Confluence Interview with MP Andy Love

Andy Love, Labour M.P. for Edmonton and Chair of the inter party Parliamentary Group on Sri Lanka talks to Confluence

"I was concerned that when Kofi Annan the Secretary General went to Sri Lanka and a decision was taken that he shouldnít go to the northern part of the Island Ė that was a very big mistake."

Confluence: The tsunami was expected to bring the warring parties together. but as the world knows, the reverse came true, the high point being the denial of access to the Secretary General of the UN himself, followed by similar treatment accorded the Canadian Prime Minister to those areas of the North East of Sri Lanka which saw the worst devastation and deaths in the country. Also the militarisation of relief efforts in areas where there has been a history of confrontation and conflict has added to existing tensions, resulting in allegations of uneven and insensitive distribution of aid Ė all reasons to cry foul!

A.L: At the outset let me tell you that I was concerned that when Kofi Annan the Secretary General went to Sri Lanka and a decision was taken that he shouldnít go to the northern part of the Island Ė that was a very big mistake. 

I do think it was important for all concerned that a person who is co-ordinating the relief effort in what has been an absolutely terrible disaster should have been able to see for himself the efforts being made right across the country and among all communities to try and relieve some the worst problems encountered as a result of the tsunami. 

I think it raised a lot of concerns here and indeed I have taken up and continue to take it up as have a number of my colleagues with the Minister of International Development, Jack Straw, and others and they have given us some reassurance certainly in terms of the international development effort that aid is getting through to all parts of the country. 

But I know that there are continuing concerns in Sri Lanka and indeed among the communities living in this country to have things dealt with entirely fairly, and this is something we continue to ask our authorities, not only in Government, but all of the NGOs and aid organisations as well that are working in Sri Lanka to ensure that everyone who has been affected - and we know that people in the East and the North have been very, very badly affected by the tsunami - are receiving the same level of support that other communities in Sri Lanka are receiving, and we continue to monitor that process.

C: How would you ensure that your desire for fair play and equitable distribution are translated into practice. Have you set up precise mechanisms?

A.L: As you know I am one of the co-chairmen of the Sri Lanka Group, the other co-chair being Lord Naseby. He has just returned from Sri Lanka having been to the North East where he has close connections . He went to Sri Lanka to see for himself how the relief effort is working out and heíll be reporting back to us what his findings are.

As you know we are entering a period where there is going to be a general election.  I am speaking to the Sri Lankan authorities for whatever support for a Parliamentary delegation to go to Sri Lanka for a similar purpose to monitor the situation to ensure that aid is being applied in the same way in all parts of the country.

In other words, we do our monitoring through Parliament, through access to Ministers and I know that a number of relief organisations have been to Parliament recently and have been questioned quite intensely and they have given us some reassurance that the aid that is being channelled is being handled sensitively and that they are working with both communities to ensure that the aid is getting through to both the Tamil and Muslim communities. But of course we want to continue to monitor that.

C: You will pursue the question of having a British Parliamentary delegation visit Sri Lanka at this point of time, will you?

A.L: I am speaking with the Sri Lankan High Commission about this matter. But we may have to delay this because we realise they have far, far more important things to do in the aftermath of the tsunami to raise money in this country and therefore we didnít think it appropriate for us to jump in and see that a delegation goes at this stage.

But now that we have some confidence that the relief effort is beginning to make some difference to people in Sri Lanka, and especially as we now feel that with less intense international media interest in the tsunami - which is inevitable - it may be appropriate for a parliamentary delegation to not only go to see what has happened, but also to try to keep media attention in the United Kingdom on what has happened there to continue to raise money and support the need for rehabilitation in Sri Lanka.

C: The Sri Lanka National Question, as you know, has come a long way that it surely has given clear insights to the international community into what needs to be done to secure an equitable solution. You yourself have been most eloquent on Cyprus when you have been quoted as having said that any settlement must be based on the unity and integrity of the island as clearly set out in the high level agreements and in the Gali set of ideas to create a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation comprising two politically equal communities. Here surely is the broad philosophy underlying a settlement for Sri Lanka?

A.L: There are many, many similarities between Cyprus and Sri Lanka and some of the similarities are quite surprising.  But of course there are also major differences, the biggest of them being in the numbers of people missing and the numbers of people killed during the conflict in Sri Lanka, the numbers in Cyprus being much much less.

I certainly think that some of the negotiations that are being carried out in trying to bring the two communities in Cyprus together to negotiate an equitable solution, maybe that experience can be used in trying to ensure that we have a proper perspective in peace talks in Sri Lanka.

But I am not sure if the overall bi-zonal, bi-communal federal solution will be entirely appropriate Ė I mean that could be something that the two communities could look to as a way forward - but it has to be for the people of Sri Lanka to decide exactly what that solution should be.

