SRI LANKAN PEACE EFFORTS ARE APPLAUDED AS CALLS
ARE MADE FOR MORE INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT
A wide array of international officials spoke positively about
the progress being made in the Sri Lankan peace process and outlined
plans that could result in $1.1 billion in annual international
aid to help the country recover from two decades of war.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage convened a one-day
seminar yesterday at the State Department that served as a prelude
to June's Tokyo Conference on Reconstruction and Development in
Sri Lanka. The seminar was co-hosted by the U.S. and Sri Lankan
governments, with the special participation of Norway and Japan.
The IMF and the World Bank also participated as they were involved
in the needs assessment for Sri Lanka. Armitage opened the session
by saying that "international support is essential"
for Sri Lankan peace to survive and later noted that the country
was providing "a message of hope" to the world and serving
as a "working model" on how to resolve fierce ethnic
strife. He was joined at the podium by Norwegian State Secretary
Vidar Helgesen, whose country is facilitating the peace process,
and Yasushi Akashi, special representative of the Government of
Japan, where the next steps will be made to provide financial
support to the Sri Lankan government. There were many countries
and international organizations such as the United Nations Development
Program (UNDP), Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC),
U.S. Trade Development Agency (TDA) which were represented. High
level representatives from the European Union including Canada,
France, Germany, The Russian Federation, China, Denmark, Finland,
Iceland, India, Japan, Norway, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Thailand
and the United Kingdom were all in attendance.
Milinda Moragoda, Sri Lankan Minister for Economic Reform, Science
and Technology, acknowledged that 20 years of conflict "have
wounded minds as well as bodies" and reminded the audience
that the conflict has killed more people than the United States
lost during the entire Vietnam War, while spreading terror throughout
the country and crippling the economy.
"It is not feasible for us to deal with reconstruction of
war-ravaged areas in isolation from the development of the rest
of the country which has also suffered economic and social damage
as a result of the war," Minister Moragoda said. "Nor
would we succeed in our efforts if assistance were to be delayed
pending conclusion of a peace agreement.
If we are unable
to demonstrate the dividend that peace will bring, we risk a breakdown
of the negotiations and a resumption of hostilities."
Minister Moragoda said, "Funds are urgently required for
both the immediate needs of reconstruction, rehabilitation and
relief as well as for laying the foundations for overall economic
recovery after two decades of destructive and debilitating conflict."
Five areas in need of immediate attention, he said, are: locating
and neutralizing one million landmines scattered in the nation;
rebuilding whole towns and villages; providing shelter and simple
agriculture equipment to an estimated one million displaced persons;
rebuilding and refurbishing schools; and getting jobs for displaced
people and others hurt by the war.
A report from the IMF highlighted the progress made under Prime
Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, including a return to economic
growth of 3.5 to 4 percent last year after the economy shrank
1.25 percent the year before, a decline in the rate of inflation
to 9.5 percent compared with 14 percent, and the advancement of
structural economic reforms that have increased confidence in
the economy's direction. However, continued reforms alone will
not be enough to close the gap between greater government revenue
from continued economic growth and the mounting cost of recovery
from the war, the IMF concluded, adding that additional international
support will be necessary. The World Bank and IMF have estimated
that an international aid package of $1.1 billion a year for the
next three years will provide much needed help to the government
as it pursues a "Regaining Sri Lanka" program of economic
recovery and development. International leaders will further consider
the aid request at the June conference in Tokyo.
Minister Moragoda described key elements of the "Regaining
Sri Lanka" program as infrastructure development including
road construction and repair and the augmentation of power generation;
making Sri Lanka a transport, logistics and financial hub for
the region; establishment of a strong information and communications
technology sector; improved education; better health care delivery
systems; improved productivity in agriculture, fisheries and small
businesses; environmental preservation; tourism and eco-tourism
promotion; and public sector reform.
"We are convinced that unless we can significantly increase
economic growth and demonstrate the prospect of a better future
for all, it will not be possible to make headway in the building
of a lasting peace and a united nation," Minister Moragoda
Vidar Helgesen, the State Secretary of Norway, said the ceasefire
and seven months of productive negotiations have meant that "people's
security has improved dramatically" and that important strides
have been made in improving the country's economic and political
structures. However, Secretary Helgesen said that "a peace
dividend is critical to the success of the negotiations"
and that more international support will be needed to provide
"The parties (in Sri Lanka) are demonstrating patience and
persistence," Secretary Helgesen said. "We, the international
community, should do the same."
Mr. Akashi of Japan spoke of the upcoming Tokyo conference for
major donors in June and said the international community "will
be harshly judged by history if we do not take full advantage
of the positive momentum which as been generated now."
India was also present in the seminar, being the first time ever,
that the country participated in the peace process-related event.
Indian Ambassador Lalith Mansingh stated that his country is pleased
to participate in the seminar on Sri Lanka and "India is
committed to the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity
of Sri Lanka." India supports the actions taken by the government
of Sri Lanka towards a negotiated peace that satisfies the just
aspirations of all the communities in Sri Lanka." Ambassador
stated that "We have been kept briefed by all the Sri Lankan
Mieko Nishimizu, Vice President of the South Asia Region of The
World Bank, said Sri Lanka is "no ordinary developing country"
and reminded the audience that Sri Lanka was a leader in introducing
universal adult franchise and a tradition of democratic governance
"right down to the village level." She pointed out that
Sri Lanka produced the world's first woman prime minister in the
1960s and has a history of the best socio-economic indicators
in all of Asia including life expectancy, infant and maternal
mortality, literacy and near universal primary school enrollment.
"Today, there is a coincidence of the sovereign will of
the people of Sri Lanka to change, to capture peace, to secure
good governance, and to embrace sound economic policies - and
their leaders with the singular mandate to regain Sri Lanka that
becomes all her people," Mrs. Nishimizu said. "We are
invited to offer our moral and financial support, to assist them
to begin that journey. We can do so effectively, in ways that
will be sustained long after we are gone, if and only if we can
honor the sovereign will, and respect Sri Lanka's own leadership
for positive social, economic and political change."
Embassy of Sri Lanka
15 April 2003