Commonwealth head says group is no dodo: Annika Savill in Limassol says leaders are seeking a new political relevance

FIFTY leaders of the Commonwealth gathered here yesterday to promote the group's stated objective of 'good government' but most seemed privately agreed that any leverage the organisation may have had was a thing of the past.

Two of the leaders gave their views to the Independent last night. The head of the military government of Sierra Leone, Captain Valentine Strasser, said: 'I know I will come under pressure here, but I think it's just that military governments are not fashionable any more. I don't think there is any more to it than that.'

Asked about Britain's intention to make Sierra Leone stick to its timetable for a return to democracy, Captain Strasser said he didn't need telling. 'I intend to stick to the timetable. If anything I intend to make it even shorter,' said the 28-year-old officer.

President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, whose country is on the list of nations in 'transition' to democracy, saw the importance of the Commonwealth in a linguistic way. 'When I address some of the Organisation of African Unity, I have to speak through an interpreter. But at the Commonwealth conference I can speak to people from the South Pole in the same language.'

Some of the Commonwealth leaders are not attending the biennial Heads of Government Meeting. The Indian Prime Minister has sent his Finance Minister instead, saying state elections in India were more important. An Indian diplomat said: 'We simply don't regard the Commonwealth as that relevant any more. Had it been a meeting of the UN Security Council, where we seek permanent membership, the Prime Minister certainly would have attended.'

Earlier yesterday the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, declared that his organisation was 'not a dodo', adding: 'The time will come when any country that blatantly turns its back on these (democratic) principles will find its place in the Commonwealth a very uncomfortable one indeed.'

The Greek Cypriot government continued yesterday to try to use the publicity of the summit to draw attention to the division of Cyprus. The President, Glafkos Clerides, issued a statement condemning protests against the Queen during her visit, countering the impression given by some of his colleagues that the protests were officially sanctioned.

Hamish McRae, page 20