The Sri Lankan authorities are reluctant to make good their promises that they will grant lucrative contracts to Czech businesspeople after the Czech Republic criticised the country over its violation of human rights in the United Nations, daily Hospodarske noviny (HN) writes yesterday.
Last year, Sri Lanka offered contracts worth billions of crowns as a reward for special relations with Czechs. The contracts are to help renew the country, devastated by decades of a civil war, HN writes.
However, Sri Lanka is now backpedaling on its promises because the Czech Republic criticised the violation of human rights in the country in the United Nations, it adds.
When former industry and trade minister Martin Kocourek returned from Sri Lanka last year, he had good news for Czech businesspeople. The Sri Lankan government offered contracts for the repair of a refinery in the town of Sapugaskanda to Czechs, HN writes.
The deal for half a billion dollars was not the only promise. The Sri Lankan government was also interested in the delivery of equipment for a hydraulic power plant and the construction of a new refinery in Trincomalee, it adds.
In Sri Lanka, Czech businesspeople had the door open to their businesses more than anyone else in Europe, HN writes.
The Czech Republic was one of the first to help the country after the 2004 tsunami and it keeps sending humanitarian aid there, it adds.
Besides, Czech arms makers, specifically the firm MPI Group headed by Michal Smrz, was delivering military materiel to the Sri Lankan government for a long time, helping it in its fight against the Tamil separatists, HN writes.
The firm heads a consortium that was to get the Sri Lankan deals soon, it adds.
“Now it seems that we will have to take part in routine tenders where the decision will mainly be made depending on the relations with Sri Lanka we have,” Czech ambassador to India Miloslav Stasek is quoted as saying.
The bilateral relations significantly cooled this March when Sri Lankan diplomats indicated to their Czech counterparts that the agreed-on deals may no longer be valid, HN writes.
The diplomatic fire was only caused by a few sentences made by Czech U.N. ambassador Katerina Sequensova which went beyond a resolution of the Human Rights Council, criticising human rights abuse in Sri Lanka, it adds.
“Sri Lankan diplomats were outraged at the Czech Republic being very active, perhaps more than necessary when speaking about the state of human rights in the country,” Rom Kostrica, a member of the Czech Chamber of Deputies who has just returned from a mission to Sri Lanka, is quoted as saying.
The March resolution was proposed by the USA and it was joined by the whole EU. Sequensova’s commentary went beyond the joint proclamation, HN writes.
Referring to its own sources, HN writes that primarily Czech arms makers are outraged at the position of Czech diplomats, some even speaking about a “deliberately destructive foreign anti-policy.”
“The gentlemen who are complaining should realise that other businesspeople are successful in Sri Lanka,” Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg is quoted as saying.
“I have read the statement by the Czech ambassador. It was absolutely in order and truthful,” he added.
The MPI Group was sending tanks, armoured personnel carriers, military vehicles and rocket launchers to Sri Lanka for almost ten years until the conflict ended three years ago, HN writes.
Czech diplomats and politicians are now trying to calm down Sri Lankan authorities, arguing that the Czech Republic is still a trustworthy partner, it adds.
Stasek has returned from his third visit to Sri Lanka since March, HN writes.
“We keep fighting, we are making our most,” he is quoted as saying.
He has scored the first success as Sri Lanka sent two rare female elephants to the Prague zoo, HN writes.
This was promised before the March diplomatic dispute, but then Sri Lanka was reluctant to do so, it adds.
The Czech Republic now plans to open its embassy in Sri Lanka and to stage a Sri Lanka Week in Prague, HN writes.
“I think that in the future the policies of the industry and trade and foreign ministries should be harmonised,” Kostrica said upon return from the country.