Norwegian ambassador in Colombo bares agenda in Oslo
Norway, once hoodwinked the nation of Eezham Tamils with an ‘internal self-determination’ formula in the Oslo Declaration, now bares its deceptive face by talking about ‘development’ of Tamils with diaspora ‘partnership’ within a ‘Sri Lankan minority’ formula and the PC model. While the Norwegian ambassador in Colombo Ms Grete Løchen was baring the agenda in Oslo on Monday, the Tamil participants looped in were not only confirmed revisionists, habitual upholders of the Sri Lankan State and tangent-polity activists, but were also the representatives of the NCET, Tamil Women Organisation, a TCC outfit and the TECH-Norway. If the agenda can’t be perceived with its nuances and rejected outright at the face of Norway, the diaspora will prove only its impotence, commented Tamils for alternative politics in the island.
The Norwegian ambassador in Colombo was addressing a registered gathering of around 100 participants, most of them Tamils, at a conference convened by Øivind Fuglerud, Professor of Social Anthropology at the Museum of Cultural History of the Oslo University. A few months ago, the same professor convened another conference for the visiting Director of the Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology in Colombo.
Professor N. Shanmugaratnam, of the Department of International Environment and Development Studies of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences was vested with the task of making the ‘Closing Statement’ for the present conference on diaspora and ‘development’. Prof Shanmugaratnam is known to old generation of Eezham Tamils as a Chinese Communist stalwart.
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Delivering the star address of the conference, the thrust of the Ambassador’s speech was that Tamils, especially their diaspora, should erase the image that they are working for Eezham.
“The Norwegian government and the other governments continuously encourage the government of Sri Lanka to engage with the Diaspora. The Diaspora could be and should be a major contributor to the development of Sri Lanka and especially the conflict affected areas in the North and the East. Same message goes to the Diaspora. The Diaspora has to be strategic and conscious in its actions and public statements regarding calls for reconciliation and political solution, by avoiding feeding into the rhetoric of the current government that the Diaspora is still working for an Eezham. It doesn’t help the Tamils and their elected representatives living in Sri Lanka,” she concluded.
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The Norwegian Ambassador was favouring a ‘minority’ formula and was harping on international diaspora support to the PC model.
Hoping that the ‘development’ conference would focus “on how to get the diaspora involved in a more sustainable manner” she further said: “This is a crucial time for Sri Lanka and for its ethnic and religious minorities. The upcoming provincial council election in the North at the end of September could create more interest and new opportunities to get the diaspora, not only in Norway, but in other countries more involved in development activities.”
“The Northern Provincial Council could be an important percept for reconciliation and a political solution,” she proclaimed.
“For the diaspora in Norway, and the rest in the Europe and North America, the Northern Provincial Council could provide an important avenue,” she added.
According to the Ambassador, “the starting point seems more thinking the words of each other and others intention, rather than trying to reach out looking for opportunities without underestimating the challenging political context. And I see this as one of the key challenges of today’s Sri Lanka.”
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However, in her address, she was hinting at cutbacks in direct Norwegian assistance and implied that the strategy would be to exploit the resources of the diaspora.
“There is a gradual phasing out of the Norwegian development cooperation in Sri Lanka,” she said.
“I think the financial crisis is also playing a big role. Different governments have to make tougher priorities,” she observed.
She was hinting that the Tamils, on whom a genocide was committed and is being committed with the complicity of the West, are not going to be adequately cared as the West in its financial crisis now cares more only in using its limited resources in bringing out further disasters elsewhere, commented observers.
She was citing at China:
“China will be there as the big investor, coming in with not grants, but loans. And they are behind the all infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka today. And they will continue to be there,” she was aiming at insinuating some West-minded sections in the diaspora and at pricking competitive minds in India.
She was not prepared to concede to Norway’s complicity in the genocide:
“We have nothing shameful to hide, but we have to acknowledge the fact that Norway’s role in the peace process is still very controversial in Sri Lanka,” she said.
According to her, it was not because of the lack of money but because of the lack of priority Norway cuts down its involvement in the island. She assured that Norway doesn’t have the financial crisis like the others.
She was lamenting, “so far, we have seen limited organised diaspora in development engagement in the North and the East.”
She implied that the diaspora, rather than organised in its own ways, or visibly unorganised but coordinated in conscience, should pool even its meagre resources to the benefit of the agenda of the Establishments, observers at the conference commented.
