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Govt. can make representations to EU before Nov. 6 on GSP +, FM

(October 22, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The government has been given time till November 6th to make representation to the European Commission (EC) on its report which it submitted on October 19 with regards to the continuation of the GSP + facility for Sri Lanka, Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama told Parliament today.

A note from the Directorate General of Trade of the EC forwarding the report to the Sri Lanka Mission in Brussels had stated “the Commission will decide whether to propose a temporary withdrawal of the special inceptive arrangement for substantial development and good governance provided for under council regulations,’” the Minister said.

It had also stated that if the government so wishes, it can make representations on this matter or specifically in relation to the Commission’s report, it can do so no later than November 6,” he said.

The Minister that the government will closely study the EU report and consider ways and means do addressing the issues in it’s continued pursuance of securing the GSP + facility but would not submit to an “investigative “process.

Here is the full text of the statement released by the Ministry of Bogollagama,

Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said that the Government of Sri Lanka within the joint cabinet sub-committee appointed by the President, will closely study the EC report, and consider ways and means of addressing the issues in Sri Lanka’s continuing pursuance of securing the GSP+ facility.

Addressing the Parliament on 21st October 2009, the Foreign Minister recalled that the European Commission (EC) on 19th October 2009 had handed over to the Government of Sri Lanka its report on Sri Lanka’s implementation of 3 of the 27 UN Conventions relevant to its GSP+ benefits that were of concern to the EC. The Minister stated that the Note from the Directorate General for Trade of the European Commission forwarding the EC report to the Mission of Sri Lanka in Brussels had mentioned that “...the Commission would now decide whether to propose a temporary withdrawal of the special incentive arrangement for sustainable development and good governance provided for under Council Regulation (EC) No. 732/2008”. The Minister quoting the Note said “if the Government of Sri Lanka wishes to make any representations on this matter or specifically in relation to the Commission report in annex, it is kindly requested to bring these to the Commission’s attention no later than 6 November 2009”.

Foreign Minister Bogollagama observed that the GSP+ “investigation” on Sri Lanka by the EC was launched a year ago when the Government of Sri Lanka was on the verge of ending 30 years of terrorism in Sri Lanka. He said the Government did not participate in the process of the GSP+ “investigation” and refused a request for “experts” to visit Sri Lanka as a matter of principle. The Minister pointed out that it was felt inappropriate for Sri Lanka as a sovereign state to participate in such a process given the numerous on-going processes, both between the Government of Sri Lanka and the UN system and between the Government of Sri Lanka and the EU.

The Foreign Minister further stated that while not cooperating with the process of “investigation”, the Government continued to engage with the EC on the issues of mutual interest through existing diplomatic channels, a fact acknowledged in the EC report. He also stated that the Government would continue to engage with the European Institutions, in-keeping with the spirit of transparency and mutual respect that is appropriate to the historic and long standing relationship between Europe and Sri Lanka.

Moving on to address the issue of the arrest of Mr. Raj Rajaratnam, the Foreign Minister stated that this could be viewed as a “…significant development in the area of the LTTE’s financing network”. He stated that Mr. Rajaratnam had been charged in the US on 16th October relating to insider trading involving hedge funds and pointed out that that he was believed to have also provided material support to the terrorist organization – the LTTE. The Minister, drawing the attention of the Members of Parliament, stated that the investigations in Sri Lanka on the activities and support of Mr. Rajaratnam to the terrorist organization were continuing, particularly in relation to the funding allegedly provided by him to the LTTE front organization TRO. The Minister, referring to the FIU of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, had stated that any suggestions that such investigations are concluded or that Mr. Rajaratnam has been cleared of possible involvement, were incorrect and misleading.

Foreign Minister Bogollagama also informed the House that the Government of Sri Lanka continued to engage the International community on a range of issues of mutual concern such as the IDPs, resettlement and livelihood projects. He stated that while many acknowledged the improvements to the IDP facilities, there had been a few who had also expressed concern on some of the issues connected to the IDP facilities. The Minister explained that Sri Lanka’s engagement with the International community had sought to secure a greater appreciation of these challenges and to seek tangible assistance to address the very issues which were of mutual concern.

