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Commonwealth to decide on allowing Rwanda in

Commonwealth leaders are aiming to reach a decision by the end of the weekend on whether to make former Belgian colony Rwanda a new member, the head of the 53-nation grouping said on Thursday.

”We are well aware of the desire of Rwanda to join the Commonwealth … That’s currently in the hands of leaders and I guess it should be resolved on Sunday,” Commonwealth secretary general Don McKinnon told a news conference.

Spokesperson Julius Mucunguzi said that the Commonwealth heads of government, meeting in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, from Friday, will receive a report from the body’s membership committee.

”The report will be considered by the leaders during their retreat; they will adopt it or ask for more precisions; after, it’s up to the countries to follow the criteria,” said another spokesperson, Eduardo del Buey.

A senior British government official said earlier on Thursday in London that Britain supports French-speaking Rwanda’s aspiration to join the Commonwealth.

”We support Rwanda joining the Commonwealth. Not all members of the Commonwealth are ex-British colonies. Rwanda’s application has to do with Commonwealth values,” said the official.

”It is lumped to other Commonwealth countries. From our point of view it is a strong partner in Africa,” he added, speaking shortly before Prime Minister Gordon Brown left for the Kampala gathering.

The Commonwealth is a loose federation of former British colonies, but several other countries that were not colonies are interested in following former Portuguese possession Mozambique in joining. Partly anglophone former French colony Cameroon is also a member.

Conditions for membership include adopting English as an additional official language and respecting human rights and democracy norms, Del Buey said. The application process can last several years.

Rwanda, where in 1994 an estimated 800 000 people died in a genocide, first applied two years after that and renewed its request application in 2003.

”The ball is in their camp; we applied in 1996 in the first place,” Rwandan Foreign Minister Charles Murigande said by phone from Kigali.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame was present in Kampala on Tuesday ahead of the Commonwealth summit, telling a business forum that his country’s economy could not develop ”in isolation of our sub-region and our continent”. — Sapa-AFP

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