Pressure mounts on Indian PM to boycott Commonwealth meet

A senior Indian minister Monday urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to boycott a Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka because of human rights abuses, joining opposition in government ranks to the trip.

Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan said she wanted Singh to consider the "strong sentiments" of ethnic Tamils and stay away from the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo next week.

"I will write to the PM asking him to skip the CHOGM meet," Natarajan told reporters in Tamil, comments that were translated into English by national television networks.

"I have requested a meeting with the PM. I want to convey the strong sentiments of people of Tamil Nadu on his Sri Lanka visit," she said.

The minister, a member of the ruling Congress party, was speaking in Chennai, the capital of the southern state of Tamil Nadu, whose population shares close cultural and religious ties with Sri Lanka's ethnic Tamils.

Shipping Minister G. K. Vasan, who like Natarajan represents Tamil Nadu in the national parliament, has also urged a boycott over claims thousands of Tamils were killed in the final months of Sri Lanka's separatist war.

The junior minister for parliamentary affairs, V. Narayanasamy, whose Pondicherry constituency has a large Tamil population, joined the chorus late Monday.

"I have conveyed my opinion to the Prime Minister that he should not visit Sri Lanka," Narayanasamy told national news agency the Press Trust of India (PTI).

Leaders on both sides of Indian politics are wary of upsetting Tamil voters months before the country holds national elections.

While India's foreign ministry said last week no final decision has been taken on whether Singh will attend the November 15-17 meeting, some ministry officials said they were in favour of his visit, PTI reported Monday.

The pressure on Singh comes after Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper urged his counterparts in April to follow him in boycotting the meeting of the 53-nation bloc.

Colombo has resisted international pressure to investigate its troops over allegations by rights groups that 40,000 civilians were killed in the final push against Tamil rebels in 2009.

Small political parties in Tamil Nadu including the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) have demanded India boycott the summit.

DMK split with the Congress-led coalition in March over the Indian government's perceived failure to condemn the alleged atrocities against Tamils in Sri Lanka.

"The DMK is totally opposed to India's presence at the summit. The Congress party will have to pay a heavy price for this," DMK spokesman T. M. Selvaganapathy told AFP.