/ 28 May 2006

Donors take stock as bodies pile up in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s key foreign aid donors will meet to reevaluate the troubled nation’s faltering peace process this week at a meeting in Tokyo as blood continues to be spilt in the south Asian nation.

Japan’s peace envoy Yasushi Akashi is to host a meeting of the United States, the European Union and Norway in order to review their involvement in Sri Lanka’s faltering peace process.

”There will be soul-searching,” Akashi said during a visit to Colombo earlier this month.

”Where are we with the peace process? Where we should be going? Why is there not enough progress in the process.”

Nearly four years ago Akashi, a former UN diplomat with experience in Cambodia and Kosovo, said the Sri Lankan peace process was a ”shining beacon” for other nations, as he aimed to help end three decades of ethnic bloodshed.

More recently, Akashi and other diplomats have privately expressed their frustration at the faltering process, while publicly remaining positive, hoping that a promises of funds could woo the government and rebel Tamil Tigers back to the negotiating table.

In June 2003, Akashi helped raise $4,5-billion to boost the Norwegian-led peace effort.

”Did we do it right? Was the money spent properly?” Akashi asked. ”These are issues we will discuss in Tokyo.”

Sri Lanka’s donors pledged nearly $100-million in support of the peace effort in November 2002 after the Colombo government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) opened talks following a ceasefire signing in February that year.

They increased financial pledges in June 2003 to $4,5-billion in a move widely seen as an incentive to keep the parties engaged. But that April the Tigers withdrew from talks, claiming they were being sidelined.

Although negotiations were put on hold, the two sides pledged to uphold the ceasefire put in place by Norway.

However, the truce came under intense pressure following the election of President Mahinda Rajapakse last November.

Scandinavian monitors say that since December about 600 people — more than half of them civilians — have been killed, with the toll mounting every day. The LTTE’s political wing leader, SP Thamilselvan told Akashi earlier this month that they were being forced to break the ceasefire and that ”repression of their normal life will force them to take a decision that will bring doom to Sri Lanka”.

In an interview with Agence France-Presse, Thamilselvan said international aid donors must be ”very judicious” in assessing whether the ceasefire agreement has been fully implemented.

He said they must make an honest judgement based on the violence that has occurred while the ceasefire has been in place.

”The erring party should be asked to explain and not the party that has been fighting for the freedom of the Tamil people,” he said.

Sri Lanka’s government says it remains hopeful international pressure will bring the Tigers back to the negotiating table.

Sri Lanka is also counting on the European Union to brand the Tigers a terrorist organisation.

”We think a ban on the LTTE by the EU before the meeting in Tokyo will send a message to them to give up violence,” said government spokesperson Keheliya Rambukwella.

The Tigers have said that any ban by the EU could isolate them and force them to resume their campaign for an independent homeland.

Tamils comprise 12,5% of the population in a country where Sinhalese are the majority.

More than 60 000 people have been killed in the island’s conflict since 1972 and four previous peace attempts have ended in failure. – AFP