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Manmohan Singh unlikely to attend Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka
Saturday November 9, 2013 9:12 PM, IANS

Amid strong indications that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is unlikely to travel to Colombo next week, the external affairs ministry said Saturday a final decision on who would attend the Commonwealth summit is yet to be taken.

The external affairs ministry also said that of the last 10 Commonwealth summits, only five were attended by the prime minister of that time - appearing to prepare the ground for Manmohan Singh not attending the summit of the 53-member group.

In the remaining five summits, four were attended by a minister, including once by Manmohan Singh when he was finance minister in 1993.

Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said at a briefing here that India has not yet conveyed to Colombo who is to attend. "We have not yet communicated the outcome of our internal process (of decision making) and will make it known once it is communicated (to Colombo)," he said.

Tamil Nadu's political parties and some ministers from the state have urged the prime minister against attending the summit in view of alleged human rights violations by Sri Lanka and war crimes committed by its army during the end days of the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

The Congress Core Committee, at its meeting Friday, deliberated on the issue and is believed to have also pushed for the prime minister not to attend the Nov 15-17 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

To a question on whether the prime minister would go to Jaffna, on the invite of the new Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran, the spokesperson said: "Once we confirm to the Sri Lankan government who will lead our delegation, the answer to that question will be known. You have to bear with us."

Asked by when the Indian government would convey to Sri Lanka on who is to attend the summit, Akbaruddin said "there are no timelines" in communicating such diplomatic messages.

Sri Lankan Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris had come to New Delhi in August to personally hand over the invite from President Mahinda Rajapaksa to Manmohan Singh for the summit.

Prior to the Commonwealth summit, there are official-level and ministerial-level engagements in Colombo for which India has conveyed to Sri Lanka who is to participate. Navtej Sarna, additional secretary in the external affairs ministry, and Pavan Kapoor, joint secretary (UN), would attend the official-level talks.

External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid would attend the ministerial-level engagement that begins Nov 14 and he would be assisted by Sarna, Kapoor and Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, said the spokesperson.

"What we have followed in terms of CHOGM, the decision (on who is to attend) focuses on what is required in terms of national interests and foreign policy considerations," Akbaruddin said.

Kapoor, who also addressed the briefing, said of the 10 summits, five were attended at the level of head of government, four at the level of a minister and one at the level of the vice president.

"We have followed what suits our national interest," he added. The forthcoming summit in Colombo is the first in Asia in the past two decades.

On the issue of fishermen, regarding which Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa sent a sharply-worded letter to the prime minister Friday seeking his personal intervention in securing the release of 86 fishermen from Sri Lanka, the spokesperson said: "We see it as a humanitarian concern, to be addressed in a humanitarian way and we will pursue the matter in every way."

The ministry also provided a list of those who attended the previous CHOGM summits. In 1993 (Cyprus), Manmohan Singh attended as finance minister; in 1995 (Auckland), Pranab Mukherjee as external affairs minister; in 1997 (Edinburgh), I.K. Gujral as PM; in 1999 (Durban) Atal Bihari Vajpayee as PM; in 2002 (Coolum), Jaswant Singh as external affairs minister; in 2003 (Abuja), Vajpayee again; in 2005 (Malta), Kamal Nath as minister of communications; in 2007 (Kampala), Manmohan Singh as PM, and he also attended in 2009 (Port of Spain). Vice President Hamid Ansari attended the last summit in 2011 (Perth).

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