Sri Lanka

USAID Field Report Sri Lanka Dec 2005

Originally published

Program Description

USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) program in Sri Lanka aims to generate greater support for a negotiated peace settlement to end the island nation’s longstanding internal conflict by:

- Mobilizing and linking peace constituencies through support for inclusive, collaborative decision-making and resource allocation at the local level.

- Creating awareness and increasing understanding on key transition issues, and changing attitudes sustaining the conflict through information dissemination, advocacy, dialogue and debate.

- Capitalizing on key windows of opportunity to mitigate conflict in targeted communities and generating momentum for resumption of peace negotiations, on hold since April 2003.

Working with local nongovernmental organizations, informal community groups, media entities, and local government officials, OTI attempts to identify and support critical initiatives that move the country along the continuum from war to peace. Development Alternatives Inc. implements the $39 million small-grants program and manages OTI offices in Colombo, Trincomalee, Ampara and Matara.

Since the program began in March 2003, OTI has cleared 485 small grants worth approximately $14.1 million.

Country Situation

Escalation of cease-fire violations in North and East – Following an election-day grenade explosion in an Ampara mosque on Nov. 17, Muslim and Tamil communities on the Eastern Province coastline have been beset by general strikes and retaliatory communal violence that in southern Trincomalee District resulted in large-scale displacement. A Sri Lankan air force helicopter came under small-arms fire on Dec. 14 in the Ampara District in the first reported attack on an aircraft since the signing of the country's cease-fire agreement in February 2002. In the northern Jaffna District, two remote-controlled claymore mine explosions killed 14 soldiers. University students and faculty, protesting a further increase of troops in response, were fired on by soldiers trying to control the crowd. On the west coast, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) boats attacked two navy launches off Mannar Island. Three government sailors were reported missing.

Government steps up security measures – In the wake of the growing violence, the government reinstated a provision requiring all foreigners who are not attached to tsunami-relief organizations registered with the government to obtain permission from the Ministry of Defense before traveling to Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam-controlled territory in the North and East. Under this provision, which had been lifted after the cease-fire agreement in 2002, the government refused permission for Japan's special envoy to Sri Lanka, Yasushi Akashi, to meet with the rebel political wing leader, S.P. Thamilselvan. In the capital of Colombo, more than 900 Tamils were arrested and questioned in a Dec. 31 search-and-cordon operation. The operation was conducted amid published reports that LTTE suicide cadres were targeting top political figures in the capital.

Political efforts to restart talks – Newly elected president Mahinda Rajapakse is seeking to restart peace talks with the LTTE, on hold since 2003. The government and the LTTE have yet to agree on a location, although Norway, South Africa and various sites in Asia have been discussed. The president visited New Delhi during Christmas week in an effort to persuade India to play a more visible, hands-on role in the peace process, but the regional power publicly stated a preference to remain an interested observer. Thus, despite criticism from some of Rajapakse's political allies that Norway is biased toward the LTTE, Norway continues to be the chief mediator in the talks.

LTTE international fund-raising – According to newspaper reports, Sri Lankan Tamils living in France and Canada are being contacted by the LTTE and asked to donate money, more than $2,000 in some cases, to support the LTTE's efforts to establish a Tamil state in the northeast. Against this backdrop, published reports of the hawkish interpretation by LTTE chief negotiator Anton Balasingham of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran's Nov. 27 "Heroes Day" speech have led many Sri Lankans to believe that a resumption of hostilities on a larger scale could be imminent.

USAID/OTI Highlights

A. Narrative Summary

The Office of Transition Initiatives' Matara and Ampara offices awarded four new grants to mark the anniversary of the Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami. Two grants brought together multi-religious communities to honor the dead and celebrate spontaneous displays of unity shown in the days and weeks following the tsunami. One grant supported an Ampara-based nongovernmental organization and a community radio station to examine progress and setbacks on tsunami recovery from the victims' perspectives. The final grant supported a tsunami-memorial volunteer campaign in which multi-ethnic youth groups cleared debris, cleaned and chlorinated wells, planted trees, erected billboards with environmental and peace messages, and worked together to support tsunami-affected Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Christian religious places of worship to improve their facilities. Also, the Matara office supported the University of Ruhuna's nascent Conflict Study Center with furniture and books, as well as with a strategic-planning workshop that brought together participants involved in promoting peace and ethnic unity in Sri Lanka.

