Japan extends Rs. 35 m. grant to Sri Lankan panel

COLOMBO JAN. 28. Japan, which recently said it would play a hands-on role in the Sri Lankan conflict resolution process, has extended a Rs. 35-million grant assistance for SIRHN, a committee comprising members of the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The assistance for capital expenditure, according to sources, is to provide for the basic infrastructure and office equipment for the secretariat of the SIRHN (Sub Committee on Immediate Rehabilitation and Humanitarian Needs), formed last October. The deal, negotiated by the Sri Lankan Government, makes evident the shift in Japan's donor policy on the conflict over the last few months.

Last November, Tokyo's position was that it would open its purse strings for rehabilitation only after substantial progress was made and there was no return to war. Earlier this month, Japan's special envoy for the peace process, Yasushi Akashi, said funding was required to build peace and to prevent a relapse into war. Moreover, Tokyo's stand was also that the funding would be on a bilateral basis and that it would not be to the LTTE. The funds raised by SIRHN are to be vested with the World Bank, which is to play the role of custodian. Mr. Akashi is also the principal adviser to SIRHN.

The increased role of Japan, a leading partner in the global alliance against terrorism, is also to be seen against the backdrop of a visible interest by major powers in South Asia's longest internal conflict. In addition to the facilitators Norway, the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan have publicly aired satisfaction over the "progress" in the ongoing negotiations.

India had recently "advised" Japan that the decades-long ethnic conflict would have to be solved mainly by the principal parties and that there was a limit to what outside countries could do. The LTTE is banned in India, and its leader, V. Prabakaran, is a proclaimed offender in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.

Tokyo's enlarged role in the peace process is being projected as one that is part of Colombo's larger aim of gaining as impressive an international line-up as possible behind it as well as to revive the island's debt-ridden economy. In addition, the recent Japanese assistance to southern Sri Lanka is seen as one that would balance perceptions that the gains from the peace process would be more for the Tamil-majority north than the Sinhalese majority south.

The broad shifts in the donor policy of Japan, which is Sri Lanka's single largest donor, however, have not gone unnoticed. Organisations critical of the non-inclusive manner in which peace is being negotiated feel that Tokyo's funding for the SIRHN secretariat, situated in rebel-held Kilinochchi, is "to get into the good books of the LTTE and to hope to gain a leverage through financial assistance. However, they are yet to learn lessons from the past."

Expressing similar apprehension, the Daily Mirror said, "All the positive aspects notwithstanding, there is growing suspicion that the LTTE is following a duplicitous policy of talking peace while intensifying for war."

Scepticism over the fragile peace process notwithstanding, non-inclusion of other political groups has been a major criticism of the latest negotiations being held between Colombo and the LTTE.

While the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has said that the Tigers would be "the sole representatives of the Tamils" at the peace talks, other parties do not share the view. "It is time Japan helped other Tamil organisations that are strongly for peace," a leader of a Tamil organisation told The Hindu, emphasising that the peace process had not included other sections of opinion.

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