37 countries confirm CHOGM participation

IANS    31-Oct-2013

undefinedColombo, October 31: Thirty-seven countries have confirmed their attendance for the Commonwealth summit to take place in Sri Lanka next month despite ongoing protests over alleged human rights violations in the island nation, a top official said here Thursday.

Cabinet spokesman and Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told reporters that the bulk of the 53 Commonwealth members have already confirmed participation, Xinhua reported.

"At this point, 37 countries have confirmed their attendance. With that affirmation it is safe to say that participation for CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting) is higher than what was seen in Perth, Australia, during the previous summit," he noted.

The latest tally comes amidst uncertainty over Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's attendance.

Singh has been placed under severe pressure from India's southern state Tamil Nadu to boycott the CHOGM in Sri Lanka over allegations of human rights violations.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has already pulled out of the summit and announced a cut on funding made by his country to the Commonwealth Secretariat citing Sri Lanka's poor human rights track record.

British Prime Minister David Cameron and New Zealand's Foreign Minister Murray McCully have also announced they will visit the former war-torn northern parts of Sri Lanka during the summit to ascertain first-hand the situation faced by tens of thousands of Tamil people.

"New Zealand has a strong interest in the progress being made on reconciliation and devolution in the north and I will report back to the Prime Minister (John Key) on the situation there ahead of the CHOGM Leader's Retreat," McCully said in a statement.

Countries outside of the Commonwealth will also be attending events on the sidelines of CHOGM with a crucial business forum and trade exhibition set to be key highlights.

A large business delegation from China is expected for the Commonwealth Business Forum (CBF), which hopes to drum up $2 billion worth of investment for Sri Lanka.

Eighty-one companies, 42 of them from China, have also signed up for a major trade, investment and tourism exhibition.