15 Nov 2013

Key arrives at controversial summit

10:07 pm on 15 November 2013

This year's Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) meeting has officially opened in Sri Lanka, with Mahinda Rajapaksa President assuring leaders he is leading his country to a new era of peace and stability.

John Key, right, is welcomed at the airport in Colombo.

John Key, right, is welcomed at the airport in Colombo. Photo: RNZ

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key is at the three-day summit but the Prime Ministers of Canada and Mauritius have chosen not to attend over concerns about Sri Lanka's human rights record. India's Manmohan Singh has sent another minister in his place.

There is a strong military presence on the streets of Colombo, as 50 Commonwealth leaders arrive in the capital on Friday. Radio New Zealand's parliamentary chief reporter is attending and says security at the summit is extremely tight, with limited media access to most events.

President Rajapaksa told the leaders Sri Lanka had nothing to hide but was mindful of security given it had only just emerged from a decades-long civil war.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said staying away from CHOGM would benefit no one. Mr Cameron planned to visit Tamil leaders in the north to signal his concerns and believed doing so would make its own point about limits to freedom there, the BBC reported.

He is demanding an independent investigation into alleged war crimes at the end of the civil war, which Sri Lanka denies.

Mr Key said he was not sure what such an investigation would achieve but said it "might" be useful. He would be having a drink with Mr Cameron and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott later on Friday said said he would "talk to him about exactly what he is proposing, and we'll see how that goes".

New Zealand rejected calls to boycott the summit, with Mr Key saying New Zealand's view was it was better to engage directly, and human rights would be raised when he met Mr Rajapaksa on Sunday.

Security has been stepped up as 50 world leaders attend the summit.

Security has been stepped up as 50 world leaders attend the summit. Photo: RNZ

"It'll be an opportunity for us to express concerns, and to ensure that we register that New Zealand's expectations are that Sri Lanka will take its human rights issues seriously, and to ask new questions about how they're addressing the reconciliation between the Sinhalese people and the Tamil Tigers."

Mr Key would also meet the Prince of Wales, and said he was looking forward to seeing him again following his visit to Balmoral.

Meanwhile, President Rajapaksa said people were being killed for 30 years during the civil war with the Tamil Tigers, but his government had put a stop to the killing by defeating the rebels, the BBC reported.

Every day, he told reporters, there was a dead body or 10 or 15, but no one made an issue over that. The killings had been stopped and there were no more bombings, he said.

McCully visits former war zone

Foreign Minister Murray McCully was on Friday visiting the north of Sri Lanka, where the last months of a violent civil war against Tamil rebels played out in 2009.

Mr McCully said he was aware of concerns about the actions of the Sri Lankan Government against its critics and journalists.

"I'm inclined to the view that, again, as we saw with the conflict, that there are probably some faults on both sides - that there are incidents that we don't fully understand from a great distance."

Mr McCully said it was better to look for constructive ways to help reconciliation.