New Zealand PM says Commonwealth summit boycott 'not the right move'

WELLINGTON (AFP) - New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said on Monday he will attend a Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka despite his Indian counterpart pulling out amid pressure for a boycott over alleged war crimes by Colombo.

Key said his presence at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) this week 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," Key told TVNZ.

"They are the hosts of CHOGM and we're an important member of the Commonwealth."

India announced on Sunday 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.

"There are over 50 countries in the Commonwealth (and) everybody else is going," he said, adding: "We could boycott it, obviously that's a possibility, but I just don't think that's the right course of action."

Key said Foreign Minister Murray McCully would travel with him to Sri Lanka and on to the country's northern regions - where the alleged rights abuses occurred - to examine the situation first-hand.

He said the large media contingent heading to Sri Lanka for the CHOGM would also ensure human rights were put under the spotlight.

"There's a lot of media descending on Colombo and that may well help improve the position," he said.

However, Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said anyone raising the issue of human rights was likely to be targeted.

"During CHOGM meetings in Sri Lanka protests are banned and anyone breaching this ban will likely find themselves grabbed by security forces," he said.

Norman's comments come after Green MP Jan Logie and Australian politician Lee Rhiannon were briefly detained on Sunday shortly before they were due to hold a press conference about alleged human rights abuses.

Sri Lankan officials said the pair were questioned about alleged visa violations before being allowed to leave and fly home.

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