C’wealth Terrorism Committee meeting in February

By Neville de Silva in London

The 10-member Commonwealth Committee on Terrorism (CCT) is finally to meet in London in early February to decide on the format and agenda for a ministerial level meeting in Colombo.

Though earlier January 12 had been considered for the meeting, it appears to have been put off for February for reasons that nobody seems to know. Officials here say that no definite date had been suggested though The Sunday Times was told in late October by well placed sources that January 12 had been earmarked.

Now the committee chaired by Australia will meet at senior officials’ level on February 5, sources said.
Given the opposition of some countries such as Canada and the lukewarm support of some others, diplomats say Sri Lanka would need to send a high-powered officials’ delegation from Colombo if it wants to swing the CCT in its favour.

Sri Lanka proposed holding such a conference when Commonwealth heads met at their summit in Kampala in November last year. The Commonwealth leaders welcomed the idea in their final declaration but since then some member-states have been pulling back and trying to undermine the acceptance already expressed by their leaders, informed sources here said.

While India had also strongly supported the holding of a conference on terrorism when originally mooted, Malaysia had been extremely supportive of calling such a conference when the Commonwealth foreign ministers met in New York in the wings of the UN General Assembly sessions last September.
Following the terrorist attack in Mumbai last month and India’s commitment at both the SAARC summit and the more recent meeting on BIMSTEC to take united and concerted action against terrorism in the region and elsewhere, New Delhi is expected to lend unequivocal support to Sri Lanka and urge the holding of a ministerial-level meeting.

Canada’s argument against a ministerial level meeting is that the Commonwealth should not duplicate anti-terrorism work and it should be left to the United Nations to pursue it. Diplomats dismiss this as a specious argument because in a number of areas the UN and the Commonwealth work almost in parallel including on such issues as the reform of the UN and international financial institutions and climate change.

With the Commonwealth secretariat also seemingly sitting on the sidelines though the CCT itself is a creation of the London-based secretariat, those involved in anti-terrorism activities are urging that Sri Lanka comes to the meeting with a well prepared rationale and a plan of action to combat terrorism and a carefully worked out and meaningful agenda for the ministerial meeting.

If the Sri Lankan delegation comes here with empty briefcases and without a well documented plan, it is bound to be victims of diplomatic snipers who will try to shoot down the holding of a ministerial conference in Colombo at the level of home or interior ministers, knowledgeable sources here said.

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