Boycott-hit Commonwealth summit begins in Sri Lanka

Boycott-hit Commonwealth summit begins in Sri Lanka
Pro-government activists demonstrated outside Sri Lanka's main international airport on Nov 11 denouncing a visit by Britain's Channel 4 which produced an award-winning documentary on alleged war crimes during the island's ethnic war.

COLOMBO - Sri Lanka's president urged his peers Friday not to pass judgment over his country's past as he hosted a Commonwealth summit that threatens to be upstaged by a visit to the war-torn north by Britain's David Cameron.

The summit was meant to be a chance for President Mahinda Rajapakse, a Sinhalese nationalist leader who oversaw the crushing of Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009, to showcase the development of his country.

But after refusing to bow to demands for an independent investigation into the end of the conflict, Rajapakse has been confronted by a public relations disaster.

The leaders of Canada, India and Mauritius have all snubbed the meeting and British prime minister Cameron's visit to the Jaffna region is designed to shine a spotlight on the plight of war victims.

But in an opening speech, Rajapakse said the Commonwealth must not be a "judgmental body" and warned his fellow leaders of trying to impose their own "bilateral agendas".

"If the Commonwealth is to remain relevant to its member countries, the association must respond to the needs of its people and not turn into a punitive or judgmental body," he said in a speech ahead of the formal opening of the summit by Britain's Prince Charles.

Since the war, the economy has enjoyed growth rates of up to 8.2 per cent and more than one million tourists visited Sri Lanka last year - a new record. But what was meant to be a chance to champion a new-look Sri Lanka has been overshadowed by the legacy of the war.

The prime minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, was the first to announce a boycott after his government said the summit was akin to "accommodating evil" while his Mauritian counterpart Navin Chandra Ramgoolam - due to host the next one - is also refusing to attend.

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