Commonwealth puts on united front after summit rifts

Commonwealth puts on united front after summit rifts
The British flag (C) flies alongside other flags from member states attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo on November 15, 2013. Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron made an historic visit to Sri Lanka's former warzone, stealing the spotlight from a Commonwealth summit after the host, President Mahinda Rajapakse, warned against passing judgement on his country's past.

COLOMBO - Commonwealth leaders signed agreements Sunday on issues such as poverty and development as they staged a show of unity after a summit in Sri Lanka dominated by a bitter dispute over war crimes.

After a three-day meeting in Colombo, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse announced a declaration had been signed by the Commonwealth's 53 member nations after a summit which he said had been characterised by "fruitful discussions".

But he was again forced on the defensive and warned his critics against pushing him "into a corner" by setting an ultimatum to address war crimes allegations by next March.

"I am happy with the outcome we have reached at this CHOGM," said Rajapakse, who has spent much of the summit having to fend off allegations that his government's troops killed as many as 40,000 civilians at the end of the country's 37-year conflict.

Outlining the agreements inked by Commonwealth leaders, he said there had been widespread agreement on a series of issues - particularly on ensuring that economic growth does not come at the expense of equality.

"Achieving growth with equity and inclusive development must be one of the priorities of the Commonwealth," said the Sri Lankan president.

"Issues covered in the communique include development, political values, global threats, challenges and Commonwealth cooperation."

While only 27 heads of government attended this year's meeting, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the summit had helped strengthen the organisation of mainly English-speaking former British colonies.

"I sense there is a reaffirmation of the spirit and ideals of the Commonwealth ... the core values of the Commonwealth, namely democracy, the rule of law and human rights," Najib told reporters.

The Malaysian prime minister said there was a general recognition among leaders of "the fact that we are different but should not be divided".

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