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Queen will skip Colombo Commonwealth meeting

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is likely to attend the CHOGM.

MADHAV NALAPAT  LONDON | 23rd Mar 2013

Queen Elizabeth II

lthough the 15-17 November 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) meeting scheduled to be held in Colombo will "most likely go ahead", according to officials within the Commonwealth Secretariat, they add that several heads of government are likely to keep away from the meeting, "in protest at Sri Lanka's human rights record". Significantly, some officials add that the head of the Commonwealth, Queen Elizabeth, is "almost certain to skip the meeting". Former UK Foreign Secretaries Malcolm Rifkind and David Miliband had jointly called the Queen's scheduled attendance at the Colombo CHOGM "grotesque", a sentiment apparently shared by the David Cameron government.

Efforts were made, and are ongoing, to change the venue of the conference to Mauritius. However, "at this late stage, this may not be possible". The Sri Lankan government has given "generous assistance" to the Commonwealth Secretariat in order to help make the 2013 Colombo meeting a success, and, in the words of a senior official, has "spared no effort to convince members across the globe that it would be unfair and discriminatory to either change the venue or to boycott the heads of government meeting". However, such diplomacy has thus far failed to persuade Canada, the primary protagonist of the "Boycott Colombo" movement, to soften its opposition. The country is host to a significant Tamil Diaspora, several elements of which were sympathetic to the LTTE's efforts at carving out a "Tamil Eelam" out of northern and eastern Sri Lanka. This is a sentiment shared by some prominent Tamil businesspersons in London and Perth as well; all of them are lobbying tirelessly to ensure that the Colombo meeting flops.

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Those within the Tamil diaspora who favoured an independent Tamil Eelam are unhappy at the stand of the Manmohan Singh government, which they regard as “having taken a pro-Mahinda Rajapaksa stance from the start” .

Those within the Tamil diaspora who favoured an independent Tamil Eelam are unhappy at the stand of the Manmohan Singh government, which they regard as "having taken a pro-Mahinda Rajapaksa stance from the start", including during the final weeks in 2009 when the LTTE and its top leadership were liquidated by the Sri Lankan military with assistance from India, China and Pakistan. They are dismissive of the DMK's histrionics in defence of Eelam, with a prominent businessperson claiming that "under the cover of the Sri Lankan Tamil cause, M. Karunanidhi is bargaining for the release of his daughter Kanimozhi and his party colleague A. Raja from the CBI's clutches." While they have failed to persuade the Government of India to take an unambiguous stand against Sri Lanka, the pro-Eelam Tamil Diaspora has won over the Stephen Harper government in Canada. This has helped to make it "almost certain" (in the words of a Commonwealth official) that while Canada "will boycott the Colombo conference in its entirety", the other countries belonging to what some term the "White Commonwealth" (the UK, New Zealand and Australia) will desist from sending their heads of government to Colombo, thereby downgrading the CHOGM to the Foreign Minister or even senior official level. An official revealed that Ottawa is "putting pressure on the Caribbean members of the Commonwealth to back the boycott". He pointed out that Canada provides substantial financial assistance to Caribbean members of the Commonwealth.

The absence of Queen Elizabeth would be a significant setback for Colombo. While her son Prince Charles has been a tireless campaigner for a "greener" world, pressing hard for renewable energy and for assistance to the underprivileged, Queen Elizabeth, the very popular monarch of the United Kingdom and head of the Commonwealth, has focused on better governance across the grouping. The Queen recently unveiled a "Commonwealth Charter", which she wanted implemented across the group of nations. This calls for good governance, respect for human rights, freedom of expression and the rule of law. The Queen has often talked of the "shared values" that bind the members of the Commonwealth together, and in her view, these attributes form the core of such values, and is therefore "unlikely to attend a forum in a capital where such values seem to be absent", in the words of an official who refused to go on record.

The countries that are sometimes termed the "White Commonwealth" are facing fresh problems, this time in Kenya, where an individual sought to be indicted by several EU members for war crimes, Uhuru Kenyatta, has just been elected President in an election that was fair and transparent. Led by the UK, Canberra, Ottawa and Auckland are downgrading their interaction with Nairobi as a result of the election of the new President, despite the significant economic stakes they have in Kenya. The real nightmare for these countries, according to a top official in London, was that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi would next year emerge as Prime Minister. "Will we boycott the biggest country in the Commonwealth? Can we?" an official sceptical of Boycott Diplomacy asked

Despite pressure from the DMK and the AIADMK, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is likely to attend the CHOGM meeting at Colombo in November. That is, if the UPA is still in office by that time.

 
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