By Jason Burke | The Guardian
Diplomatic sources and protocol officials in Delhi today confirmed that Rajapaksa had accepted a "joint" invitation from the Indian government and the event organisers, and would be flying to India on Wednesday.
His presence next to Prince Edward, who will close the games on behalf of the Queen, will spark anger from campaigners who have accused Rajapaksa of failing to protect many thousands of civilians who died in battles which ended the long civil war against Tamil separatists last year, and of flouting international human rights law.
In January, the 64-year-old politician won a second six-year term in a landslide victory and recently pushed through a constitutional amendment that will allow him to stand an unlimited number of times.
Rajiva Wijesinha, a Sri Lankan member of parliament and former minister, said that it would have been "rude and improper" not to accept the invitation.
"We've moved on. A lot of people are now aware that the allegations against us were not correct and the new government in the UK have made it clear that they are not continuing the patronising attitude of their predecessors," he told the Guardian.
Aslam Khan, head of protocol for the games, confirmed that the choice of guest for the closing ceremony in the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in Delhi was a "joint venture between the Indian government and the organising committee". Rajapaksa is not expected to speak at the event, Khan said.
Tamil campaigners expressed outrage. "It is a shame. The Commonwealth is mainly composed of developing countries and needs to apply international law and humane standards," said Suren Surendiran of the Tamil Global Forum.
Sri Lanka was blocked from hosting the next meeting of Commonwealth leaders in 2011, after Britain and Australia joined forces last year to protest at alleged human rights abuses. "It is unfortunate that the heads of state says one thing and then there is inconsistency," said Surendiran.
The head of the Commonwealth is the Queen but due to an overcrowded travel schedule, Prince Charles opened the games.
The presence of Rajapaksa among the senior dignitaries in front of 65,000 spectators and hundreds of millions of television viewers will renew criticism of the Commonwealth for avoiding tackling tough issues.
Last week, the Guardian revealed that the current secretary general, Kamalesh Sharma, had told his staff that it was not the organisation's role to "speak out" against abuses by the 54 member states.
David Cameron and the foreign secretary, William Hague, have both said they will put new emphasis on the Commonwealth in Britain's foreign policy.
India's invitation is part of a charm offensive aimed at countering diplomatic inroads made by China in Sri Lanka in recent years. The two Asian powers are both investing much effort in wooing Rajapaksa, who remains popular with the Sinhalese majority in the island state, with economic aid packages, technical help with infrastructure projects and other initiatives.
The Sri Lankans are considering their own bid for the Commonwealth Games. Rajapaksa is hoping to win the 2018 event for Hambantota, the southern Sri Lankan port, which is his home town.
© The Guardian
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Posted by JDS
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