By Dianne Silva
The German Ambassador to Sri Lanka Jens Ploetner spoke to the Daily Mirror on the LLRC, the reconciliation process and winning peace.
Q Since you’ve been in the country what has been your view of the reconciliation efforts being carried out by the government?
When I arrived in October 2009, Sri Lanka had just come out of the war. At that time there were 300,000 IDPs still in Menik Farm and since that time there has been tremendous progress. Infrastructure such as roads and houses have been built, electricity provided. Therefore I would say that a lot has been done in terms of resettlement.
However I would add - from our German experience after the war and the reunification – that while building infrastructure is very important it is only one side of the coin. You won the war - that is good - but now you have to win peace. Winning the peace is a much more complicated, multifaceted thing to do.
Therefore, on infrastructure, I would say—good job, but now that peace needs to reach the hearts and minds of the people. I remember President Rajapaksa said right after the war that this was an important goal, and on that front I think that there is still a lot of work to be done.
Q How much effort do you think the government has put into this human element of reconciliation?
I can only speak from my own experience: when I talk to people, while travelling in the North and the East extensively—people are very happy that the war is over, because they too suffered under this horrible scourge of terrorism. They no longer live in fear, thinking their child will be taken away by the LTTE. Of course they are also happy if they get a house—but there is more to life than that.
I arrived on this island when the reconstruction process started' but I don’t know where we stand on the reconciliation process as of now.
However there are a lot of positive aspects, like the trilingual policy and also the recruitment of Tamil speaking Policemen in the North. I am aware of the fact that we have to be patient; three years is a long time in terms of a human’s lifespan but in politics and state building it’s not very long—therefore patience is needed.
What saddens me is the fact that the good work done by the government is neutralized by certain other unnecessary things. For instance, this discussion about whether Tamil’s in the North are allowed to sing the national anthem in Tamil Language—I consider that a futile discussion. If they sing the Sri Lankan national anthem, which is a sign of their allegiance to this nation and to this country— does it matter what language they sing it in?
Q With regards to the LLRC what were your views on the Commission, the report and the action plan that they hope to bring out?
First of all I think the LLRC is an excellent document and I would like to add that there has been some unfair criticism about the commission—my country never joined in that criticism. We have always said that the members in the LLRC are respectable people from the civil society in Sri Lanka and therefore let’s give them some time and see what they come up with.
It turns out that the German position was right since there were a lot of very constructive elements in the report. I was very happy to see that the reaction of the government towards it was very positive.
However, we now hope that, for the sake of the people of Sri Lanka, we will soon get through the planning phase and start implementation,
Q Sri Lanka has got a lot of heat from the international community on the lack of rule of law, media freedom, and human rights. Therefore what has been your assessment of these areas?
I am a careful reader of the Sri Lankan media and I think there are a lot of courageous media personnel who voice their opinion. Recently I came across a news item in the Daily News in which the secretary of the Ministry of Mass Media said that it was the duty of the media to support the national agenda and fend off criticism from the outside. I would beg to disagree with the secretary, since it is not my conception of the duty of the media. Sri Lanka has a proud history of prestigious publishing houses and there should be a critical voice and check whether the government is on the right track.
Q With regards to the discussions being held between the government and the Tamil parties to arrive at a political settlement; do you think there are certain inhibitions from both sides to arrive at a solution? What has been your assessment of their intentions during your discussions with them?
When the structured dialogue between the government and the TNA, started about one and a half years ago, we were very pleased there was this recognition that a political solution was the next step and sitting down and talking about it, was the best way to proceed. I am quite frustrated that the talks have been on hold for some time now. I know that the concept of the parliamentary select committee is being debated—I don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty of it but I think that both sides stand to gain, if these talks go on.
QThe British High Commissioner in Sri Lanka recently made a statement about the military presence in the North, you said you travelled in the North, therefore what has been your assessment of the situation there?
I think we need an intelligent and open discussion about this issue. The President himself has told me that is he is not willing to take any risks that could recreate a movement like the LTTE — one can only understand this policy.
Therefore we come to the question of how security can be defined. I think on one hand there is the strict military way and any Army General will tell you that the more soldiers you have on the ground, the more security he can provide—that is true anywhere in the world. But then there is the wider definition of security. Although it may sound like a paradox, sometimes more soldiers means less security. That is why I think it is the responsibility of the politicians to see whether the military presence becomes counterproductive and creates a hindrance to the peace-building efforts of the government. Therefore, I am very happy that we are hearing reports from the government that the military presence in the North has been significantly reduced and I hope that this continues. Because the best security you have is that every Tamil man and woman is satisfied where he is and happy to be a citizen of Sri Lanka.
QWhat are some of the cultural and educational exchange programmes and development co-operation programs being carried out between the German government and the Sri Lankan government?
There have been a number of development cooperation projects done between the two governments; one was German Tech and the other was a large segment of the Mahaweli project, those were the big projects of the past.
Today we are very much into the vocational training sector and we are building another German tech in Killinochchi. We are also trying to make a humble contribution to reconciliation by helping to train 10,000 teachers in Tamil/ Sinhalese. The Ministry for National Languages is creating an online trilingual dictionary, with support from the German government. These are the things we are doing right now. But we hope to work closer with the government in the future, in areas such as environmental protection and climate change. Our strong point is capacity building in green technology and other cutting-edge scientific fields. So I invite young Sri Lankans to approach the German Academic Exchange Service, which offers scholarships and information on higher education opportunities in Germany. Germany has some of the top-ranked universities in the world, and there is a wide-range of courses offered in English. But something that a lot of people don’t know is that the university fees in Germany are much less compared to other popular education destinations.