* Concerns over rights overshadow Commonwealth summit
* Some leaders missing from biennial meeting
* Sri Lanka defends its record on rights
By Shihar Aneez and Frank Jack Daniel
COLOMBO/JAFFNA, Sri Lanka, Nov 15 Crowds of
protesters met British Prime Minister David Cameron in the north
of Sri Lanka on Friday, some surging towards his vehicle
brandishing photos of relatives lost in the country's long civil
war that ended four years ago.
Cameron visited the city of Jaffna in the ethnic Tamil-
dominated region of the island after attending the opening
ceremony of the Commonwealth summit in the capital Colombo. The
biennial meeting of mainly former British colonies has this year
brought intense scrutiny of Sri Lanka's human rights record.
"I think it's important to shine a spotlight on what's
happened in this country and to speak up against abuses that
have taken place," he said in a muddy shanty town of people
pushed off their own land by the military 23 years ago.
Rival protesters met Cameron on his tour of the town,
including Tamils seeking his support in locating missing
relatives and also government supporters who waved placards that
read "We are not a colony" in opposition to his visit.
Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa had hoped the Nov.
15-17 meeting, which two heads of government have boycotted,
would prove an advertisement for progress and economic growth in
the island state of 21 million off India's southern tip.
Instead, the build-up to the summit has been overshadowed by
allegations of state-sponsored rape and torture, and by
political pressure, including from Cameron.
Separatist Tamil rebels with a preference for suicide
bombers battled government forces for 26 years until an army
offensive crushed them in 2009.
A U.N. panel has said around 40,000 mainly Tamil civilians
died in the final months of the offensive. Both sides committed
atrocities but army shelling killed most victims, it concluded.
The United Nations wants an international inquiry into
allegations of war crimes in the final months of the conflict.
Opening the summit, Rajapaksa defended the government after
saying this week it had "nothing to hide".
"We in Sri Lanka are stepping into a new era of peace,
stability and premium economic opportunities," he told
government leaders and officials from 49 countries.
"In ending terrorism in 2009 we asserted the greatest human
right, the right to live."
After Cameron returned from Jaffna he met Rajapaksa and
raised concerns about displaced people, land issues, the
military presence and devolving powers to the north, the Sri
Lankan government said in a statement.
Rajapaksa told him it was only four years since the war had
ended and the country needed more time to overcome its problems.
BRITISH PM VISITS NORTH
Many buildings in Jaffna are still bombed out skeletons
despite a surge of reconstruction. While there, Cameron visited
a recently rebuilt library and a Tamil newspaper often targeted
by unknown gunmen who have killed six journalists since 2006.
At the library his car was nearly surrounded by a group of
mainly women protesters who say their loved ones were taken by
the army during the war and have never been returned to them.
The women pressed pictures of the missing against the windows of
a media bus and surged towards Cameron's vehicle after pushing
through police lines.
Some observers warn that the repressive climate in the north
and slow progress on demands for greater autonomy risk stoking
fresh violence. Military seizure of land is one
of the most sensitive issues in north.
At the Kannagi camp, where about 500 people are yet to be
resettled on land occupied by the army despite promises they
could go home, Cameron walked though narrow, muddy rows of tin
shacks where he was mobbed by families speaking in Tamil.
"The war is over," he said to a government official walking
alongside. "Why is it taking so long to resettle?" The official
replied that the resettlement was under way.
Officials in Colombo have expressed frustration at what they
see as interference from abroad in the run-up to the
Commonwealth meeting and say Sri Lanka is on a path to
reconciliation, aided by strong economic growth.
The government has also dismissed accusations of ongoing
rights violations, which it says are part of a campaign by rebel
sympathisers to tarnish its image and detract from the summit.
The Commonwealth, comprising 53 countries, has little power,
but wields some influence in mediating disputes between members.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said last month he
would skip the summit over rights abuses, including alleged
disappearances and extra-judicial killings, and Mauritian Prime
Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam later joined the boycott. As a
result of not attending, Mauritius will no longer host the next
summit in 2015, Ramgoolam said on Friday.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, whose population of
1.2 billion dwarfs the rest of the Commonwealth combined, also
did not travel to Colombo, although it was partly due to
domestic pressures. His foreign minister is taking part.