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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Saturday, May 28, 2005

USAID Field Report Sri Lanka Apr 2005

ReliefWeb: Source: United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Date: 30 Apr 2005

Program Description

USAID's Office of Transition Initiatives (USAID/OTI) program in Sri Lanka assists in generating greater support for a negotiated peace settlement to end the long-standing conflict. To accomplish this aim, USAID/OTI's two objectives are to: increase collaboration and participation among diverse groups to set and/or address priorities; and increase awareness and/or understanding of key transition issues.

Based on these objectives, USAID/OTI provides grants that: support positive interaction among diverse groups of people; promote participatory decision-making at the community level; improve livelihoods; and facilitate the flow of accurate information from multiple viewpoints.

Working with local NGOs, informal community groups, media entities, and local government officials, USAID/OTI identifies and supports critical initiatives that move the country along the continuum from war to peace. Development Alternatives, Inc. (DAI) implements the $14.8 million small grants program and manages USAID/OTI offices in Colombo, Trincomalee, Ampara and Matara.

Since the program began two years ago in March 2003, USAID/OTI has cleared 381 small grants worth approximately $10.172 million.

Country Situation

Tsunami recovery moves forward, but not without critics and concerns - More than three months after the tsunami, controversy and lack of clarity remained over the government's prohibition of reconstruction or rehabilitation of housing within a buffer zone - 100 meters in the South and 200 meters in the East - along the coast. Heavy rains in both regions, unusual this early in the year, flooded some areas where tsunami-displaced persons were living in donated tents, underscoring the need for immediate and more lasting solutions for housing. Frustration among tsunami-affected communities continued based on the perception that the government was not distributing relief or facilitating rehabilitation in a timely, efficient manner. The government required all NGOs involved in tsunami recovery to register with a new division of the Ministry of Finance in an effort to more closely regulate, monitor and generate revenue from organizations involved in tsunami response.

Eastern Province remains prone to violence - Security incidents in the Eastern Province continued to test the resilience of the cease fire agreement between the government and LTTE. During the first two weeks of the month, a Sri Lankan navy patrol boat clearly marked as carrying a Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission official came under gunfire from the shore near an LTTE base on the back bay of Trincomalee harbor, a Ministry of Vocational Training official was shot dead in Batticaloa, and a grenade was thrown into the Ampara office of one of the LTTE's rival Tamil political groups. The killings in Batticaloa District continued almost daily during the first half of April, targeting present and former cadres of pro-government Tamil paramilitary groups, arch enemies of the LTTE. The escalation of intra-Tamil violence follows the assassination in March of the LTTE political leader in Batticaloa and Ampara.

Killing of prominent Tamil journalist in Colombo has chilling effect - The body of a well-known Tamil journalist, D. Sivaram, with gunshot wounds to the head, was found on April 29 in a marsh near the Parliament complex outside of Colombo. Sivaram, who used the nom de plume "Taraki," had been abducted late the previous night by a group of armed men in a four-wheel vehicle just opposite a police station along the busiest road in the capital. A former militant with the anti-LTTE People's Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam, Sivaram traded his gun for the pen in the late 1980s and in the mid-1990s helped start the pro-LTTE website, Tamilnet. Among Tamil journalists he was the most vociferous in chastising former LTTE eastern commander Karuna, a school classmate in Batticaola, for breaking away from the northern LTTE command in early 2003. He was also highly critical of the JVP's opposition to a joint government-LTTE mechanism for tsunami relief and rehabilitation in the North and East. No arrests have been made in conjunction with the killing, though the Sinhalese NGO activist who was an eye witness to the abduction was questioned.

JVP ratchets up rhetoric, targeting NGOs, journalists and joint mechanism - At an April 6 rally of the National Patriotic Front in Colombo, JVP propaganda chief Wimal Weerawansa encouraged "Sinhalese patriots" to "spit on" what he described as "traitors" to the Sinhalese nationalist cause and "the LTTE terrorist called Taraki." Weerawansa's remarks, recorded on a DVD, are being investigated by the Inspector General of Police. The neo-Marxist JVP, junior partner in the ruling coalition government, continued to threaten withdrawal of support for the President's Sri Lanka Freedom Party should the government sign a joint mechanism for tsunami relief with the LTTE. Many bilateral donors, including the U.S., have stated that their funding for tsunami recovery in the North and East is not contingent on such a mechanism. Yet virtually all acknowledge the constructive role the joint mechanism, in the absence of the LTTE's proposed interim administration, could play in rapprochement between the government and LTTE. Analysts have suggested that a mysterious letter in which an unknown organization takes credit for Taraki's killing is a hoax aimed at discrediting the JVP. Police are investigating the letter, dated May 2 and signed by "Colonel Mayadunne, Therapuththabahaya's Brigade," an allusion to a Buddhist monk who in ancient times left the robes to join a Sinhalese army marching from the South to defeat a Tamil king in the North. The letter was first distributed to several pro-peace journalists and civil society activists on May 10 and threatens more violence for supporters of the LTTE.

