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Harper expresses concern about human rights in summit host DR Congo

Prime Minister Stephen Harper greets the honour guard next to Senegal President Macky Sall as he arrive in Dakar October 10, 2012.

Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says Canada will express its "grave" concerns about human-rights violations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo when the summit of la Francophonie is held there this weekend.

Mr. Harper said Friday he's worried about abuses in a country where sexual assault is frequently used as a weapon in conflict between the military and rebel groups.

There were also allegations of myriad irregularities in the election that kept Joseph Kabila's government in power.

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Still, Mr. Harper doesn't appear to have considered boycotting this weekend's summit in Kinshasa.

He has already threatened to skip the upcoming Commonwealth conference in Sri Lanka unless that country makes progress on human rights.

But asked Friday why that same standard wouldn't apply to Congo, Harper sidestepped the question.

"Minister Bernard Valcourt has aleady visited the DRC in the leadup to the summit to express Canada's grave concerns on human-rights violations in that country," Mr. Harper said at a news conference as he wrapped up a visit to Dakar, Senegal.

"We will be expressing these concerns very clearly when we are present in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Mr. Harper is scheduled to dine with Mr. Kabila on Saturday evening, although Quebec Premier Pauline Marois, who will also attend the summit, has chosen not to meet the African leader.

At that same news conference as Mr. Harper, Senegalese President Macky Sall said not all countries have the same democratic traditions and that African nations struggling to make the transition should be encouraged along the way.

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French President Francois Hollande hesitated a long time before deciding to attend the summit because of the lack of transparency in the DRC election. He will spend only a few hours in the country.

Harper also announced several economic-cooperation initiatives with Senegal during his visit, including a a new air transport agreement.

His other activities in Kinshasa include a private meeting with Ms. Marois on Saturday morning.

The summit ends on Sunday and Mr. Harper is scheduled to return to Ottawa on Monday.

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