- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Bird-in-hand lost

Sri Lanka’s trade minister is trying to make the Bush administration understand that it could damage the economy of the war-torn South Asian nation by insisting on standards that a country battling a terrorist rebellion cannot meet.

“Aid should not be used against a democratic government grappling against terrorism,” G.L. Peiris told editors and reporters at The Washington Times yesterday. “None of these restraints are applied against the terrorist group.”

Already Sri Lanka has seen a loss of assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which cut back annual aid to about $7 million last year from a high of more than $36 million in 2003, in anticipation of the country receiving more than $300 million in assistance through the Millennium Challenge Corp. (MCC). However the U.S.-funded organization delayed the assistance after the latest reports of human rights abuses against the minority ethnic Tamil population.

The government strongly denies the charges and insists it is defending the nation from that Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which has been fighting for more than 20 years for a separate homeland. The Tamil Tigers are widely designated as a terrorist organization, which pioneered the gruesome tactic of suicide bombings.

“The USAID was a bird in the hand. The MCC was a bird in the bush. Now both are gone,” said Mr. Peiris, minister for export development and international trade.

Mr. Peiris, who is accompanying a trade delegation, met Friday with Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher, who is now in Oslo, to meet with other nations that are the chief donors of foreign assistance to Sri Lanka. This week, the trade minister plans to hold talks with members of Congress.

He is also explaining the progress Sri Lanka has made over the past decades, even though it has been a nation at war. It has developed a thriving apparel business for top designers such as Victoria’s Secret, Ann Taylor and Abercrombie & Fitch.

“We want to stimulate interest on Capitol Hill and at the [U.S. Trade Representative’s Office] about the vibrancy of this industry,” he said.

Europe’s conscience

Hungary adopted a new role for itself as the conscience of Europe, especially when advocating a “peaceful and democratic regime-change” in communist Cuba.

Janos Koka, the minister for economy and transportation, explained his government’s uncompromising position on Cuba on a visit to Washington last week, when he released a paper that called on fellow members of the European Union to adhere to EU policy and raise human rights issues in all meetings with Cuban officials.

“It is the common position of the European Union that a political dialogue must be conducted with both the Cuban authorities and the [political] opposition, while human rights issues must be raised during all official visits and meetings between EU and member-state officials and their Cuban counterparts,” Mr. Koka wrote.

“We expect this common position to be fully respected by all [27] member states, EU institutions and European political parties. Contacts with opposition leaders are not an issue for negotiation.”

Mr. Koka said the Hungarian government expects the EU to go further to advance the goal of democracy in Cuba because “dialogue … for the sake of dialogue” fails to help any of the political prisoners held in Fidel Castro’s jails.

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