By Uthayam Australia correspondent
(October 01, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) The situation in Sri Lanka has been hitting the world headlines ever since the defeat of the LTTE and the subsequent unification of the country. The bloody chapter in Sri Lankan history is over but much in the form of socio economic development remains to be done. Thousands of internally displaced persons (IDP) from the former regions held by the LTTE need to be rehabilitated. The Sri Lanka government has promised to do the same recently. Naturally, the Tamil Diaspora the world over including Australia wants to play a positive and helping role in this process.
To fulfill this several Australian Tamil organizations and some Tamil individuals were invited to a meeting recently at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) in Canberra. The meeting was convened by Mr David Holly, the Assistant Secretary, South and West Asia Branch of the DFAT, for a forward-looking discussion between DFAT and AusAid, the foreign aid agency of Australia, and the members of prominent Tamil community representatives on the current situation in northern Sri Lanka and on the ways both sides can work together to create lasting peace in the region.
Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Hon Stephen Smith made a surprise appearance at the meeting. Mr. Smith spent more than 45 minutes, explaining his government’s approach in handling the conflict in Sri Lanka, his government’s aid strategy and listened to the participants’ concerns, comments and suggestions...
The Minister updated the participants on the Australian government’s advocacy efforts and aid strategy. He stated that:
• He realises that this has been a terrible conflict in which members of the participants’ kith and kin also would have been affected.
• Sri Lanka having won the war still has to win the peace.
• Australia has expressed privately and publicly to the SLG the importance of the protection of civilians.
• Australia has emphasised to the SLG the necessity of free access to UNHCR, ICRC etc of the IDP camps.
• Australia from the beginning has realised that the SLG has announced a too ambitious plan in resettling the IDPs.
• Australia is repeatedly telling the SLG that there has to be political reconciliation and is strongly urging the SLG for the reconstruction of the war affected areas.
• Australia has made clear to SLG, how these will affect how international community will look at Sri Lanka.
• Australia announced releasing $2 M for resettlement of IDPs and will announce another $3 M in the evening in parliament. This will make $5 M for the running of the camps and $5 M for resettlement of the IDPs in this financial year alone which started in July in addition to the $24.5 M given in the last financial year.
• His government is conscious of the large Sri Lankan community, both Tamil and Sinhalese, settled in Australia.
• He has met both his counterpart Hon Rohitha Bogollagama and His Excellency President Mahintha Rajapaksa on several occasions and always talked about this conflict with them.
• Australia feels the immediate need to move the IDPs out of the camps as soon as possible.
• He will be going to Sri Lanka, early next year and will be putting Australia’s views directly to the SLG and will be seeing himself the situation in person.
• His government is working through its High commissioner Kathy Klugman in Colombo and other like minded leaders of countries such as UK, USA and EU to send strong messages to the Sri Lankan government.
• Either the Tokyo Co-chairs have to be reactivated or form another group of like minded countries to re-start political negotiations between the Tamils and the SLG.
Mr. Noel Nadesan, Editor ‘Uthayam’ presented a plan of development activities which could be undertaken by Australia along with India.
The plan includes vocational and technical education in areas such as: Nursing and health care, psychological counseling, auto mechanics etc.,computer related skills,baking, plumbing, welding and entertainment, hairdressing, tourism, university education, school education, agricultural activities, animal husbandry, fisheries, agro-industries, alternate power systems, support programs for skilled Sri Lankan expatriates to return for short periods and provide their services, health services and media.
The plan envisages that within the broad area identified for development assistance, specific projects can be developed in collaboration with the government and other institutions in Sri Lanka. An organizational structure and a trust fund are being established in Sri Lanka, specifically focused on the resettlement, rehabilitation, and development needs of the war-affected areas. This organization will be linked to Sri Lankan Diaspora organizations world-wide and will solicit funds from the Diaspora, international aid organizations and government aid programs.
-Sri Lanka Guardian
By Uthayam Australia correspondent