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Slavery reparations row to dominate UK prime minister's visit to Jamaica

David Cameron faces calls from political leaders in the Caribbean to make amends for Britain's role in slave trade

British Prime Minister David Cameron first official trip to Jamaica looked set to be overshadowed Tuesday by calls for the UK to pay billions of dollars in reparations for its role in the transatlantic slave trade.

In an open letter published in the Jamaica Observer, Hilary Beckles, chairman of the Reparations Commission of the Caribbean Community, or Caricom, asked Cameron to recognize the UK's “legacies of slavery that continue to derail, undermine and haunt our best efforts at sustainable economic development and the psychological and cultural rehabilitation of our people.”

"We ask not for handouts or any such acts of indecent submission,” Beckles added. “We merely ask that you acknowledge responsibility for your share of this situation and move to contribute in a joint program of rehabilitation and renewal." Others have gone further, demanding reparations from the UK government over slavery

Cameron is scheduled to address the Jamaican Parliament on Wednesday and hold talks with his counterpart, Portia Simpson Miller.

But it is not known if Cameron plans to comment on Beckles' effort and that of political leaders of other Caribbean nations who have sought reparations from Britain, France and the Netherlands for the lingering ill effects of the Atlantic slave trade.

A British government official told UK media that while the issue was a "longstanding" concern of Jamaica, the UK government does not think reparations are the right approach.

“The PM’s point will be he wants to focus on the future. We are talking about issues that are centuries old and taken under a different government when he was not even born. He wants to look at the future and how can the UK play a part now in stronger growing economies in the Caribbean,” the Guardian quoted the official as saying.

In July, 14 Caribbean nations seeking reparations for slavery brought a series of lawsuits against France, Britain and the Netherlands. The cases target Britain for its role in slavery in the English-speaking Caribbean, France for slavery in Haiti and the Netherlands for Suriname, a Caricom member and former Dutch colony on the northeastern edge of South America.

The cases will be tried at the International Court of Justice in the Hague. However, it is unclear when proceedings will begin.

One Jamaican Parliament member, Mike Henry, told The Jamaica Gleaner newspaper that he would urge colleagues to turn their backs on Cameron during his address unless reparations are on the agenda.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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