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Canada threatens to pull Commonwealth funding

NUSA DUA, Indonesia--Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper has threatened to withdraw funding for the Commonwealth in an escalating row over rights abuses by Sri Lanka ahead of a summit next month.

Harper confirmed late Monday that he was boycotting the November 15-17 summit in Colombo, citing “the absence of accountability for the serious violations of human rights” during and after Sri Lanka's long civil war against Tamil separatists.

“I do this with somewhat of a heavy heart. This is a great disappointment,” he told reporters at an Asia-Pacific summit on the Indonesian island of Bali, while stressing that Canadians were “absolutely overwhelming” in their view that he should stay away.

Sri Lanka's government had shown a “considerable worsening” over the past couple of years in terms of democratic governance, post-war reconciliation and respect for human rights, Harper said.

He added that “obviously we will examine our engagement and our financing of the Commonwealth, which is quite considerable, to make sure that we are wisely using taxpayers' dollars and reflecting Canadian values.”

After Britain, Canada is the second-largest contributor to the Commonwealth budget, providing about US$20 million last year.

“It is unfortunate that these remarks have been made,” Sri Lankan foreign ministry spokesperson Rodney Perera told AFP. “These are matters that should be taken up at the CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting) in Colombo.”

Perera said Canada had confirmed participation at the Colombo meeting at a lower level, “but that is good enough for us.”

In August, U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay raised fresh concerns for the safety of journalists and activists she met during a week-long fact-finding mission to Sri Lanka.

She left the island arguing that democracy had been undermined and rule of law eroded in Sri Lanka four years after the end of its bloody ethnic war, which by U.N. estimates claimed up to 100,000 lives between 1972 and 2009.

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