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A visible part of the ‘development’ she was attesting to was the “reconstruction of private houses, kovils, mosques and churches.” [This was entirely effected through direct diaspora contributions]
Listeners at the conference didn’t fail to note the more Sinhalicised pronunciation Kovil in the Ambassador’s tongue than the commonly used and literature-attested Tamil pronunciation Koyil for a Hindu temple. The trend is the same with the Colombo-based diplomats and foreign journalists in spelling Vanni as Wanni and calling a Paalai tree as Palu tree, commented observers at the conference.
The Ambassador was shedding crocodile tears for the Tamil youth, in inviting diaspora assistance, observers said.
“One of the main concerns is the youth: the lack of opportunities; educational and work related. Likewise, an increase in domestic and sexual violence is much due to the increasing alcoholic use. In many ways, you see destroyed families and communities, which are in dire need of rebuilding economically, socially and psychologically. We see potentials for diaspora engagement,” she said.
All know why they are aloof and astray, who sustain an impunity culture inspiring them, and how it is not possible to resurrect them without delivery of justice to their nation, and in its absence, giving them their struggle against the ultimate culprits, commented the observers at the conference.
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Another part of the ‘development’ the Ambassador eulogising was the ‘culture’ they are promoting to achieve ‘national reconciliation’.
“The key focus is on how culture can contribute to national reconciliation. Since 2009, music cooperation has been established between Sri Lanka and Norway Concerts (Rikskonsertene) as the key partner on the Norwegian side and a Sri Lankan NGO on the other.
[She didn't mention that the concert was in partnership with a Sinhala NGO Sewalanka operating in the occupied country of Eezham Tamils. She also never mentioned in her speech the funding and collaboration Norway has been making towards extremist Sinhala outfits operating in the name of ‘development’ in the occupied country of Eezham Tamils.]
“Important component of this collaboration is the annual music festivals in Galle and Jaffna. This year, it was in Jaffna in March. With Tamil, Sinhalese and Muslim artists playing together with artists from India, Bangladesh, Norway, Palestine, Brazil. And, it was an amazing event. I attended it and the artists were highly achieving,” the Ambassador observed.
“Jaffna youth rocking with the Indian Bollywood artists. And it was really incredible,” observed Ms Grete Løchen at the conference, making no secret of her ‘counterinsurgency’ perception of ‘development’.
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Apart from Prof Nadarajah Shanmugaratnam, the other Tamil speakers at the conference were Mr. Yogarajah Balasingham, Mr Satchi Mylvahanam, Mr. Selvin Ireneuss Mariampillai, Dr. Ilango Balasingam, Dr Panchkulasingham Kandiah and Ms. Jeyanthi Kailainathan. All of them reside in Norway. Coming from the outside, Mr CVK Sivagnanam contesting for the NPC in Jaffna on the TNA ticket and Dr Malar, representing TECH-Malaysia spoke at the conference.
All Tamil speakers at the conference were critical in various degrees about the Colombo government, except Dr Malar, who was assuring the audience on finding no difficulty in getting the support of the Sinhala military in the island, if development is not connected to politics, observers at the conference said.
Dr Malar has been chosen for key participation at another meeting in Oslo organised by the Development Fund, a beneficiary of the Norwegian government’s development agency NORAD, informed circles said.
How many of the Tamil ‘development activists’ in the conference, thinking of the kroners they may get would have grasped the nuances of the Ambassador’s speech, was the concern of some of the observers at the conference. Those who could grasp, but habitually revisionist in orientation, fail to tell Tamils of the true nature of the impending dangers, was the added concern of the observers.
If the priority of the West and Norway is not on bringing in justice in the island, why should the Eezham Tamil diaspora get hooked up with their agenda of ‘development’ rather than thinking of its own ways, is a major question, the observers further commented.
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Just a day before the Norwegian Ambassador’s address at the conference, a feature appeared in TamilNet, Conceiving and designing strategy for Struggle and Development , not only predicted what would be coming out from the Establishments but have also responded to almost all the major issues touched by the Ambassador. The feature appeared on Sunday may be read along with the following excerpts of the address of the Ambassador on Monday.
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Excerpts from the speech of the Norwegian Ambassador in Colombo:
I hope that the discussion today would focus on how to get the Diaspora involved in a more sustainable manner.
This is a crucial time for Sri Lanka and for its ethnic and religious minorities.
The upcoming Provincial Council election in the North in the end of September, could create more interest and new opportunities to get the diaspora – not only in Norway – but also in other countries, more involved in development activities.
One observation from my side after one year in Sri Lanka is the high level of trust deficit at all levels.
