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US Urges Tamil Tiger Rebels Not to Boycott Tokyo Donors Meeting

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is in Japan for an international donor's meeting to help rebuild Sri Lanka. U.S. officials are urging the Tamil Tiger rebels not to boycott the Tokyo conference.

The donors conference beginning in Tokyo Monday aims to raise $3 billion for reconstructing war-ravaged Sri Lanka. More than 30 countries and 20 financial institutions are expected to attend.

But there will be an important absentee, the Tamil Tigers. The rebels pulled out of peace negotiations with the government and the Tokyo conference in April. They are demanding an interim administration in Tamil-dominated areas and the government calls the demand unconstitutional.

A senior U.S. aid official, Frederick Schieck is warning that the Tigers' refusal to attend the meeting will send a "wrong signal" to the international community. He says the United States wants the guerrillas represented in Tokyo.

But Mr. Schieck assures there will be no reduction in U.S. pledges at the conference.

A senior economist in Colombo, Dushant Wijaysingha, says most countries are expected to commit funds for Sri Lanka's reconstruction despite the absence of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or the LTTE.

"It seems that the international community is really determined to pledge the full amount that was earlier committed, " he said, "and this we believe is another way of putting pressure on the LTTE to come back to the negotiating table." Diplomats agree, saying pledges of aid are likely to be made on the condition that negotiations get back on track. They say future financial assistance will be linked to progress in the peace process, which began last year.

So far efforts by Norwegian and European diplomats to persuade the rebels to re-start dialogue with the government have failed.

Sri Lanka needs funds to rebuild schools, roads, hospitals and buildings ravaged by the 20-year civil conflict.

The conflict claimed more than 60,000 lives before a cease-fire was signed last year. The rebels say they remain committed to peace despite their decision to suspend talks.