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Aus, N Zealand PMs to attend CHOGM summit despite controversy

India announced yesterday that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would skip the November 15-17 summit

Press Trust of India  |  Melbourne 

Prime Ministers of both Australia and New Zealand have ruled out boycotting this week's CHOGM summit in Colombo despite mounting pressure at home after lawmakers from their countries were detained in Sri Lanka while on a fact-finding mission over alleged war-crimes.

Australian Senator Lee Rhiannon called on Abbott to boycott the meeting after she and New Zealand lawmaker Jan Logie were prevented from holding a conference on human rights issues in Colombo yesterday by immigration officials, who seized their passports and questioned them for three hours.

Rhiannon described the treatment as "unlawful," given she had an appropriate tourist visa and a letter from Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to the Sri Lankan government explaining her trip, The Australian reported.

"I was very concerned that my liberty was denied to me for more than three hours," Rhiannon told reporters at Sydney Airport today after arriving from Colombo.

Abbott, however, ruled out any chance of boycotting the summit, saying Sri Lanka had been cooperative in taking back people arriving by boat and Australia needed to maintain the "best possible relations" with the country.

"I certainly don't want us to trash one of the very long-standing and important bodies that we are a senior member of," Abbott said.

Sri Lanka had been through a horrific civil war involving atrocities on both sides, but he was "not inclined to go overseas and give other countries lectures", Abbott said.

"My understanding is that ordinary civil society is resuming in the Tamil parts of Sri Lanka. I will be urging the Sri Lankan government to respect everyone's rights but I will also be acknowledging a lot of progress has been made," he said.

Meanwhile, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key also confirmed that he will attend the Commonwealth summit.

Key said his presence at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) did not imply support for the Sri Lankan government, which faces criticism over the alleged massacre of Tamil civilians in the final months of a separatist war in 2009.

"We're not going to endorse Sri Lanka. This is not a bilateral meeting with Sri Lanka. They are the hosts of CHOGM and we're an important member of the Commonwealth," Key told TVNZ.

India announced yesterday that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has been under pressure to stay away from his country's large population of ethnic Tamils, would skip the November 15-17 summit.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has already said he will boycott the event, but Key said the absence of the high-profile leaders would not change his mind about attending.

First Published: Mon, November 11 2013. 17:16 IST