Zuma returns from fractious Sri Lanka Commonwealth summit

President Jacob Zuma. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

President Jacob Zuma. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

President Jacob Zuma has returned home from his working visit to Sri Lanka, the presidency said on Monday.

Zuma returned on Sunday night after attending the Commonwealth heads of state and government meeting, spokesperson Mac Maharaj said in a statement.

The theme was "growth with equity: inclusive development".

"The theme highlights the importance of equity in economic development in view of the disparities in the distribution of wealth and economic benefits ... " said Zuma in the statement.

The theme resonated well with South Africa's National Development Plan (NDP), which aimed to eradicate poverty and inequality by 2030, he said.

Zuma was accompanied by International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and Deputy Minister in the Presidency Obed Bapela.

Zuma also participated in a discussion between the Commonwealth heads of government and youth leaders.

Glaringly absent
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka's human rights record was glaringly absent from a communiqué issued by Commonwealth leaders on Sunday at the end of a fractious summit dominated by allegations of war crimes during the bloody climax of the island's 26-year civil war.

The normally sedate two-yearly meeting of mostly former British colonies ran into controversy this year before it had even begun after some members objected to it being hosted by a government accused of shelling civilians just four years ago.

Sparks flew at the summit when British Prime Minister David Cameron threatened to push for an international inquiry into the allegations of large-scale civilian deaths during the army's final victory over the Tamil Tiger separatists in 2009.

Some 300 000 civilians were trapped on a narrow beach during the onslaught and a British panel has estimated that 40 000 non-combatants died. It concluded that, while both sides committed atrocities, army shelling killed most victims.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government has also been criticised for not stopping attacks on journalists and critics of the government, as well as political pressure on magistrates, since the war ended.

Cameron said he would raise the issues at the United Nations if Sri Lanka did not conduct its own independent inquiry by March.

'Hostile diplomacy'
The ultimatum was dubbed "hostile diplomacy" by Sri Lankan state media.
Some detected colonial overtones in the finger-wagging and accused Britain of acting like a "big brother that punishes rather than guides".

"I will do it. But you can't say, 'Tomorrow, do it, within one week, or three months, or four months'. That's very unfair," Rajapaksa told the final news conference on Sunday.

Cameron left Colombo on Saturday, and the final communiqué mentioned human rights in only a general way.

Atrocities and war crimes
Sri Lanka issued visas to hundreds of foreign journalists before the summit, and invited them to visit any part of the country to witness progress on post-war reconstruction. However, pro-government protesters stopped reporters from Britain's Channel 4, which has run a series of documentaries alleging atrocities and war crimes, travelling to the north.

Other reporters, including some from Reuters, were able to travel but were held up at numerous military checkpoints and were closely tracked by military intelligence.

The rights dispute dominated the chaotic final news conference, where Commonwealth spokesperson Richard Uko repeatedly tried to put the focus on the summit's development agenda.

"I can see I am being consistently ignored," he said, after yet another question about rights abuses was addressed to Rajapaksa.

A senior journalist from Sri Lankan state media yelled at Uko and accused him of a "sinister conspiracy" to take questions only from foreign critics of the government.

The prime ministers of Canada and Mauritius boycotted the summit, and India also stayed away. The next meeting will be held in Malta in 2015. – Reuters, Sapa

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