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Norway seeks cooperation on multiple fronts

03 Apr 2019 - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}      

Norwegian State Secretary (State Minister) Marianne Hagen, who was in Sri Lanka, shared her views about the latest development of bilateral relations between Norway and Sri Lanka. Norway played the facilitator role in peace talks between the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE during the ceasefire period between 2002 and 2006. In an interview with , she said Norway’s focal point was now blue economy. Excerpts: 

Q How do you assess the progress achieved by Sri Lanka in demining work? 

I think Sri Lanka has made tremendous efforts in demining. Actually, your country is close to clearing the whole landmass of mines by 2020. That is very encouraging. 
This year, Norway hosts the presidency of the Mine Ban Treaty and intends to assist Sri Lanka in achieving its important goal of becoming mine-free by 2020. Norway will contribute with Norwegian Kroner 60 million (approximately US$ 7 million) to the demining efforts. 

Q How unique is Sri Lanka’s achievement in this case when compared with other mine-affected countries? 

Sri Lanka has made tremendous efforts and it is inspiring to see how close you are to reach the set goal. That is why Norway has decided to assist Sri Lanka to reach that target. 

Q How do you find your visit to Sri Lanka? 

One of the purposes of my visit was to inform the Government about Norway’s contribution to Sri Lanka’s demining efforts and to visit the North to see how the clearance of land makes it possible for people to use the lands, which is important for economic growth. Norway has long-standing relations with Sri Lanka and I’m also here to acknowledge the good relationship and cooperation between our two countries, and to explore common areas of interest, such as commercial interests and multilateral issues, in particular on climate change, blue economy, and sustainable use of oceans. We are both ocean states though we are small countries. 

We also note that there has been considerable land release in the North and East. While we acknowledge the progress, and the time it takes to address these issues, we have to mention that there is still more that needs to be done in the reconciliation process for people who were affected on both sides of the conflict to heal

Over the years our relations have expanded in many areas including fisheries, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), renewable energy, the maritime sector and tourism. There is also scope to work together especially on issues relating to sustainable oceans

At present we are engaged in assisting Sri Lanka in its efforts to build an inclusive society with better economic prospects for all. This is done by assisting organizations working on gender equality, good governance and human rights, and also through assisting families with better livelihood, institutional strengthening, and encouragement for private sector involvement

Q Norway played the role of facilitator in peace talks between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). How have relations evolved over the years? 

We have excellent relations with Sri Lanka. Norway’s relations with Sri Lanka spans seventy years and started long before the peace talks. In fact, our relations started with bilateral cooperation focusing on aid. Now, Sri Lanka and Norway cooperate in multilateral fora, and also have commercial cooperation. Both our countries share democratic values and interests and are strong supporters of multilateral cooperation, international law including human rights, and a strong United Nations system including the UN Security Council. 

Q How has it evolved? 

Over the years our relations have expanded in many areas including fisheries, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), renewable energy, the maritime sector and tourism. There is also scope to work together especially on issues relating to sustainable oceans. 

At present we are engaged in assisting Sri Lanka in its efforts to build an inclusive society with better economic prospects for all. This is done by assisting organizations working on gender equality, good governance and human rights, and also through assisting families with better livelihood, institutional strengthening, and encouragement for private sector involvement. 

It is important to look at the present situation in Sri Lanka, which forms the basis of our priorities and close cooperation on bilateral, multilateral and commercial basis. In 2018, more than 17,000 Norwegians visited Sri Lanka and these figures are expected to further increase. So overall, we see a lot of potential to work together. 

Q You mentioned commercial interests. How do you see Sri Lanka’s potential in this sphere? 

In general, we wish to have very good relations with Sri Lanka in development, job creation, building inclusive societies, and pursuing the blue economy. We are depending on the ocean for food, medicine, minerals, transportation, and tourism. Therefore, we have a common interest in using the ocean in a sustainable way. Norway has been playing a leading role in the blue economy –to work out the best practices for integrated resource management. We also want to cooperate with Sri Lanka on that issue. 

Keeping in mind that only two per cent of the calories that the world population consumes comes from the ocean, we need to harvest more from the ocean, especially when the population grows. Norway is hosting the Our Ocean Conference in October this year and we hope to see Sri Lankan government being represented. 

Q What are the commercial activities lined up at the moment? 

In our communication with the government, we focus on ease of doing business, making and laying environment with flexibilities and respect for human rights. All of these are conditions that need to be in place. We also see great potential in clean energy, ICT, maritime and fisheries sectors. 

During my meeting with the Finance Minister, we focused on the creation of jobs for young people. I believe in engaging young people. That is the key everywhere. 

It is important to examine the present situation in Sri Lanka, which forms the basis for our priorities and close cooperation on bilateral, multilateral and commercial basis. In 2018, more than 17,000 Norwegians visited Sri Lanka and these figures are expected to further increase. So overall, we see a lot of potential to work together

Q Norway has expertise in oil exploration. How do you intend to invest in oil exploration activities in Sri Lanka? 

That will be up to the companies to decide upon. Norway has expertise in producing oil in an environmentally friendly and secure way. Also, with regard to the oil and gas industry, Norway has developed probably the most technically advanced fleet of vessels. You cannot find that anywhere else in the world. I think Norwegian companies will be good partners for Sri Lanka. 

Q How do you look at Sri Lanka’s strategic positioning in the Indian Ocean? 

It is always interesting to talk with politicians, the government and seek their views on the geopolitical situation. Sri Lanka has a unique geo-strategic location, which has great potential. However, it is important that Sri Lanka makes use of this unique location and works together with everyone to reap the benefit of her strategic positioning for the country and her people. 

Q How do you view Sri Lanka’s progress as far as the reconciliation process is concerned? 

Norway follows the progress of the reconciliation process very closely. We are very interested in it. I just came from the Office of Missing Persons (OMP), which has done important work. If you look at other conflicts in other parts of the world, giving answers to the families on what happened to their loved ones is extremely important for nations to heal. So, the OMP is a step forward. I think it is important to work being done. We will be following the progress very closely. 

We also note that there has been considerable land release in the North and East. While we acknowledge the progress, and the time it takes to address these issues, we have to mention that there is still more that needs to be done in the reconciliation process for people who were affected on both sides of the conflict to heal. 

Q What is your impression about Sri Lanka as a first-time visitor? 

Sri Lanka is a beautiful country and has huge potential.   

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