Whether it is between the government and civil society, government and its minorities, government – international community, government – diaspora, and also between the communities.
The starting point seems more thinking the words of each other, and others’ intention, rather than trying to reach out looking for opportunities without underestimating the challenging political context.
And I see this as one of the key challenges of today’s Sri Lanka.
Now, I understand that many in the diaspora are not aware of the scale of the Norwegian development assistance to Sri Lanka.
I do see that it could be better in communicating what we have been, and are actually doing in the country.
Some facts about Norwegian assistance to Sri Lanka:
Long-term development cooperation started actually in 1967.
During the first decades integrated rural development was at the core of the Norwegian support.
Economic Development, Reconciliation, Peace-building, Good Governance, Human Rights and Democracy Building have been the main focus areas in recent years.
Support to economic development has aimed to improve the living conditions in the least developed parts of the country, whereas the comprehensive peace building support has focused on contributing to reconciliation and a lasting peace, strengthening the voices of the civil society and independent institutions such as the media, human rights defenders and women.
Norway has – since the end of the war – contributed 250 million Norwegian kroner, approximately 41 million USD, to reconstruction and resettlement related programmes in the North and the East.
In 2012 alone, Norwegian support to the North and East was 32 million Norwegian kroner, a little bit more than 5 million USD, through the UN, local and the international NGOs.
Some of the NGOs present here today have received lot of this funding, so you can meet them later today.
Total Norwegian support to Sri Lanka between 2009 and 2012 was 656 million Norwegian kroner, a little less than 110 million USD. This is approximately within a 4-year-time.
So, what are we doing in the North and East:
Humanitarian de-mining, shelter and permanent house-building, support to agricultural revival, vocational training and livelihood, legal counselling on land issues, assisting in getting birth and marriage certificates, national identity cards, as well as – through IOM – we have contributed to the re-integration of former LTTE cadres, after rehabilitation.
Special focus has always been on vulnerable groups such as war-widows and female-headed households through different livelihood programmes.
I will give you some examples:
Through de-mining, Norway contributed in 2011 and 2012 so that more than 19,000 families could return to their home areas.
400 ex-LTTE cadres have received social and economic assistance to re-integrate in the local communities after being released from the rehabilitation camps.
4,230 students, among them 31% women, have completed vocational training in 2012 alone.
Through UNDP programme supported by Norway, on resettlement and economic development, approximately 49,000 members of cooperatives within rice production, fisheries and animal husbandry, have received assistance.
Through FAO, 5005 farmers could return to their places of origin and be given seed grains in order to restart farming.
So, you see, it is a quite a heavy intervention.
In addition to our support to the North and the East, the Embassy of Norway supports organisations that work on human rights, good governance, media training, reconciliation and gender equality has also been a priority.
The support is channelled primarily through NGOs, mostly local, but also some international.
Another sector of collaboration is culture. The key focus on how culture can contribute to national reconciliation.
Since 2009, a music cooperation has been established between Sri Lanka and Norway Concerts (Rikskonsertene) as the key partner on the Norwegian side and a Sri Lankan NGO on the other.
Important component of this collaboration is the annual music festivals in Galle and Jaffna.
This year, it was in Jaffna in March. With Tamil, Sinhalese and Muslim artists playing together with artists from India, Bangladesh, Norway, Palestine, Brazil.
And, it was an amazing event.
I attended it and the artists were highly achieving, Jaffna youth rocking with the Indian Bollywood artists, it was really incredible.
Since last year, we have also a technical cooperation between Norwegian and Sri Lankan institutions, has been established, both within fisheries and disaster management.
For many decades, Norway has been a major player in Sri Lanka. Not only in the [inaudible] of funding, but also in the humanitarian development policy dialogue with the government of Sri Lanka, both through the Embassy and through our partners. I would like to mention that Norwegian Refugee Council was an important player as a good example in this regard, regarding humanitarian policies and a strong defender of the importance of the humanitarian space.
Norwegian development assistance is not always as visible as the tradition of many other countries.
There are good reasons for not putting the Norwegian flag on everything. We have nothing shameful to hide, but we have to acknowledge the fact that Norway’s role in the peace process is still very controversial in Sri Lanka.
We are easily seen with a hidden agenda.
We, as a government, we have to think through carefully, not to put some of our partners in difficulties, but flagging our support. Sometimes discretion is better and more effective.
And some of the challenges I see in the development sector:
There is a gradual phasing out of the Norwegian development cooperation in Sri Lanka.
