U.S. DIPLOMAT FOR ASIA SAYS HE IS PASSIONATE ABOUT SRI LANKA
Posted on July 7th, 2009

Embassy of Sri Lanka Washington, D.C.

Ambassador Robert Blake Proposes Three-Steps For Reconciliation

 WASHINGTON — Robert Blake, recently confirmed as the new assistant secretary of state for south and central Asian affairs, told a gathering of a Sri Lankan group here that the country must quickly carry out a three-step plan for reconciling with its displaced Tamil population.

“Every American who has worked or served in Sri Lanka is touched by that country,” Blake told the Serendipity Group, a gathering of foreign services officers and others with an interest in Sri Lanka.

Blake served as U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives from 2006 until last month, when he was confirmed in his new post.

Expressing gratitude for the end of Sri Lanka’s conflict with the LTTE, Blake said that the immediate concern is carrying out de-mining activities in order to resettle the 280,000 displaced civilians now living in temporary government welfare centers.

Blake said that while there is still room for improvement, access to the centers for non-governmental aid organizations had improved significantly.

Blake noted that many displaced senior citizens had been put in elder hostels or re-united with relatives, and that other family reunions had been arranged. He praised Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s pledge to return most of the displaced to their homes in 180 days.

He said that he expected the displaced would leave the centers as soon as adequate de-mining activities are completed. The U.S. has pledged Sri Lanka $6 million in aid for its ambitious de-mining plans. India and Norway have also pledged assistance.

Blake said a second priority for Sri Lanka will be to engage the displaced civilians through elections and an expanded political process. The government has already announced Aug. 8 elections for the northern cities of Jaffna and Vavunia.

He noted President Rajapaksa’s call for the Tamil National Alliance to join the All Party Representative Committee to discuss reconciliation. Blake said that he hoped the TNA would join those discussions.

More local elections are expected as the rest of the Northern Province is resettled. Blake urged the government to give displaced civilians identification cards so that they can take part in elections; some may even run for elected office.

Blake also suggested that Sri Lanka move to re-establish northern residents’ livelihoods. He viewed the government’s recent decision to lift fishing restrictions in the North and East as an important step in that direction. (Restriction had been imposed to improve maritime security).

Agriculture also plays a major role in the north — the Vanni region is considered to be the ‘Rice Bowl’ of the area. Restoring the farm economy will depend on how quickly the government can rebuild homes and de-mine villages and fields.

Jaliya Wickramasuriya, Sri Lanka’s ambassador to the U.S., met with Blake at the U.S. State Department recently to congratulate Blake on his confirmation. The ambassador and Blake spoke about the resettlement of internally displaced people and plans for redevelopment and elections in the Northern Province.

“Ambassador Blake has seen the situation in Sri Lanka change dramatically during his service there,” Ambassador Wickramasuriya said. “He knows what Sri Lankan citizens have lived through, and the challenges that we face in the years to come.”

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 TAMIL GROUP DROPS LAWSUIT THAT SOUGHT TO HALT IMF LOAN FOR SRI LANKA

WASHINGTON — The group Tamils Against Genocide has quietly dropped a federal lawsuit it filed against U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and a top U.S. International Monetary Fund official in an effort to stop an IMF loan for Sri Lanka.

The group did not give a reason for filing a notice of voluntary dismissal on June 19. TAG’s attorney, Bruce Fein, had promised to use the lawsuit against Geithner and Meg Lundsager, the U.S. executive director at the IMF, to block the proposed $1.9 billion IMF loan for Sri Lanka.

U.S. Justice Department attorneys for Treasury Secretary Geithner and the IMF’s Lundsager argued in a recent court motion that the case was without merit because TAG’s case had no standing in federal court, and that it relied on a “series of remote contingencies.”

“This is not the first time in which plaintiffs similarly situated to the one here have come to federal courts seeking to use foreign aid decisions to redress an alleged injury caused by a foreign sovereign nation,” the Justice lawyers wrote. “At least three prior cases were dismissed for lack of standing.”

Under IMF guidelines loans are supposed to be awareded on economic, and not political, considerations. IMF staff have reviewed Sri Lanka’s request and found that it meets standards for an IMF loan. The IMF’s board must vote to approve the funding.

Sri Lankan government forces in May defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, ending 25 years of conflict. The IMF funding would boost Sri Lanka’s plans to rebuild the northern part of the country, which was badly neglected when it was under LTTE influence.

Jaliya Wickramasuriya, Sri Lanka’s ambassador to the United States, said the TAG lawsuit never seriously threatened the IMF funding.

“The IMF professional staff has reviewed Sri Lanka’s financial status and has determined that the loan is justified as part of that organization’s worldwide economic stimulus program,” the ambassador said. “The people who will be hurt most if this loan is not approved are those living in Sri Lanka, especially in the north — the very people who have just endured 25 years of terrorism.”

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UNHCR: “1,000 IDPS RETURN TO EASTERN PROVINCE TOWN OF AMAPRA”

COLOMBO, Thursday 2nd July 2009 —

Some one thousand persons are going back to their homes in Ampara today, marking the first Government-organized return movement in the district in seven years.

Originally hailing from two areas of the Thirukkovil division in Ampara, these internally displaced persons (IDPs) were on the move since 1990 due to the conflict, until they returned to their villages following the 2002 ceasefire. However they were once again displaced by the escalation in violence in the east in 2006 and have since been staying with friends and relatives in areas nearby.

Prior to return, de-mining/clearance of unexploded ordnance was completed and the IDPs were provided an opportunity to engage in a “ƒ”¹…”go&see’ visit to ensure that they were able to make an independent and well-informed decision.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and partners are supporting the Government of Sri Lanka with the return process. In addition to accompanying today’s process, the agency is distributing emergency shelter kits that can be used as a temporary measure. Shelter agencies will carry out shelter assistance for the returnees whose homes have been completely destroyed.

UNHCR staff will also make regular visits to the return villages to address and resolve outstanding concerns. Staff on the ground say in general, the IDPs are keen to go back to their villages of origin.

So far UNHCR has assisted the Government with facilitating the return of more than 220,000 IDPs in the east during the last two years while only a handful remain in displacement.

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WORLD BANK, U.S. GRANT AID FOR SRI LANKA

WASHINGTON — The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors recently approved US$24 million equivalent in additional financing to the Health Sector Development Project for Sri Lanka. It said that the 20-year loan, “will further support the Government of Sri Lanka’s ongoing health service delivery program, with particular emphasis on the special health needs in the north and east arising out of the recent conflict.”

The World Bank said that, “Half the project funds ($12 million) will be allocated to the conflict-affected Northern and Eastern Provinces.”

Additionally, the U.S. State Department has approved $6 million in funding to sponsor de-mining efforts in Sri Lanka. De-mining is central to the Sri Lankan government’s plan of returning most of 280,000 displaced persons now in government-run welfare centers back to their homes by year’s end.

 

Embassy of Sri Lanka

Washington, D.C

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