Germany takes over EU, trouble
Aid freeze may worsen
with review on LTTE ban
FRANKFURT - As Germany prepares to take over the
presidency of the European Union from tomorrow, diplomatic posturing
is taking place by the German Minister for Economic Cooperation
and Development (BMZ), to put pressure on the Sri Lankan government
to return to the negotiating table.
The latest move, announcing a halt on new tsunami
aid disbursements, follows a decision made in October to freeze
all new commitments of German development aid to Sri Lanka. While
in terms of its overall relevance as a donor to Sri Lanka, Germany
ranks well below Japan and agencies such as the ADB and the World
Bank, its political clout as EU President could reach beyond its
relevance as a donor to Sri Lanka. It is in this light that the
recent statements of Minister Heidi Wieczorek-Zeul are being interpreted.
“As a member of the Tokyo Co-Chairs, the
EU, represented by Germany, intends to redouble efforts to re-energise
the peace process,” a spokesman for the BMZ told The Sunday
Times. Minister Wieczorek-Zeul’s call to other international
donors to follow suit, as expressed in her interview with a German
newspaper recently, is seen to be part of the moves to form an international
alliance to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table.
According to the BMZ spokesman, “the recent
upsurge in violence has severely disabled the implementation of
projects in the North and East and hence new commitments are no
longer possible. In addition to this, the BMZ is restructuring its
future aid portfolio to Sri Lanka to focus more on reconstruction
in the North and East and poverty reduction and conflict transformation.”
This could mean that future projects supported
by the German government in the area of private sector and economic
promotion spread throughout the country, would be phased out in
its future cooperation.The rotation of Germany as EU President for
six months could have implications for the current EU ban on the
LTTE. It is learnt that a number of international non-governmental
organisations are unhappy with the existing ban, which is seen to
have negatively impacted the conflict by pushing both parties into
positions of extremism. This has prompted several of them to work
together to bring pressure on the Sri Lankan government to restart
the stalled peace talks.
Some of the INGOs, it is learnt, have written to
Minister Wieczorek-Zeul highlighting the deteriorating human rights
situation in Sri Lanka. One such INGO whose tsunami activities have
been severely hampered, is German-based Medico International.
When contacted by The Sunday Times, a spokeswoman for Medico said,
“We consider the EU ban on the LTTE as a problem since it
is one sided and that is not the way to solve the conflict. We want
the EU to be a mediator.” She said that the ban “helps
certain actors to believe that the problem can be solved by violence”.
The Sunday Times has also learnt that moves are
under way in Germany and other EU countries to lobby European governments
to lift the ban.
Viraj Mendis a key mover
One of the key movers behind the initiative to lift the EU ban on
the LTTE is a human rights activist who came into international
prominence two decades ago when resisting deportation attempts by
the British government.
Sri Lankan national Viraj Mendis, a Sinhalese, sought sanctuary
in a church in Manchester in December 1986 to defy a British High
Court deportation order. Mr. Mendis, a staunch communist at the
time, and campaigner for the Tamil separatist cause, had argued
that he would be arrested and shot on arrival, particularly by the
JVP, if forced to return to Sri Lanka.
Nevertheless, no such arrest was made on his return in January
1989. He moved about freely in the country, gave media interviews,
and six months later moved to Germany. A resident of Germany since
then, Mr. Mendis is now the chairperson of the International Human
Rights Association, where in addition to defending refugees facing
deportation, he continues to work on the Tamil liberation cause.