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Canada lashes Sri Lanka, summit showdown looms

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Canada’s Foreign Minister John Baird speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa September 29, 2011. Canada publicly criticized Sri Lanka over its human rights record for the first time Thursday, setting the scene for a confrontation at a major international summit next month.
  Canada’s Foreign Minister John Baird speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa September 29, 2011. Canada publicly criticized Sri Lanka over its human rights record for the first time Thursday, setting the scene for a confrontation at a major international summit next month.
Photograph by: Chris Wattie, Reuters

OTTAWA – Canada publicly criticized Sri Lanka over its human rights record for the first time Thursday, setting the scene for a confrontation at a major international summit next month.

Sri Lanka is under increasing Western pressure to probe allegations of war crimes and humanitarian law violations at the end of its war with Tamil Tiger separatists in 2009.

Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird said he had told his Sri Lankan counterpart of Ottawa’s “concerns on the lack of accountability for the serious allegations of war crimes, the lack of reconciliation with the Tamil community and with events that have taken place since the end of the civil war”.

A diplomatic clash looks likely when Canada and Sri Lanka come face to face in late October at a summit of the 54-member Commonwealth of former British colonies in the Australian city of Perth. Sri Lanka is due to host the summit in 2013.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, speaking to ethnic media earlier this month, said he would boycott the 2013 event unless Sri Lanka improved its human rights record and would encourage other Commonwealth leaders to do the same.

“Canada will continue to speak loudly and clearly on behalf of human rights around the world, especially in Sri Lanka,” Baird told the House of Commons.

Opposition legislator Jim Karygiannis went even further, asking Harper “to urge the Commonwealth to revoke Sri Lanka’s membership until it holds the perpetrators to account and they are judged in international courts”.

Sri Lanka’s government says it is working hard on reconciliation and is waiting for a report by a national commission of inquiry on the war, due on Nov. 15.

Amnesty International, which dismisses the commission as “fatally flawed”, says between 10,000 and 20,000 civilians died in the final months of the 25-year civil war.

Sri Lanka says its troops used only necessary and lawful force and complains that the allegations of war crimes are biased and exaggerated.
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