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UK will press Sri Lanka on human rights at summit

October 16, 2013

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — The United Kingdom’s delegation to next month’s Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka will press its government to ensure progress on human rights and reconciliation years after its long civil war ended, a British envoy said.

Canada’s leader is boycotting the meeting and human rights groups are urging others to do so because the groups say Sri Lanka has failed to address abuses during the civil war and ensure reconciliation since it ended in 2009.

Prince Charles will represent Queen Elizabeth II as the head of the Commonwealth at the meeting next month in the capital, Colombo. The British government will be represented by Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague, British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka John Rankin said Tuesday evening.

“The British government will come with a clear message that Sri Lanka needs to make concrete progress on human rights, reconciliation and a political settlement,” Rankin told the Colombo-based Foreign Correspondents Association.

Sri Lanka has been peaceful since the nearly three-decade war, which ended when the government troops crushed the Tamil Tiger rebels who fought to create a separate state for the ethnic minority Tamils. Still, rights groups say the government has been squelching dissent and suppressing the judiciary.

“The end of the physical conflict was of course only the beginning,” said Rankin, stressing that the next tasks are “accountability that arose from events during the conflict and to achieve lasting reconciliation between Sri Lanka’s communities.”

He also cited progress in such areas as infrastructure development in the war-torn areas and resettlement of many war-displaced people.

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 despite the calls for the boycott.

Last week, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he would not attend due to human rights concerns and he threatened to cut off funding to the Commonwealth group. Harper has accused Sri Lanka of failing to uphold the Commonwealth’s core values.

Sri Lanka has rejected Harper’s comments, saying “he has his own political obligations.”

The Commonwealth is a loose association of 54 members, mostly former British colonies, and the leadership summit is biennial.

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