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Chandrika, Ranil back Kadirgamar for Commonwealth Secretary-General

By Amit Baruah

Lakshman Kadirgamar

NEW DELHI NOV. 29. If Lakshman Kadirgamar is elected Secretary-General of the Commonwealth next week in Abuja, Nigeria, he will be the first Asian to head the 54-member organisation in 55 years.

The former Sri Lankan Foreign Minister's candidature is 10-days-old but, significantly, it has the backing of both his President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, and the Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Already, Ms. Kumaratunga has addressed letters to all the Commonwealth Heads of Government, including the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, seeking their favourable consideration for Mr. Kadirgamar's candidature.

A lawyer by profession, Mr. Kadirgamar (71), now Senior Adviser on Foreign Affairs to Ms. Kumaratunga, was Foreign Minister from 1994-2001, a tumultuous period in the history of Sri Lanka.

Mr. Kadirgamar's candidature is reported to have found support among several African countries, which are said to be concerned about a range of issues in the Commonwealth, especially the question of Zimbabwe.

Mr. Kadirgamar, a well-known friend of India, has been an outspoken champion of inter-communal amity in Sri Lanka. Though of Tamil origin, he has not flinched from taking on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, on account of which he lives under a heavy security cover.

The Oxford-educated lawyer worked in the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), Geneva from 1976 to 1988. In his capacity as Director for Asia and the Pacific (1983-1988), he has advised developing countries in the region, including China and India, on upgrading their intellectual property legislation and infrastructure.

A specimen copy of the letter written by the Sri Lankan President to the Commonwealth leaders points out that Mr. Kadirgamar had been engaged for almost three decades in various types of international activity.

Pointing out that the term of the current Commonwealth Secretary-General, Don McKinnon's term ended in March 2004, Ms. Kumaratunga appreciated the work done by him, but maintained that Mr. Kadirgamar had all the qualifications to lead the Commonwealth at a time of great challenge.

She said the ongoing debate on complex and sensitive global political, social and economic issues that currently engaged the attention of the international community could benefit greatly from the unique experience of fruitful co-existence in the context of the immense diversity that the Commonwealth has gathered by virtue of the multi-ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic composition of its membership.

Commending Mr. Kadirgamar's candidature, Ms. Kumaratunga pointed out that while studying at Baliol College, Oxford, he was elected president of the Oxford Union in 1959. He has also lectured extensively on commercial, legal, international and political affairs in many countries.

Mr. Kadirgamar has been a regular visitor to New Delhi and has delivered several lectures here. His last lecture was on issues relating to Iraq earlier this year. Known to have several friends cutting across political parties in India, he has been briefing Indian leaders on the Sri Lankan peace process from time to time. It appears that Mr. Kadirgamar will not travel personally to Abuja, Nigeria, for the December 5-8 Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) summit. He is leaving it to friends, well-wishers and diplomats to ensure his elevation to the job of Secretary-General.

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