A visiting European Union delegation has reassured Sri Lanka that the process of GSP Plus renewal will be fair and impartial. President Mahinda Rajapaksa may heave a sigh of relief at a time when the whole caboodle of local and foreign organisations is trying to have that vital concession for Sri Lanka`s garment industry scrapped or used to undermine the country`s sovereignty and give a turbo boost to the on-going NGO rescue operation in support of the sinking Tigers. The EU once proved that it was capable of acting with an open mind as manifest from its parliamentary resolution (2006) banning the LTTE in spite of a well orchestrated LTTE propaganda drive against Sri Lanka and President Rajapaksa, whom they projected as a maniacal warmonger.
However, the ability of the NGO lobby to influence the thinking of the EU has become evident from the visiting delegation`s request that unhindered access be granted to ICRC, the UN and NGO workers engaged in humanitarian work.
Aid workers are most needed in the conflict zone, especially in the LTTE-held terrain, where most State agencies are now defunct. Many NGOs are genuinely interested in the well-being of the needy and the State has never had any problems with their personnel or operations. In fact, successive governments have benefited from their assistance in rural development, poverty alleviation, education, health care etc. It is only the newfangled NGOs acting as LTTE fronts and the INGOs infiltrated by the LTTE that have become problematic. The LTTE is dependent on them to reach out to the international community, secure supplies and in some cases even to facilitate the movement of its killer squads.
There has been evidence of relief items allowed into the North and the East having ended up in the LTTE`s hands. The LTTE has thus taken delivery of boats, life jackets, food, medicine, steel, cement and many other things needed for its war through its NGO and INGO allies. Well-fortified bunkers and underground buildings that the military has captured from the LTTE are testimony to the collaboration of some NGOs with the LTTE. A few weeks ago a UNDP employee was apprehended with a micro pistol on his way to Batticaloa from Kilinochchi. There may be some others like him abusing their privileged position as members of internationally recognised organisations to disseminate terror. Therefore, granting unlimited access to each and every NGO is a luxury that a state battling terrorism can ill-afford. It is incumbent upon the government to ensure that NGOs won`t act as LTTE agents, without tarring all such organisations with the same brush and going on a witch-hunt against them.
The EU delegation has stressed, inter alia, the need to improve Sri Lanka`s human rights record and stabilise the situation in the Eastern Province by disarming the paramilitary groups the continuation of the APRC process proper targeting of EC aid and the safety of journalists. It has asked the government to find a way to address the EU`s concerns and help it, if GSP Plus is needed.
That the minds of the EU delegates were not prejudiced was clear from an observation by EU Deputy Director General for Asia and Latin America Joao Aguiar Machado: `We need to find ways in which to work together. In this regard, the joint meetings with government ministers were constructive and we are confident that it will lead to a better understanding of issues.`
The ball is now in the government`s court. If it needs GSP Plus, it has to get its act together and re-qualify for it. However, the position of the EU on certain issues is equivocal. It wants the situation in the East stabilised. The situation that it needs stabilised was created through military action against the LTTE. But, the military campaign against the LTTE didn`t have the EU`s blessings. If not for such action, the East would still have been under the LTTE`s jackboot. The EU wants the paramilitary groups (read the TMVP) disarmed as a prerequisite for stability. How can the EU, which didn`t advocate the disarming of the LTTE to improve the situation in the East, call upon the government to disarm the breakaway LTTE group? In making that call, the EU is acting like a person who does not lift a finger, when a drowning man cries out for help but offers advice as to how he should be treated after he is saved by someone else!
Before advocating ways and means of stabilising the situation in the East, the EU ought to say whether or not it is happy about the democratic change that has occurred in that part of the country since the LTTE was driven away. Doesn`t the EU think that the banishment of the LTTE from the East and the opportunity given to the people to exercise their franchise and take over civil administration are tantamount to protecting human rights?
The EU has chosen to remain mum on the transformation of the EP Chief Minister S. Chandrakanthan. Does the EU appreciate the fact that he has entered the democratic mainstream?
The EU s call for disarming the TMVP is salutary. More importantly, it must be made to release the child soldiers in its ranks. But, how does the EU think the LTTE, which has scuttled all peace efforts and continues to unleash barbaric terror, which the EU has rightly condemned, should be handled? Shouldn`t the LTTE, too, be disarmed?
The EU has the discretion to either grant the GSP Plus to Sri Lanka again or to withdraw it, and it is up to Sri Lanka to do as the EU says or to forget about that concession and face the consequences. But, the EU, as a leading power bloc crusading for global democracy ought to avoid taking up positions that may smack of double standards. How the EU finally signed an agreement of co-operation with Pakistan immediately after 9/11 attacks in 2001 in spite of having refused to do so earlier on the grounds of human rights violations and nuclear tests is only too well known.
Let the EU be urged to tell Sri Lanka whether to disarm the LTTE or not.