ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, December 31, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 31

Germany takes over EU, trouble for Lanka

Aid freeze may worsen with review on LTTE ban

By Azra Jafferjee

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.

Top to the page

Copyright 2006 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.