Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs meets Tamil Diaspora group

[TamilNet, Thursday, 17 September 2009, 23:35 GMT]
Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Hon. Stephen Smith, participated in a meeting organised by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) with representatives of several Australian Tamil organisations and individuals, chaired by Mr. David Holly, the Assistant Secretary, South and West Asia Branch of the DFAT, sources in Australia said. Minister Smith explained his government’s approach to handling the conflict in Sri Lanka.

Three senior officials from AusAID and another senior officer from DFAT also participated. Minister updated the participants on the Australian government’s advocacy efforts and aid strategy, and made the following points:

  • He realises that this has been a terrible conflict in which members of the participants’ kith and kin also would have been affected.
  • Sri Lanka having won the war still has to win the peace.
  • Australia has expressed privately and publicly to the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) the importance of the protection of civilians.
  • Australia has emphasised to the GoSL the necessity of free access to UNHCR, ICRC to the IDP camps.
  • Australia is repeatedly telling the GoSL that there has to be political reconciliation and is strongly urging the GoSL for the reconstruction of the war affected areas.
  • Australia on Sunday announced releasing $2 M for resettlement of IDPs and will announce another $3 M in the evening in parliament. This will make $5 M for the running of the camps and $5 M for resettlement of the IDPs in this financial year alone which started in July in addition to the $24.5 M given in the last financial year.
  • His government is very conscious of the very large Sri Lankan community, both Tamil and Sinhalese, settled in Australia.
  • Australia feels the immediate need to move the IDPs out of the camps as soon as possible.
  • His government is working through its High commissioner Kathy Klugman in Colombo and other like minded leaders of countries such as UK, USA and EU to send strong messages to the Sri Lankan government.
  • Either the Tokyo Co-chairs have to be reactivated or form another group of like minded countries to re-start political negotiations between the Tamils and the GoSL.
Tamil group raised the following concerns with the Minister, according to the attendees to the meeting:

  • Minister should officially invite the leadership of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the Tamil party representing the Tamils living in Sri Lanka.
  • The way GoSL is handling the IDPs is tantamount to giving collective punishment to the innocent Tamils under the disguise of weeding out former rebels and Australia should take direct action.
  • Pointed out Changing the demography of the north by Sinhalese colonisation and SL government’s plan on permanently dividing the North and East by developing an Air Base in the Welioya region.
  • Urged Australia to start an initiative to form a group of like minded countries at the forthcoming CHOGM in November and the Tamil Diaspora could muster support from the like minded countries including UK, Canada, and South Africa.
AusAid officials described bilateral plan through which Australia has been helping SL in Education, infrastructure development etc. but has shifted focus is on the camps, and emergency assistance such as for flooding in the camps and other needs.

Attendees suggested that AusAid should look into providing help in Micro Financing.

Mr. David Holly said that similar meetings with diaspora group will be held at regular intervals in the future, and that the Minister has indicated his desire to participate in such future discussions.

 

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