COLOMBO: Sri Lanka on Tuesday accused Canada of undermining the Commonwealth to score political points after it announced a suspension of funding while the island nation chairs the group.
Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry said the halting of Canada’s $9 million annual contribution to the Commonwealth Secretariat was an attempt at political “manipulation” at the expense of the 53-member bloc.
Canada’s government announced Monday it was suspending the funding while Sri Lanka remains chair of the bloc, in protest at war crimes allegedly committed during the island’s separatist conflict.
“Regrettably the Canadian government has sought to use its voluntary funds as a political tool… thereby holding the membership of the wider Commonwealth to ransom,” the ministry said in a statement.
Sri Lanka, which holds the rotating chair for two years, said it believed other Commonwealth members would side with it over the suspension announced by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.
“Baird’s comment in justifying Canada’s action is a castigation of the organization as a whole, and Sri Lanka believes that the wider Commonwealth stands in solidarity against such manipulations,” the Sri Lankan statement said.
The withdrawal of funding comes after Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, along with the leaders of India and Mauritius, boycotted a Commonwealth summit hosted by Sri Lanka last November.
All three countries have sizeable ethnic Tamil populations that have close ties with Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority.
Canada’s foreign minister at the time said the decision to allow Colombo to stage such as a gathering was akin to “accommodating evil.”
Sri Lanka has faced international pressure over accusations of war crimes during the bloody finale to its civil war in 2009, in which the UN says as many as 40,000 Tamil civilians may have been killed.
Colombo has denied the accusations, but the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution in March to set up an investigation into actions by both government forces and Tamil rebels between 2002 and 2009.
The Commonwealth Secretariat is responsible for easing cooperation between member states, organizing meetings and advising on policy development.