C: Yet, the resolution of longstanding conflicts in recent times has shown that international intervention in varying degrees has delivered results, be it sanctions in apartheid-ridden South Africa, UN intervention in East Timor, or NATO intervention in Kosovo.  As one of the longest-running civil conflicts in the world, would not Sri Lanka qualify for such a course of action by the world community?

A.L: If we find Sri Lanka higher on the international agenda, we would agree absolutely and heartily with that.  But, in the Cyprus situation, my constituents say to me and, when I go to Cyprus, the people in Cyprus say to me as well, it is now thirty-one years this year since the division of the island and it has gone on long enough and shouldnít we now be able to re-unite on a reasonable basis? 

Recent international efforts havenít as yet been successful in Cyprus and of course havenít as yet been successful in Sri Lanka, but I do agree strongly with the point you made that we need to push Sri Lanka to the top of the international agenda for a number of reasons: firstly to stop the horrendous loss of lives suffered through the worst period of the conflict in that country. We simply cannot return to that.

I think it absolutely incumbent on all the parties in Sri Lanka, leave alone just the Government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers, but it is incumbent for all the parties to come together to redouble their efforts to find a viable solution, because one of the great difficulties in all of these programmes is that, if you come up with a quick fix, it simply will not last and could lead to a breakdown and then you will be faced with the same problems you had previously. 

We have to make sure that whatever the solution we come up with meets with the approval of all the communities in Sri Lanka and is understood by Sri Lanka and the international community to be a long-term solution to the division of the island.

C: In Sri Lanka one sees the Norwegians waging a lone struggle to set up a Peace Roundtable in the face of heavy odds from religious fundamentalist groups and the Marxist Left who want to see them out.  Britainís voice is hardly heard in support of the Norwegians.  With Britainís accession to the Presidency of the European Union and its membership of the Security Council, there is surely much greater clout this country can exercise on behalf of the peace process?

A.L: I have been speaking to Jack Straw and I know that the British Government firmly supports the initiative taken by the Norwegians in trying to bring the parties together for negotiations. Perhaps we havenít stated that as often or as openly as we should have done, but I do know we strongly support the initiatives.

Britain has had a long historical relationship with Sri Lanka and we have very large Sri Lankan communities living here in the United Kingdom and they take a very great interest. For all these reasons and the long experience we have can be brought to bear and we would want to do so. 

I take your point about the religious Right and the Marxist Left being very critical of the Norwegians, but I think as I understand it, they do retain the confidence and the trust of all the parties to the negotiations, and as long as this is so we must support the efforts of the Norwegians.

We do really need a catalyst, whether it is the Norwegians or someone else in the international community to bring the parties together and come up with a viable solution.  I should certainly think that, if Britain is to play a more prominent role, I am sure we would be sympathetic in doing that as long as it meets with the approval of all the parties.

Confluence, January/February, 2005

A reader comments :

The interview with Andy Love MP offers some insights into the thinking of the Chairman of the British Parliamentary Group vis-a-vis Sri Lanka, particularly in the context of the ethnic blood-letting that has sorely divided the country over a considerable period. With a long history of relations between the two countries or, possibly, because of that reason, both before and after independence, Britain gives the impression of a distant onlooker rather than that of a country committed and involved, even if remotely, in its political affairs.

Andy Loveís expressed deep concern over the refusal of the Sri Lanka government to go along with Kofi Annanís visit to the North in connection with Tsunami aid reflects increasingly the bitterness that refuses to allow even humanitarian priorities to transcend national political barriers in present day Sri Lanka, that has indeed opened the eyes of the world to the rationale behind the long drawn out Tamil liberation struggle.

From recent events it is becoming clear that the lack of palpable confidence and trust between the respective communities is hurting not only Tsunami aid distribution, but also the internationally supported peace process between the government and the LTTE/TNA (Tamil National Alliance).

Unlike the Liam Fox bipartisan approach mooted earlier and accepted in principle by the two main political parties in the South (only to be abrogated even before the ink on it had dried!), the envisaged British Parliamentary delegation to the country would do well to bear in mind past perfidy and chicanery by the majoritarian Sri Lankan political establishment when attempting to carve out new initiatives for bringing about a more challenging rapprochement in view of an added contentious political player, the JVP now in Government, and the LTTE/TNA to add strength to the Norwegian facilitatory role.

Modern history of internal conflicts is replete with examples of their worsening with time, resulting in colossal destruction of lives and assets all round. 

The worldwide fight against poverty, malnutrition, hunger, disease and denial of basic livelihoods as the fundamental right of every citizen can never be realised until acceptable solutions are found to existing internal conflicts.  As current Chairman of the EU and indeed of the UN Security Council, this is Britainís great moment to add muscle to the Norwegian endeavour to right the wrongs of post-colonial Sri Lanka.

 

###

Posted February 7, 2005