|Handshakes all round, but not all
were pleased with the aid package
A Japanese envoy at the donor conference in Tokyo, Yasushi Akashi, described the pledges of loans and grants as a vote of confidence in Sri Lanka.
The amount includes one billion dollars each from Japan and the Asian Development Bank and $293 million from the European Union (EU).
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said the money would lay the foundation for peace in his country.
The aid pledges came a day after Mr Wickremesinghe offered the Tamil Tigers “a significant role” in a new provisional administration in the north and east of Sri Lanka.
The conference was hosted by Japan and attended by representatives of 51 countries and 22 international organisations, including Sri Lankan peace broker Norway, the United States, and the World Bank.
Not all pleased
Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s party, meanwhile, vowed to re-negotiate the aid pledge.
Her People’s Alliance (PA) said the aid money would draw the island into a “debt trap” and if returned to power, it would not honour the agreements.
“People of this country will have to pay it back. We warn that we will renegotiate these agreements when we come to power,” PA spokesman Sarath Amunugama said, adding that “the $4.5 billion the government says it has got is not some gift from Santa Claus.”
The Tamil Tigers have said they want to see more details of the government’s offer, but optimism is high as the aid package is conditional on progress in peace talks between the Sri Lankan Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ellam (LTTE).
|Sri Lankan President fears
The LTTE boycotted the aid meeting to protest against the alleged failure of the Colombo government to deliver on promises made to them at six rounds of face-to-face talks since September.
“We are convinced that this conference will bring a very important signal to LTTE that they should come back to the negotiating table,” EU ambassador to Tokyo Bernhard Zepter told reporters after the conference.
“I think the message from the conference is very clear, very strong and it’s a unanimous message from the international community for the return of the LTTE to the peace process,” Akashi said, adding that he will travel to London shortly to meet their chief negotiator Anton Balasingham and report the outcome of the conference.
US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said the eyes of the world would now be watching Sri Lanka and international donors would want their money to be spent wisely.
“For Sri Lankans there is a price to pay. The price of our faith in you is your progress towards peace,” he told the conference.
He said talks between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Government would have to restart immediately.
A ceasefire has been in place since February last year and several rounds of peace talks have been held, with the LTTE agreeing to forgo an independent homeland in favour of regional autonomy.
The civil war has left an estimated 65,000 people dead and displaced 800,000 others.