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PM to attend Sri Lanka talks: Hague

Prime Minister David Cameron will not boycott a Commonwealth meeting in Sri Lanka despite his Indian counterpart joining Canadian premier Stephen Harper in staying away in protest over human rights abuses, William Hague said.

The Foreign Secretary said he understood why Manmohan Singh decided not to attend the November 15-17 Commonwealth Heads of Government (Chogm) summit.

But he insisted Britain would have "more impact" by raising concerns in the country.

The Indian leader's move will add to pressure on Sri Lankan p resident Mahinda Rajapaksa to order an independent inquiry into alleged war crimes during the final months of the country's civil war.

Mr Cameron, who is due to meet Mr Singh in India on Thursday on his way to the island, has rejected calls from Labour, rights activists and Tamil groups to join the boycott.

Instead, he has pledged to put "serious questions" to Mr Rajapaksa about his regime's widely-condemned human rights record and make a rare visit to minority Tamil areas in the north of the island.

Asked about the Indian move, Mr Hague said: "We do understand that but we are not joining that.

"The Indian foreign minister will be attending so, in the case of some of these countries, although their prime ministers are not going, other ministers are.

"We have decided that if we were to stay would damage the Commonwealth without changing these positively in Sri Lanka."

"Sri Lanka is in the spotlight so let's make full use of it being in the spotlight. Rather than sit in London and talk about it, we will be there.

"The Prime Minister will be the first head of government from any country since Sri Lankan independence in 1948 to go to the north.

"I will be visiting places to promote reconciliation in Sri Lanka, talking about our efforts there to prevent sexual violence in conflict.

"It will make more impact in Sri Lanka with the Prime Minister and me there doing that, than sitting in our offices in London."

Downing Street said it recognised attendance posed a "difficult" choice for some countries but that it was up to each to determine its own approach.

UN high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay has warned that Sri Lanka - considered a "country of concern" by the Foreign Office - is heading in an "increasingly authoritarian direction".

The Sri Lankan government denies allegations that it has been complicit in kidnappings, torture and other abuses amid mounting concerns over "disappearances" and attacks on the judiciary and press.

Mr Cameron - who has joined calls for an international investigation into the end of the war if the regime fails to set up an independent probe - issued a fresh call for action after a "chilling" documentary.

The No Fire Zone, commissioned by Channel 4 which has reported extensively on the issue, features footage of apparent war crimes shot by both Tamil witnesses and government soldiers.

It documents the apparent indiscriminate shelling of areas packed with civilians, including hospitals, extrajudicial executions and rapes by soldiers.

The regime denies responsibility for any such events.

"No Fire Zone is one of the most chilling documentaries I've watched," Mr Cameron said.

"It brings home the brutal end to the civil war and the immense suffering of thousands of innocent civilians who kept hoping that they would reach safety, but tragically many did not."

He said no-one could regret the end of the terrorist campaign waged by the Tamil Tigers who were responsible for "terrible crimes".

"But that wrong does not change the fact that this documentary raises very serious questions that the Sri Lankan government must answer about what it did to protect innocent civilians - q uestions that strengthen the case for an independent investigation, questions that need answers if Sri Lanka is to build the truly peaceful and inclusive future its people deserve."

Mr Cameron said "positive steps" such as provincial elections and a commission to investigate the disappearances of tens of thousands of people fell well short of what was required.

"I will raise my concerns when I see President Rajapaksa next week in Colombo," he said.

"And I will tell him that if Sri Lanka doesn't deliver an independent investigation, the world will need to ensure an international investigation is carried out instead."

The Prime Minister has said it looks "increasingly unlikely" that Mr Rajapaksa will comply.

He also told Tamil groups he met in Downing Street that he would also consider raising the issue of breaking the tradition whereby summit hosts assume a Commonwealth chairing role for two years.

Critics say it would defy the Commonwealth's principles if Mr Rajapaksa was allowed to assume the role of Chairperson in Office - an increasingly influential position.

Labour renewed its calls for the Prime Minister to join the boycott.

Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said: " David Cameron must now urgently consider reversing his decision to attend the summit in Sri Lanka this week."

"For months Labour has urged the Government to do more to raise Britain's concern over human rights in Sri Lanka in the run up to the summit.

"If the Prime Minister now chose to reverse his decision to attend the summit - even at this late stage - he would have Labour's full support."

Tamil groups who met with the PM at Downing Street to discuss concerns said he told them he would consider downgrading the UK delegation by leaving Mr Hague at home - something No 10 denies.

"The Government's policy has descended into confusion," Mr Alexander said.

"If the Prime Minister is still refusing to consider downgrading the British delegation, despite reports to the contrary, he must now explain this decision given other Commonwealth leaders are prepared to take a different approach."

Mr Singh has written to Mr Rajapaksa saying he was unable to attend, India's e xternal affairs minister Salman Khurshid - who will go to the summit - said.

No details were given of the reasons provided but the Indian leader - whose nation is home to 60 million Tamils - has been under pressure to stay away over a lack of progress on Tamil rights in Sri Lanka .


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