During December, the Colombo office responded to the growing insecurity and political uncertainty through two new national-level grants and one in the North-Central Province. One of the national initiatives will provide technical assistance to a local nongovernmental organization, the Multi Diversity Community, for the production of a weekly televised political discussion using puppets as the people's conduit to explore cross-communal perspectives on the key issues of the day. The show, expected to be aired on state television, will identify and examine multiple facets of contentious political transition issues and attempt, through public airing of views, to motivate policymakers into action. The other national grant will facilitate a bonding of fine-arts specialists from different regions of Sri Lanka to explore and appreciate mutual and unique aspects of their work in music, dance and theater - in the process demonstrating the value of power-sharing and consensus-building among diverse peoples. A show by the artists will be performed for national policymakers and key governmental officials in Colombo and will receive extensive radio and television coverage. The North-Central Province grant will provide for a series of community-based workshops on consultative priority-setting and decision-making. The grant also will have an inter-community awareness-raising session to make linkages across communities.

The Trincomalee office awarded a grant to local government officials district-wide to improve their service-provision capacity and perceived effectiveness within their communities. The tsunami disaster greatly increased the role of and expectations placed on these officials. This grant will enhance their ability to communicate with communities and support them in facing challenges and resolving issues that, left unaddressed, could create tension and social unrest. The Trincomalee office also awarded a grant to rehabilitate the public drinking-water supply system in a multi-ethnic community from which many residents were displaced during the country's protracted conflict. Though many of the displaced began returning in 2002 after the cease-fire agreement, the reintegration process has been difficult and tensions remain. The community participation involved in this grant is expected to stimulate communication and cooperation among the residents, while concurrently providing them with a tangible result of their collaborative effort.

B. Grant Activity Summary

Focus Area
Grants Cleared in December 2005
Estimated Budget for Cleared Grants December 2005
Total Grants Cleared Since March 2003
Total Estimated Budget for Cleared Grants Since March 2003
Civil Society Organization Support
$ 350,696
Civil-Military Relations
$ 216,980
Community Impact Activities
Conflict Management
$ 78,334
Election Processes
$ 74,166
Ex-Combatant Reintegration
$ 72,226
Justice/Human Rights
$ 147,181
$ 2,286,116
Mine Action
$ 2,198
Transparency/Good Governance

C. Indicators of Success

Local Government Officers Request Awareness-Raising Workshops – USAID/OTI recently developed a grant that supported increased interaction between Sinhalese and Muslim villagers from Eastern Province border communities and included a component of awareness-raising on the "cost of war" and "benefits of peace." The original grant was designed to alleviate tensions between communities and to create opportunities for the development of positive relationships. The activities caught the attention of local government representatives, and, recognizing the usefulness of these discussions, key figures from local government and security forces requested that the activities be expanded to include them. Participation in the workshops has been enthusiastic, with facilitators using local situations to demonstrate larger conflict issues in an interactive and participatory style. These local opinion-shapers and government representatives - with an increased awareness about the impact of war on their communities - are expected to contribute positively as role models and activists in supporting peace.

Envisioning Peace: The Conflict Study Center of the University of Ruhuna – USAID/OTI recently funded the first strategic- planning workshop for the Conflict Study Center at the University of Ruhuna in Matara. The center, housed in a university known for its political activity and student protests, is striving to be a voice for the promotion of ethnic unity, social harmony and peace. The 27 participants - including academics, students, local and international nongovernmental-organization representatives, religious dignitaries and police - came together to identify a framework and develop the mission and the larger vision for the Conflict Study Center. Initially established in 2003, the center has focused primarily on social-harmony- related activities within the university system. With the support of OTI, the center is seeking to move beyond the physical and social boundaries of academia and to participate in the broader community. "The center's primary objective of enhancing socio-cultural harmony in the country can only be achieved through building partnerships with others that are working at the community level, and with their active participation in planning, decision-making and program implementation," said Dr. Ranaweera Banda, coordinator of the center and senior lecturer in sociology at the university.

D. Program Appraisal

The growing level of violence in the North and East has polarized communities that OTI activities had worked to knit together. The impact of the presidential election on the peace process, meanwhile, remains unclear. The OTI/Sri Lanka program did well within this uncertain political-security environment to approve a substantial number of quality grant activities in December. Staff members continue to be challenged, however, to develop small-grant activities that address tsunami-recovery needs with a peace-building impact. Furthermore, with the program approaching the three-year mark, staff turnover is taking a toll. While a permanent regional program manager arrived at the OTI Matara office in late December, bringing OTI/Sri Lanka's newest team to full strength, the other three offices have program-development-officer positions to fill.


In January, OTI/Sri Lanka will:

- Seek to highlight through the media the "cost of war" theme to a national audience.

- Recruit new staff for program-development-officer positions in Ampara, Colombo and Trincomalee.

- Explore opportunities to meet tsunami-recovery needs with a peace-building impact through community solid-waste management.

For further information, please contact: In Washington, D.C.: Elizabeth Callender, Asia and Near East Program Manager, 202-712-1243,