The Minister recalled the positive outcome of the visit to Sri Lanka by Members of the Indian Parliament from the Constituencies in the State of Tamil Nadu and noted that following their visit to Sri Lanka during which they had visited Jaffna, Vavuniya, the IDP welfare centers and Nuwara Eliya, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Mr. M. Karunanidhi himself had gone to the airport and received the delegation which, the Minister pointed out, signified the importance attributed to the visit. The Minister also referred to the media briefing the same day during which Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu had announced, according to the “The Hindu” edition of 15.10.2009 that the Government of Sri Lanka had assured that “…. 58,000 internally-displaced Sri Lankan Tamils in camps will be sent back to their native places in 15 days’, while ‘the remaining Tamils would return gradually’. The Minister also stated that the Chief Minister had even countered a misinformation that the Government was attempting to change the demography of the northern area by resettling Sinhalese people in those areas, when Chief Minister Karunanidhi had stated that ‘President Mahinda Rajapaksa had denied that such a thing would happen’.

The Foreign Minister then elaborated on the resettlement process by stating that the resettlement of persons in their original areas of habitation and the resultant decrease in the numbers in the IDP facilities to less than 250,000 is being appreciated in many quarters. He also noted that the issuance of Identity Cards to over 160,000 persons and the completion of registration of all IDPs over 12 years of age had taken place and stated that the Government was confident that the targets set for clearance of 58,000 by the end of October for settlement would be met. He further stated that dry rations and an allowance for the reconstruction of shelter for the returnees have also been provided. The Minister also stated that the notable progress made in the health sector with the reduction of annual mortality rates to only 4.4 per 1000 in the welfare centers in Vavuniya, which is compatible with any other part of the country, symbolizes the significant achievement in stabilization of the health facilities for the IDPs.

Explaining some of the measures taken to assist the IDPs to resume routine activities, the Minister pointed out that almost 40,000 children were attending classes in welfare centers and that the government had facilitated 1,187 students to sit the GCE/ Advanced Level examination in August this year of which, 166 were LTTE surrendees, clearly reflected the emphasis the Government had placed on the long term welfare of the present IDPs.

The Foreign Minister also informed the Parliament that Sri Lanka’s interlocutors have also been informed of the contingency planning and flood preparedness in preparation for the imminent North East monsoon rains while construction and improvement of the storm water drainage system in Vavuniya by the RDA and District Road Development Authority, the Sri Lanka Army with the partnership of international organizations had also been noted.

Discussing the progress on demining, the Foreign Minister emphasised that this was a pre-requisite for re-settlement of IDPs. He stated that Sri Lanka’s commitment to intensify demining had been articulated and had made the international community aware that it was the Government of Sri Lanka, through the expertise within the Sri Lanka Army, that had carried out over 70% of demining. He also stated that the fact that the Government has disbursed large amount of funds to secure equipment for a speedier, mechanized, demining process symbolizes the government’s commitment to demining and re-settlement. The Foreign Minister stated that in response to Sri Lanka’s call for speedy resettlement and the need for tangible assistance in the demining process, some had responded while responses from others were pending. The Minister also stated that the certification by the UNHCR that the area is safe is a basic pre-requisite before any resettlement can take place in an area and added that the Government was strictly following this rule for the safety of the people.

The Foreign Minister also informed the Parliament the sensitivity with which the government was addressing the needs and difficulties of special categories of IDPs such as the elderly and clergy by releasing them, which he said was also being appreciated and added that even former combatants including children, have also been released.

The Minister also drew attention to the fact that Sri Lanka had impressed on members of the international community the need to interdict anti-Sri Lanka activity by pro-LTTE groups which are inimical to Sri Lanka’s national interest. The Minister stated that he had impressed on them that just as much as calls are being made by the international community for reconciliation in Sri Lanka, the international community itself must desist from permitting, or turning a blind eye to continuing inimical action by pro-LTTE groups. Such inimical action, the Foreign Minister added, will make the political process in Sri Lanka and national reconciliation much more difficult and complex. (October 21)
-Sri Lanka Guardian

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