Sri Lanka

USAID Field Report Sri Lanka Jun 2005

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Program Description

USAID's Office of Transition Initiatives (USAID/OTI) program in Sri Lanka generates greater support for a negotiated peace settlement to end the island nation's longstanding internal conflict. To accomplish this, USAID/OTI: mobilizes and links peace constituencies through support for inclusive, collaborative action-planning in strategic communities; increases understanding on key transition issues and to change attitudes sustaining the conflict through information dissemination, advocacy, dialogue and debate; and capitalizes on key windows of opportunity to mitigate conflict in targeted communities and to generate momentum for resumption of the peace process that has been on hold since April 2004.

Working with local nongovernmental organizations, 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 in March 2003, USAID/OTI has cleared 416 small grants worth $11.57 million.

Country Situation

Tensions continue in Trincomalee -- The month of June saw increased tensions in various communities of Trincomalee, on the east coast, as the controversy surrounding a Buddhist statue placed near the central bus stand continued. A grenade was thrown at the house of the leader of the Tamil People's Forum, who has been spearheading efforts to remove the statue. Elsewhere in Trincomalee, two Buddhist statues were vandalized. In a Sinhalese section of the district, two Scandanavian nationals from the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission were attacked by stone-throwers suspected to be supporters of the nationalist-Marxist JVP party. Also that day, in the same area, a truck hired by the Norwegian Refugee Council to transport relief supplies was set afire.

President signs joint mechanism -- Despite strong opposition from two key Sinhalese nationalist parties, and a "fast until death" pledge by a prominent politician, President Chandrika Kumaratunga made good on her promise and signed the document setting parameters for government-Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) collaboration on the distribution of tsunami aid in the North and East. Eight days before the June 24 signature, the government's coalition partner, the JVP, fulfilled its threat and withdrew from the government in protest of the agreement. While the government began a campaign to promote the joint mechanism, Sinhalese extremists and Muslims expressed their dissatisfaction through strikes and rallies. While Sinhalese nationalists view the mechanism as a step toward dividing the country, Muslims complain that they should have been given a signatory role.

LTTE issues an ultimatum to the government -- On June 30, the LTTE gave the government two weeks to increase security for LTTE cadres traveling through government-held areas. This followed a mine attack that wounded a female cadre. LTTE high-ranking officials warned that if the government failed to supply adequate protection, they would be forced to provide their own. This would create the potential for confrontation, given the terms of a cease-fire agreement and the LTTE's continued accusations that the government is supporting the breakaway Tiger faction leader known as Karuna to attack the LTTE.

USAID/OTI Highlights

A. Narrative Summary

OTI cleared 20 new grants, for a total of $863,733 during June.

The Ampara office cleared three grants. All three fund multi-ethnic groups to work together on activities ranging from the celebration of religious festivities to the renovation of a road. These initiatives will bring students and adults from various ethnic communities together to learn from one another and reshape attitudes that fuel conflict in the nation.

The new Matara office approved its first three grants during June. The activities all support better communication across communities. For example, one grant trains journalists to report on conflict in more impartial and less sensationalistic ways. Another supports interactive street theater around inter-ethnic and peace issues.

The Trincomalee office had five new grants in June. Among these grants is one to support the establishment of a multi-ethnic network of "differently-abled" youths in an area that is a hotspot of unrest among Sinhalese extremist groups. The empowerment of disadvantaged youths will generate greater understanding of the role and importance of minority groups in society as a whole.

The Colombo office had nine new grants, including three with a national scope and four in the north-central region. One of the national grants supports a media advocacy campaign around the merits of the joint mechanism for tsunami relief. Another provides for workshops to train local-level activist leaders on federalism. The north-central grants fund rehabilitation of irrigation tanks in a zone where many villages were severely damaged during the country's long ethnic conflict.