Just to give you some figures, last year, the funding managed by the Embassy was approximately 65 million Norwegian kroner.
This year, it is approximately 53 million Norwegian kroner.
This is the funding managed by the Embassy alone and that does not include funding directly from MFA or NORAD.
Not only Norway is reducing, but most the countries and the UN are reducing development assistance to Sri Lanka.
This is related to Sri Lanka’s middle-income country status, achieved in 2010.
Likewise, I think, the financial crisis in the West is also playing a big role.
Different governments have to make tougher priorities.
Where are the urgent needs in the World today? I will give an example: The UN consolidated the appeal to Syria, this spring, was the largest humanitarian appeal in the UN history, of 5 billion USD.
So, in the context of financial crisis, for many European countries – we are not talking about Norway, we are not in the financial crisis – but you do see priorities being made by different Western countries.
Before coming to Sri Lanka, I was in Afghanistan. We see there is a tendency also in Afghanistan. There is less funding.
Like Afghanistan, Sri Lanka is not on the top of the International Agenda.
Four years after war, there is no huge humanitarian crisis although there are humanitarian needs, especially among the vulnerable groups such as the war widows and female-headed households.
However, I do not want to be too pessimistic about the situation.
There are still big development actors in Sri Lanka in the years to come.
I mean, Japan is a big player. Australia – big programmes. South Korea, India, and also EU, still contribute.
But, you will see limited contribution from Western governments. […]
And China will be there as the big investor, coming in with not grants, but loans.
And they are behind the all infrastructure and projects in Sri Lanka today. And they will continue to be there.
So, what to do: Less funding. But, there are still recovering development needs.
It is important for all parties making clear priorities. We have to create new partnerships, involving private sector and we have to think out of the box.
And I do think that the Diaspora could have and should have an important role today in assisting the North and the East.
So far, we have seen limited organised diaspora development engagement in the North and the East. […]
What you see is more on individual basis.
Remittances are being sent.
And, as you know, this [inaudible] remittances to Sri Lanka, is playing an extremely important role for the economy of Sri Lanka.
Last year it was altogether 6 billion USD. It is one third of the countries revenues.
The most visible effects of the North and the East is reconstruction of private houses, koavils, mosques and churches.
And in Jaffna city, you see the youth with motorcycles, the latest mobiles, and unfortunately, a higher level of alcohol consumption and hanging out.
You see little bit of the same picture in the East.
There is private money out there. But, not always being used in benefit of the community at large.
And, I have been traveling to the North and the East, talking to people, with the local politicians, civil societies and ordinary people in the villages.
One of the main concerns is the youth.
The lack of opportunities, educational and work related.
Likewise, an increase in domestic and sexual violence, much due to the increasing alcoholic use.
In many ways, you see destroyed families and communities, which are in dire need of rebuilding economically, socially and psychologically.
But, we see potentials for diaspora engagement.
I am not an expert here. I am just raising some issues.
How can we get home remittance assistance, from mainly helping only those with relatives abroad, to supporting whole communities?
We need closer diaspora cooperation, partnership and professional development actors, NGOs knowing the context and the challenges in doing development activities in the North and East.
My experience, after visiting many of the Norwegian funded projects is that these actors know intertwines as sensitivities regarding getting approval of projects.
They know where are the possibilities, where are the [inaudible] and they have established working relationships with local and central authorities. I think this is extremely important, knowing the context and making these partnerships.
And we see the Northern Provincial Council election due to be held in September as a possibility.
Tamil political parties contesting under the TNA, are according to polls, expected to do very well and capture power in the regional administration.
And I think development of Sri Lanka also expects this.
The Northern Provincial Council could be an important percept towards reconciliation and a political solution.
For the diaspora in Norway, and the rest in the Europe and North America, the Northern Provincial Council could provide an important avenue, through which efforts at assisting reconstruction and capacity building of local administration in the North can be channelled. There are possibilities to look for.
Finally, the Norwegian government and the other governments continuously encourage the government of Sri Lanka to engage the Diaspora.
The Diaspora could be and should be a major contributor to the development of Sri Lanka and especially of the conflict affected areas in the North and East.
Same message goes to the Diaspora.
The Diaspora has to be strategic and conscious in its actions and public statements regarding calls for reconciliation and political solution, by avoiding feeding into the rhetoric of the current government that the Diaspora is still working for Eezham.
It doesn’t help the Tamils and their elected representatives living in Sri Lanka.
I am looking forward to the discussion today.