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Gordon Brown will not back Sri Lanka’s bid to host Commonwealth summit

[Times Online UK, Friday, 27 November 2009 08:31 No Comment]

Gordon Brown is to block Sri Lanka’s bid to host the next Commonwealth summit because of the conduct of its military campaign against the Tamil Tigers.

Sri Lanka is one of several countries wanting to hold the next summit in 2011.

Mr Brown plans to tell the current summit opening today in Trinidad that Sri Lanka should not be considered. The summits are held every two years and hosting them is a very prestigious honour.

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings (CHOGM) brings together 53 members from four continents, representing almost a third of the world’s population and a fifth of all global trade.

A senior diplomatic source said: “We are clear that the UK will not support a Sri Lankan bid. Their conduct of their military campaign against the Tamil Tigers earlier this year — which had a massive impact on the civilian population — was rightly condemned around the world, including by very many people here in Britain. At the time, the Prime Minister urged President Rajapaksa to ensure further suffering was minimised and that the UN had full access to those affected and displaced by the conflict.”

Mr Brown said in June: “Sri Lanka stands on the brink. We have called repeatedly for the violence to cease. The humanitarian agencies must be granted access to civilians caught in the crossfire of a dreadful conflict. Sri Lanka must understand that there will be consequences for its actions.”

The source said: “As the Prime Minister said there must be consequences. And a clear consequence of what happened earlier this year is that we are not in a position to support a bid by Sri Lanka to host CHOGM. We want the next host to reflect the full range of Commonwealth values — and particularly respect for human rights. As it stands, 150,000 internally displaced persons remain in closed camps. We are urging the Sri Lankan government to allow them freedom of movement.”

Mr Brown has discussed this issue with Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma, as well as other leaders such as Kevin Rudd, the Australian Prime Minister. It will be discussed in the margins of the summit as leaders arrive in Trinidad.

A Downing Street source said: “The Prime Minister has real concerns about Sri Lanka’s bid. We simply cannot be in a position where Sri Lanka — whose actions earlier this year had a huge impact on civilians, leading to thousands of displaced people without proper humanitarian access — is seen to be rewarded for its actions. The Prime Minister will continue to talk to other leaders about this, but is clear this won’t wash.”

As he flew to Trinidad last night, Mr Brown said Zimbabwe’s leaders should be given a “conditional offer” of a return to the Commonwealth.

The Prime Minister said that the Unity government had achieved changes that people might not have thought possible a year ago, but there were still real concerns in Britain about the pace of progress.

Mr Brown will also ask the summit to tell President Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, the Prime Minister, that Zimbabwe can rejoin the Commonwealth if it takes the right steps on political and human rights reform.

British diplomats believe that if all goes well, the next Commonwealth summit in two years’ time could mark the return of the country whose independence the Commonwealth played such a big part in securing.

Mr Brown said: “There is still a great deal to do on judicial reform, on constitutional reform and human rights and economic reform, and we are clearly not yet at a stage for Zimbabwe to rejoin the Commonwealth.

“I believe, however, that the best way forward is to hold out a conditional offer, that it is possible for Zimbabwe to rejoin the Commonwealth, if Zimbabwe takes the necessary steps and delivers on the requirements of the global political agreement, requirements which the Zimbabwe government have signed up to with the support of the whole region, including South Africa. This is not about us saying what will definitely happen a the next conference, but I believe that we need to send out a signal that we want to encourage progress and want to stand with the people of Zimbabwe and help them make the changes that are necessary to move forward.”

The summit will back the deadline set by the Southern African Development Community for the two parts of the government to start resolving their differences.

Mr Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change is boycotting Cabinet meetings and has withdrawn from dealings with Mr Mugabe’s Zanu PF.

[Full Coverage]

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