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Japanese Envoy Calls for Greater Support for Sri Lanka Peace Process - 2003-01-19


A Japanese envoy has wrapped up a three day visit to Sri Lanka, calling for greater international support for the ongoing peace process. This is the latest visit to assess Sri Lanka's needs since the government and Tamil rebels began peace talks last September.

Japanese special envoy Yasushi Akashi said Sunday that the international community must speed up financial aid to Sri Lanka to sustain its peace efforts.

Sri Lanka wants to rebuild war ravaged regions in the north and the east, where Tamil guerrillas led their struggle for a separate homeland for nearly two decades. Fighting stopped last February under a Norwegian brokered cease-fire and the government and rebels have agreed on a series of humanitarian projects at the negotiating table in the past few months.

Japan is Sri Lanka's largest donor and Mr. Akashi promised to lobby key countries, such as the United States and India, ahead of a major donors conference in Tokyo in June. This is his first visit to Sri Lanka since he was appointed special envoy two months ago.

A financial analyst in Colombo, Chinthaka Ranasinghe, said Sri Lanka needs millions of dollars for rebuilding roads, power, communications, schools, and hospitals. "We have gone through 19 years of war, and Sri Lanka is cash strapped at the moment, so it will be a tough task to divert a whole lot of money to the north and the east and forget about development in the rest of the island. So, yes, a whole lot of money will have to be brought in from abroad," he said.

The Sri Lankan economy has been battered in recent years by huge defense spending and a fall in tourism - but it is showing signs of a slow but steady recovery since the peace process began.

During his three days in Sri Lanka, Mr. Akashi helped the government and Tamil Tiger rebels finalize their first joint development project for roads and hospitals in the north.

International agencies have been making a series of visits to assess priorities. Earlier this week, a team from the International Monetary Fund held talks with Sri Lankan officials on the possibility of providing long-term loans to the country.

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