the final months of the offensive. Both sides committed atrocities but army shelling killed most victims, it concluded.

The United Nations wants an international inquiry into allegations of war crimes in the final months of the conflict.

Officials in Colombo have expressed frustration at what they see as interference from abroad in the run-up to the Commonwealth meeting, and say the country is on a path to reconciliation, aided by strong economic growth.

The government has also dismissed accusations of ongoing rights violations, which it says are part of a campaign by rebel sympathisers to tarnish its image and detract from the summit.

But some observers warn that the repressive climate in the north, where the Tamil minority is concentrated, and slow progress on demands for greater autonomy risk stoking fresh violence.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said last month he would skip the summit over rights abuses, including alleged disappearances and extra-judicial killings, and Mauritian Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam later joined the boycott.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, whose population of 1.2 billion dwarfs the rest of the Commonwealth combined, also did not travel to Colombo, although it was partly due to domestic pressures. His foreign minister is taking part.

(With Agency inputs)

First Published: Friday, November 15, 2013 - 09:11

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