B. Grant Activity Summary -- March 2003 through June 2005

Focus Area
Grants Cleared in June 2005
Estimated Budget for Cleared Grants June 2005
Total Grants Cleared Since March 2003
Total Estimated Budget for Cleared Grants Since March 2003
Civil Society Organization Support
1
$ 35,448
9
$ 242,773
Civil-Military Relations


1
$ 209,369
Community Impact Activities
6
$193,090
260
$8,270,757
Conflict Management
3
$ 70,666
50
$ 901,247
Election Processes


2
$ 10,845
Ex-Combatant Reintegration


1
$ 72,226
Justice/Human Rights
1
$ 28,279
5
$ 145,875
Media
9
$ 536,25
49
$ 1,481,372
Mine Action


2
$ 2,198
Transparency/Good Governance


37
$ 230,935
TOTAL
20
$863,733
416
$11,567,597

C. Indicators of Success

Muthur Peace Committee responds to violence -- Seruvila Division is a majority Sinhalese community sandwiched between the predominantly Muslim division of Muthur and LTTE-controlled Tamil villages to the south. A grant was developed with the Multi-Ethnic Community Action Group to support a "Peace Perehera," or traditional parade, in June to celebrate with the neighboring Tamil communities the Sinhalese Buddhist holiday of Poson.

However, during the planning process prior to Poson, the shooting of an off-duty policeman, an attack on the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, attacks on vehicles, and a grenade attack that injured several people raised tensions in the area, resulting in the decision to postpone the celebration.

The Muthur Peace Committee, in collaboration with the Multi-Ethnic Community Action Group, organized community meetings to try to resolve the situation and maintain calm. The initial meetings were followed up with visits to villages and individuals to provide assurances of safety and security. Another meeting, involving 350 people, was convened a few days later. Community representatives from all divisions participated in this meeting, and all agreed to establish sub-committees to ensure speedy intervention in situations where there might be the possibility of violence erupting again.

Through the establishment of these sub-committees, the "Peace Perehera" is now being rescheduled for July. Each sub-committee is being assigned specific tasks, planned to increase interaction and communication between the communities to ensure the success of the event, and, more important, to ensure the continued security of residents in the area.

English and peace mix in Hambantota -- USAID/OTI Sri Lanka, in collaboration with its local partner, the Hambantota District Chamber of Commerce, initiated a six-month English-language training program in 18 centers for 600 unemployed youths who had completed their basic education. The program was designed to be practical, enabling participants to use their acquired language skills to gain employment. But it was also envisioned as a means to promote tolerance and understanding by bringing together youths from the Sinhala and Muslim communities. By using innovative textbooks, course work and debates, students examined relevant issues on ethnic and religious conflict, and received information in support of peace-building and peaceful co-existence among the various communities. One Sinhalese participant remarked: "I am now able to understand the cultural and religious values of the Muslim community, and I have made some Muslim friends."

The results show that by giving English-language training to young people in Hambantota district, their interaction, mutual understanding, and tolerance of different ethnic and religious communities has improved, along with their prospects for future economic success.

D. Program Appraisal

June was a busy month for OTI/Sri Lanka in terms of program development, implementation, program strategy refinement, and the official opening of the new Matara office. The Trincomalee office remained challenged by the strikes and tensions facing that district, which has become the focus for Sinhalese extremists opposed to the joint mechanism, in particular, and government dialogue with the LTTE in general. Also in June, at its quarterly program-development meeting, OTI acknowledged the importance and potential high impact of linking local, regional and national initiatives. With this in mind, staff committed to an approach to the university sector as a means of reaching large numbers of influential youths and opinion-shapers within academia. In addition, in its continuing effort to link the tsunami recovery and peace processes, OTI began attempting to increase transparency and accountability of the controversial, yet critically important, government power-sharing arrangement through media and information activities, including a tsunami-recovery radio program implemented by Internews.

NEXT STEPS/IMMEDIATE PRIORITIES

In July, USAID/OTI Sri Lanka will:

- Increase activities in tsunami-affected districts as funds from the recently passed supplemental funding bill come online.

- Hold a retreat for OTI implementation staff, where relevant field office staff will exchange ways of conducting business as program funding levels increase.

- Roll out newly developed mechanisms for measuring the impact of media initiatives, involving qualitative data from field-based focus groups and statistics on media outreach from Colombo-based survey and research organizations.

- Continue to identify information gaps and seek opportunities to increase communication on key peace and tsunami-recovery issues, with particular focus on the medium of radio.

For further information, please contact:

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