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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2584

European Troika Delegation to Sri Lanka Covered Extensive and Mutual Area of Importance

Colombo, 20 March, ( “A six member delegation from the European Troika had extended talks with the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry on a variety of issues ranging from the ethnic crisis, recent elections in the East, bilateral trade and banning of LTTE front organizations in Europe. The exchange of views had been a success and the two sides are looking forward to a great deal of cooperation.

EU Troika was headed Ambassador Janez Premoze Director for Asia, Africa and Pacific in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Slovenia representing the current EU Presidency, Mr. Didier Leroy, Head of the South Asian Division in the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of France, representing the incoming EU Presidency and Mr. James Moran, Director for Asia, External Relations Directorate representing the European Commission concluded a successful visit to Sri Lanka. An extensive series of discussions on issues of mutual interest were held with a Foreign Ministry delegation headed by Secretary, Dr. Palitha Kohona on Monday (17 March 2008).

Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama who met the delegation on Tuesday (18 March 2008), commented on the positive atmosphere and mutual goodwill that prevailed during their bilateral discussion with the Foreign Ministry. The level of confidence that was established needs to be consolidated. He emphasized the importance that the Sri Lankan Government attached to their visit and expressed the hope that it would pave the way for a constructive engagement with the EU leading to the 17th Session of the EC-Sri Lanka Joint Commission meeting scheduled to be held in June 2008, in Colombo.

During the official bilateral talks, Sri Lanka welcomed the EU’s well defined policy on counter terrorism and the listing of the LTTE as a terrorist organization by the EU in 2006. While welcoming the criminal prosecutions against LTTE fund-raising in some EU Member States, the Sri Lankan delegation urged the EU to prevail upon Member States to enact enabling legislation and take similar action against front organizations of the LTTE, operating in their territories under the guise of charities, social welfare and cultural associations.

The Sri Lanka delegation briefed the Troika on the work of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) towards achieving a lasting political settlement to the current conflict. This is an evolving process which would lead to greater devolution of power to the provinces.

The action taken by the Government to re-establish the democratic process and civil administration in the Eastern Province, after the successful military operations to clear the Province of the LTTE last year, was elaborated.

In this regard, the Minister drew the attention of the delegation to the peaceful conduct of the recent Local Government election in the Batticaloa District, with a high voter turnout. This process would be further strengthened with the holding of elections to the Eastern Provincial Council on 10th May. The Foreign Minister solicited EU support and assistance for the ambitious economic and social development programme that has been launched by the Government in the province, which would enable the local population to enjoy the peace dividend, after many years of living under LTTE oppression.

Sri Lanka appreciated the important and constructive role played by the EU as one of the co-chairs of the Peace Process and also underscored the useful contribution of Norway as the facilitator. It was reiterated that, while the Government has serious concerns over providing security for high level international visitors to Kilinochchi, such visits in the past had not yielded in any tangible progress in taking forward the Peace Process. On the contrary, it had been observed that the LTTE had cynically used high profile visits by foreign dignitaries to the Wanni, for propaganda purposes.

Foreign Secretary Dr. Kohona highlighted the abiding commitment of the Government of Sri Lanka to upholding and protecting human rights in the country. Fundamental rights have been enshrined in the Constitution and made justiciable. The Supreme Court has expanded the scope of fundamental rights from the original provisions of the Constitution which demonstrate the independence and the robust nature of Sri Lanka’s domestic judicial institutions in which the people have reposed immense faith.

Language has been one of the most important issues underlying the present conflict. The Government has taken concerted action to ensure language rights in accordance with Constitutional obligations. In this regard, the Government has embarked on the recruitment of 2000 Tamil speaking officers to Police to be deployed in the Eastern Province. Moreover, the government has made it mandatory for all persons recruited to the public service to acquire proficiency in both official languages, namely Sinhala and Tamil.

Reflecting the Government’s consistent policy of openness, transparency and constructive engagement with the international community on human rights, several high ranking UN officials have visited Sri Lanka at its invitation.

Minister Bogollagama pointed out that Sri Lanka shared the concern of the EU over the decision of the Independent International Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) to prematurely wind up their work in relation to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry. While Sri Lanka regrets this unfortunate development, the Government found it difficult to accept the reasons adduced by the IIGEP to leave before the completion of their mandate.

The EU delegation noted the importance that the Sri Lankan Government placed on the extension of the GSP+ Scheme under which Sri Lanka has been able to gain preferential access for its exports to the EU, which has made the EU its single biggest export market, currently worth US$ 03 billion. The Foreign Minister highlighted the fact that the GSP+ Scheme has enabled 350,000 women especially in the rural hinterland to be engaged in gainful employment, thus providing crucial livelihood support, which in turn had made a significant dent in the alleviation of poverty. He impressed upon the EU delegation the paramount need for the extension of this Scheme in ensuring the equitable economic and social development throughout the country. Both sides agreed that the review process on the extension of the Scheme in the upcoming months will be pursued through a meaningful and constructive dialogue, reflecting the spirit of the 35 year old cooperation between the EU and Sri Lanka.

During their visit, the EU delegation also held meetings with Government Ministers, opposition party leaders, as well as senior officials, civil society groups and the media.

- Asian Tribune -

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