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Britain has defended its decision to attend the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka and stressed that the conflict-torn country must maintain progress on human rights.
The three-day meeting is scheduled to begin at Colombo on November 15. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has already declared his decision to boycott the meeting. South African peace campaigner and Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said that the boycott could help pressure Colombo to address alleged war crimes against minority Tamils.
Amidst calls by Tamil groups to heads of government to boycott the meeting due to Sri Lanka's alleged human rights excesses, Hugo Swire, minister for the Commonwealth, said Britain would attend the meeting and have frank discussions with the Sri Lankan leadership.
Responding to a debate in Parliament, Swire said, "I made it clear that the UK will have frank discussions with Sri Lanka on all areas where they need to make further progress, such as human rights, reconciliation and political settlement."
"If we don't go to CHOGM then we can't see the situation on the ground for ourselves - we can't be part of the debate if we are not there. By going we will be able to meet people from across Sri Lanka - civil society groups, journalists, campaigners - and we will raise our concerns directly with the government," he said.
Swire said hosting CHOGM had turned international spotlight on Sri Lanka, which helped contribute to some improvements.
Since 2009 its government had taken steps on resettling displaced civilians, rebuilding infrastructure, removing land mines as well as recent provincial council elections, he added.
"We want to see these improvements continue as more must be done and CHOGM gives us an opportunity to press the Rajapaske government to move more quickly," Swire said.