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Sri Lanka blasts Canada Commonwealth boycott

October 10, 2013

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka on Thursday criticized Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to boycott a Commonwealth summit next month over the island nation’s human rights record.

Government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said Harper is “in a lone battle” and had failed to persuade other Commonwealth members to boycott the summit, hosted by Sri Lanka.

Harper has accused Sri Lanka of failing to uphold the Commonwealth’s core values. He said Monday that Canada is disturbed by ongoing reports of intimidation and incarceration of political leaders and journalists, harassment of minorities, reported disappearances and allegations of extra-judicial killings.

Canada is the largest home of expatriate Tamils, an ethnic minority in Sri Lanka who complain of widespread discrimination in their native country.

Rambukwella rejected Harper’s criticisms, saying “he has his own political obligations.”

There are 54 members of the Commonwealth, a loose association of former British colonies.

Western nations have been pressing Sri Lanka to account for thousands of civilians who are suspected to have died in the final months of a quarter-century civil war that ended in 2009 when government forces crushed Tamil rebels who were fighting for an ethnic homeland.

While Sri Lanka has enjoyed peace in the past four years, rights groups have accused the government of squelching dissent and suppressing the judiciary.

Australia and Britain have pushed for engagement with Sri Lanka rather than isolating it, and have encouraged countries to participate in the Commonwealth leaders’ meeting in Sri Lanka. Several human rights groups have urged a boycott.

Harper said Canada will also examine its financing of the Commonwealth. He said if the Commonwealth is to remain relevant it must stand in defense of basic principles of freedom and respect for human dignity.

Canada contributes about $20 million annually to various Commonwealth initiatives.

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