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Britain demands 'concrete progress' on Sri Lanka rights

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Britain's top envoy to Sri Lanka Wednesday announced the British government will use next month's Commonwealth summit to pressure host Colombo to make "concrete progress" on human rights and probe alleged war crimes.

British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka John Rankin said Prime Minister David Cameron will send a strong message to Colombo to improve its rights record and demonstrate a commitment to good governance.

"So the British government will come (to the summit) with a clear message that Sri Lanka needs to make concrete progress on human rights, reconciliation and a political settlement," Rankin said at a meeting of the Foreign Correspondents' Association in Colombo.

The three-day Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), starting on November 15, is being boycotted by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper who accuses Sri Lanka of failing to ensure accountability for rights violations during and after the civil war.

International rights groups have said up to 40,000 civilians may have been killed in the final offensive against Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009, a charge denied by Colombo.

The British ambassador declined to comment on Canada's boycott, but made it clear that Britain's participation at the Colombo summit was not an endorsement of the host nation.

He said Cameron will travel to Sri Lanka "because of the importance we attach to the Commonwealth, irrespective of the location of the CHOGM".

Rankin said the spotlight on Sri Lanka during and after the summit of the 53-member bloc will help pressure the island to demonstrate that it was committed to the "Commonwealth values" of good governance.

"We are also concerned about wider issues of respect for human rights, rule of law and independence of the judiciary in Sri Lanka," he said.

The diplomat said Sri Lanka must investigate allegations by Britain's Channel 4, which accused the country's forces of executing surrendering Tamil rebels and shelling civilians in no-fire zones during the civil war.

A British MP, Simon Danczuk, had urged the Queen to boycott the Colombo CHOGM to protest against the lack of progress in an investigation into the murder of his constituent, Khuram Sheikh, in Sri Lanka on Christmas day in 2011.

Rankin said Queen Elizabeth II was staying away from the meeting because she was unable to undertake long trips, but added that Britain was concerned about the lack of progress in the Sheikh case.

The main suspect in the killing, a local ruling party politician, was initially arrested, but later freed on bail. No date has been fixed for trial.

The 87-year-old queen has only missed the biennial summit once before, when it was first held in 1971. In Sri Lanka, she will be represented by her son Prince Charles.

The United Nations rights chief Navi Pillay warned Colombo last month to show "clear progress" towards reining in rights abuses and investigating suspected war crimes by next March, or face an international probe.

Sri Lanka in May 2009 declared an end to 37-years of ethnic strife, which according to UN estimates claimed at least 100,000 lives.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131016/britain-demands-concrete-progress-sri-lanka-rights