Sri Lanka warn of 'tragic error' in Western aid cut
"It would be a tragic error to withhold pecuniary resources from Sri Lanka because that will create conditions in which extremism and terrorism would thrive," the island's international trade minister, G.L. Peiris, told AFP in an interview in Washington. "So, whoever argues that pressure must be brought to bear on the democratically elected government of Sri Lanka by cutting off resources which should be available to the government is unwittingly – not deliberately or intentionally – strengthening the hand of terrorism," he said.
@ ChannelNewsAsia / 27-06-2007
Sri Lanka told Western donor nations on Tuesday that it would be a "tragic error" to cut aid to the island nation due to alleged human rights abuses linked to a longstanding ethnic conflict.
Britain, Germany and the Netherlands have already slashed various forms of aid to Colombo due to human rights abuses and other reasons linked to the conflict with Tamil Tiger rebels and several other nations could follow suit.
The United States also has refused to include Sri Lanka in its so-called Millennium Challenge Account, under which it could receive millions of dollars in aid for building critical infrastructure.
"It would be a tragic error to withhold pecuniary resources from Sri Lanka because that will create conditions in which extremism and terrorism would thrive," the island's international trade minister, G.L. Peiris, told AFP in an interview in Washington.
"So, whoever argues that pressure must be brought to bear on the democratically elected government of Sri Lanka by cutting off resources which should be available to the government is unwittingly – not deliberately or intentionally – strengthening the hand of terrorism," he said.
Peiris said he had conveyed "this strong and powerful message" to the relevant authorities in the United States and other countries.
The United States considers the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which is fighting for an independent homeland in the north and east of Sri Lanka, as a terrorist group.
But Washington has recently accused Colombo of going back on promises to protect human rights and said the situation in the embattled island had "deteriorated" in the past year.
It accused the government of President Mahinda Rajapakse of failing to honour pledges to reduce violence since he took office in November 2005, noting a collapsed truce with the rebels, attacks on media and the escalation of extra-judicial killings that have left about 5,000 people dead during his tenure.
Peiris, who briefed senior US officials on the conflict, said his government could understand that Western nations had to curtail aid in response to pressure from their legislatures and civil society groups.
"We understand all that but reciprocally, we expect a degree of understanding from them with regard to the nuances of our own situation and the use of aid as a tool under those circumstances would produce consequences which neither they nor we desire," he said.
Peiris also said that Sri Lanka was on the verge of a "breakthrough" in the conflict, pointing out that government troops could take full control of the island's eastern province from rebels "within three to four weeks."
"This will give us an opportunity to move the process forward, come up with a strategy that will contain political, military, social and other elements," he said.
"Within the government, there is now a great deal of thinking about the way to make use of this landmark event," he added. "This is something that is going to happen in the next three to four weeks, not next three, four years."
Oslo-brokered peace talks collapsed in October last year and since then diplomatic efforts have failed to end violence in the bitter ethnic conflict which has claimed more than 60,000 lives in the past 35 years.
Peiris said it was unfortunate that Western nations were curtailing aid at a time when Colombo was trying to lay the groundwork for peace and development with the potential seizure of the entire eastern province.
He said Washington should consider granting direct bilateral aid to Sri Lanka if it was convinced that Colombo made a "honest, genuine attempt" to bring peace and development in the Eastern province.
Another critical aid mechanism Peiris suggested was preferential trading arrangements, particularly for apparel products, which made up 80 percent of Sri Lanka's exports to the United States and on which one million people were dependent.
"We are telling them we are not dependent on largess and philanthropy and we want to rely on our own creativity, our own potential and what we want from the United States is empathy, collaboration, goodwill in that regard," he said.