Commonwealth puts on united front after summit rifts

COLOMBO, November 17, 2013 (AFP) – Commonwealth leaders agreed Sunday on steps to tackle high debt and poverty as they staged a show of unity after a summit in Sri Lanka dominated by a bitter dispute over war crimes. Following a three-day meeting in Colombo, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse announced that a communique had been agreed by the Commonwealth’s 53 member nations after a summit which he said had been characterised by “fruitful discussions”.

But he was again forced on the defensive and warned his critics against pushing him “into a corner” by setting an ultimatum to address war crimes allegations by next March.

“I am happy with the outcome we have reached at this CHOGM,” said Rajapakse, who has spent much of the summit having to fend off allegations that his government’s troops killed as many as 40,000 civilians at the end of the country’s 37-year conflict.

Outlining the agreements inked by Commonwealth leaders, he said there had been widespread agreement on a series of issues — particularly on ensuring that economic growth does not come at the expense of equality.

“Achieving growth with equity and inclusive development must be one of the priorities of the Commonwealth,” said the Sr