USAID/OTI Highlights

A. Narrative Summary

OTI cleared 15 new grant activities in April for an estimated total value of $662,738.

Three new grants out of the Ampara office will support dialogues between Muslim and Tamil local government officials in tsunami-affected coastal communities, the repair and rehabilitation of a government youth training center in Batticaloa that OTI had previously assisted, and the clean-up of Batticaloa lagoon through a collaboration between local government, multi-ethnic youth volunteers and the Sri Lanka Navy. A fourth grant promotes collaborative priority setting in the multi-ethnic community of Central Camp, comprised of 12 colonies established as part of a government-facilitated irrigation scheme in the 1950s that relocated Muslim, Tamil and Sinhalese families to the area.

The Colombo office is phasing out coverage of the South now that the new office in Matara has opened. In April they approved seven grants which will support community consultations and/or projects emerging from collaborative priority setting processes in tsunami-affected divisions in the Matara and Hambantota districts.

Three new grants out of the Trincomalee office include three activities that mobilize multi-ethnic youth for relationship-building, peace skills training, volunteer community service activities, and vocational training. A fourth activity builds on two earlier grants to a Sinhalese community-based organization by creating story boards to provide narrative text for the positive, peace-oriented messages carried by 135 murals in four divisions.

B. Grant Activity Summary - March 2003 through April 2005

See Table

C. Indicators of Success

Addressing tsunami recovery needs with peace building approach in Ampara

Not only did the Dec. 26, 2004 tsunami result in catastrophic levels of death and destruction along the Sri Lankan coast, but it also presented an unprecedented opportunity for grassroots peacebuilding and for rapprochement between the government and LTTE. OTI's community-based programming has focused on activities that work at two levels - on the surface addressing tsunami relief and recovery needs while also challenging and ideally changing attitudes and perceptions that have fueled the 20-year conflict.

In Ampara, the district hardest hit by the tsunami and home to one of OTI's four field offices, OTI has funded the National Youth Services Council (NYSC) to perform cultural programs in 25 camps for tsunami-displaced persons. The early evening events help break the monotony and temper the stress for everybody in the camps, from the displaced to the camp management and Special Task Force (STF), the government Police unit in charge of camp security. Tsunami-displaced citizens help set up the show, arrange for costume changing rooms, and safeguard the musical instruments.

The peace building impact of the activity stems from the fact that the NYSC's performing troupe is comprised predominately of Sinhalese youth from Ampara town and areas further inland, with only a few Tamils and virtually no Muslims. Due to the perceived security threat, many of these youth have spent little or no time in the Muslim and Tamil villages that alternate along the Ampara coast. In this way, the OTI-supported cultural shows are developing empathy, trust and understanding among the communities.

The NYSC performers, aged between 18 and 30 years, have been well received and expressed surprise at how much they have in common with their tsunami-affected neighbors. Perceptions and attitudes altered through this rich experience, these Sinhalese youth are returning to their communities as change agents, helping to dispel some of the myths and rumors that even they had earlier helped perpetuate.

D. Program Appraisal

Given the Sinhala/Tamil New Year holiday in mid-month, which effectively shuts down all public offices and many private businesses for one week or more, April has never been a high-performance period for OTI's Sri Lanka program. This year, however, OTI cleared nearly twice the number of projects for almost triple the total estimated grant amount in April 2003 and April 2004 combined. More important than the quantity, however, was the quality and strategic fit of many of these new activities from both field offices in the East as well as the new Matara office in the South. This was reassuring considering the significant amount of turnover within the senior management level of the program since March, coupled with the dramatically altered context in which finding local partners with capacity to implement projects is increasingly challenging given the influx of resources and international NGOs and agencies involved in tsunami recovery.

NEXT STEPS/IMMEDIATE PRIORITIES

In May USAID/OTI Sri Lanka will:

* Work with OTI's new Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist to integrate OTI's monitoring and evaluation framework into the USAID/Sri Lanka Mission's Performance Measurement Plan, begin planning for collection of baseline data in strategic locations, and pilot viewer circles and listener groups to measure the impact of OTI media initiatives.

* Fully staff the new Matara office and fill remaining vacancies in the Ampara and Trincomalee offices.

* Discuss on an urgent basis the programming implications of an increasingly strident and threatening Sinhalese nationalist voice, as expressed by parliamentary parties as well as the anonymous letters sent to key figures in the media and NGO sector following the killing of Tamil journalist D. Sivaram.

* Seek to replicate community consultation activities piloted along the southern coast in tsunami-affected areas of the East.

* Enhance integration of local, regional and national media-related activities through visits to OTI's three district field offices by the Colombo-based Media & Information Specialist.

* Provide feedback from tsunami-affected communities to a targeted audience of key government officials and tsunami task force staff through weekly highlights in CD format of the Internews-implemented tsunami radio activity.


For further information, please contact:

In Washington, D.C.: Rachel Wax, Asia and Near East Program Manager, 202-712-1243, rwax@usaid.gov


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