The peace process should have a positve impact on human rights-Australian High Commissioner
By Bandula Jayasekara
Q: How would you describe the current relationship between the two countries?
Our bilateral relationship is in excellent shape and is growing strongly to our mutual benefit. We have many close connections through trade, education, migration, and membership of the commonwealth and of course our love of sport, particularly cricket. The extensive people to people links between our two countries including the presence of a large Sri Lankan community in Australia add a lot of warmth to the relationship and contributes substantially to practical links such as trade and investment.
Q: Australia is the second largest investor in Sri Lanka. Do you intend to make more investments now that the fighting has stopped in the country?
This is of course principally up to the private sector. We do have some major Australian investments here including the Ansell rubber glove factory, which recently has announced an expansion and the P&O container terminal in Colombo port. I know that a number of Australian companies are exploring opportunities for investment in Sri Lanka, particularly in the infrastructure sector. I am certainly encouraging them to do so. I am very confident that the investment environment will continue to become more attractive as the peace process proceeds.
Q: Is it true that Australia is going to invest heavily in the power sector in Sri Lanka?
Australian companies are definitely interested in working in this sector and some specific proposals are being discussed. As a major energy producing country we have a lot of experiences in the utilization of various energy sources, particularly coal and natural gas. We feel that this expertise would be directly applicable to Sri Lanka. The electricity market in Australia also has been through substantial reforms in recent years and some of that experience may be useful here.
Q: Could you elaborate on those specific proposals?
For example, an Australian Company Barclay Mowlem t has proposed a coal fired power plant in Hambantota.
Q: Do you support the American aim to tie up the aid programme to the North/East to the improvement of Human Rights program in the area?
That is not my impression of American policy. For our part Australia has been giving significant support to projects in the North and the East under our community resettlement programme since 1997. Most of our development activities in the North and the East are focussed on humanitarian objectives and our aim is to assist communities affected by the conflict. Our aid in that region accounts for about 30% of total Australian aid in Sri Lanka.
Q: What are your views on the current peace process?
Australia welcomes the cease-fire and the prospective negotiations between the government and the LTTE. We also welcome Norways efforts to facilitate the peace process. We hope that these effort lead to a lasting peace and we encourage all parties in Sri Lanka to support the peace process.
Q: How would Australia help Sri Lanka to work towards achieving peace?
We are not directly involved in the peace process but we have expressed our support publicly and we are increasingly utilizing our aid programme to assist grassroots peace- building initiatives in communities affected by the conflict. As the peace process proceeds we would be urging Australian companies to consider investing here in order to help ensure there is an economic peace dividend for Sri Lanka.
Q: A few Canadian PMs have said they want to get the large Tamil Diaspora in Canada involved in the peace process, by building a bridge between them and the Sinhala community. They have been talking about certain domestic exercises to draw consensus from the people. Does Australia have any plans to do any of the sorts?
I understand that some Sri Lankan community groups in Australia, both Sinhalese and Tamils have been organizing joint activities to strengthen links between the different ethnic groups such as cultural events and multi faith religious services to strengthen links between the different ethnic groups. We would certainly encourage that.
Q: Are you happy about the way the Sri Lankan authorities are handling the issue of illegal immigrants to Australia?
We have a very good cooperative relationship in this area, which we are working together to expand. We are seeking to assist the improvement of border controls and to deter people smugglers who mislead Sri Lankans about the prospects of entering Australia. I think this is having some effect. We also cooperate with Sri Lankan authorities to return people who have sought to enter Australia illegally. At the same time we are also running an active migration programme. About 1000 Sri Lankans migrated legally to Australia last year.
Q: The issue of child soldiers has been widely discussed even at the United Nations Special Session on Children recently. What are your governments view on the issue of child soldiers?
We are concerned about the reports of conscription of child soldiers. An Australian government statement at the recent UN human rights commission meeting in Geneva expressed our concern and urged all parties in Sri Lanka to support the peace process and avoid human rights abuses, which has the potential to jeopardize that process. The peace process should have a positive impact on human rights and we would certainly encourage all parties here to protect human rights.
Measures have been taken by Australia to stop the flow of funds to terrorist organizations. How successful are they?
There are some indications that these new measures are having an effect. Of course they have been in place only for about six months and it is difficult to be precise about their impact. The Australian government is committed to the enforcement of measures to combat terrorism.
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