Commonwealth to put on united front after summit rifts

Commonwealth to put on united front after summit rifts

COLOMBO - Commonwealth leaders were to wrap up a summit in Sri Lanka Sunday, looking to put on a united front after talks dominated by a bitter dispute over war crimes allegations.

Leaders were expected to issue joint statements on issues such as debt management and funding to combat the threat of climate change to smaller countries before flying out of Colombo.

But the show of unity will do no more than mask the divisions within Commonwealth ranks after three days of talks which have been overshadowed by recriminations over the bloody end in 2009 to Sri Lanka's 37-year war.

The summit was dealt several body blows before it began with the leaders of Canada, India and Mauritius all deciding to stay away to protest Colombo's rights record.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron then stole the limelight on the opening day with an historic visit to the war-torn Jaffna region where he met with survivors of a conflict that killed more than 100,000 people.

The summit host, President Mahinda Rajapakse, has had to fend off questions throughout the three-day gathering about his refusal to allow international investigators to probe exactly what happened at the end of the conflict.

According to the United Nations and rights groups, as many as 40,000 civilians may have died as troops loyal to the mainly Sinhalese government routed the Tamil Tiger rebel movement in its last stronghold in Jaffna.

Cameron warned Rajapakse that he would lead a push for an international probe through UN bodies unless an internal Sri Lankan inquiry produces credible results by March.

"Let me be very clear, if an investigation is not completed by March, then I will use our position on the UN Human Rights Council to work with the UN Human Rights Commission and call for a full, credible and independent international inquiry," said Cameron.

Rajapakse later told reporters that Cameron was welcome to his view but added Sri Lanka must be allowed to complete its own investigation in its own time.

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