Feature Article

Japan deepens Sri Lanka peace role

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 19 March 2003, 11:55 GMT]
Along with hosting the sixth round of direct talks between the Liberation Tigers and the Sri Lankan government, Japan this week signaled its determination to play a leading role in bringing peace to the strife-torn island when one of its top diplomats joined Norwegian officials at the negotiating table. Japan’s deepening involvement in the peace process was this week welcomed by the Liberation Tigers.

Mr. Yasushi Akashi, one of Japan’s most senior diplomats with considerable experience in leading United Nations efforts in Cambodia and Bosnia, joined delegates from both sides and Norwegian diplomats led by Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen, to formally open the talks in the hot spring resort of Hakone on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Mr. Akashi joined the negotiating team and facilitators to discuss the progress of the Sub-Committee on Immediate Humanitarian and Rehabilitation Needs in the North and East (SIHRN). The SIHRN is spearheading efforts to resettle almost a million displaced people and refugees in the north and east.

The hosting of a round of the Sri Lanka talks marks a major shift by Japan from its traditional aid policy to become a stronger political force in South Asia, AFP quoted diplomats as saying.

Japan had earlier even declined to extend reconstruction aid to Sri Lanka until the warring parties reached a final political settlement to the conflict. But Japanese diplomats in Colombo said that policy has now changed.

"We want to help consolidate the peace process.... and help rehabilitation and reconstruction work even before a final settlement," Japan's ambassador to Sri Lanka, Seiichiro Otsuka, said.

“The peace process is enhanced by Japan’s involvement,” the LTTE’s Chief Negotiator, Mr. Anton Balasingham, told the Tamil Guardian newspaper shortly after meeting Mr. Akashi for an hour Tuesday morning.

“This is the first time a major Asian power has involved itself in the ongoing effort to end [Sri Lanka’s] ethnic conflict,” he said. “It is also the first time Japan is actively involved in contributing to an ongoing peace process.”

Two months ago, Mr. Akashi visited Kilinochchi along with World bank Vice President for South Asia, Ms Meiko Nishimizu. At the time, the leader of the LTTE, Mr. Vellupillai Pirapaharan expressed his gratitude to the senior officials for their support for the rehabilitation effort in the northeast. However, Sri Lanka’s President Chandrika Kumaratunge cancelled a scheduled meeting with Mr.Yasushi Akashi, citing ‘other political commitments.’

Japan’s new role in the peace process was “crucial” as it would encourage both parties to deepen their commitment to the peace process and assist in building international support for reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts, Mr. Balasingham told the Tamil Guardian newspaper.

"The talks in Japan will be keenly watched by the international community before committing large sums at the June aid meeting," an Asian diplomat in Hakone this week told AFP.

Japan's main concern at the talks is the issue of humanitarian aid and reconstruction because the peace talks are expected to lay the groundwork for the international donors' meeting Tokyo will host in June, Kyodo news agency quoted Japanese officials as saying.

Japanese diplomats have been attending meetings of the SIHRN in the Vanni in the past few months.

A delegation of the Infrastructure Development Institute of Japan (IDI), led by Mr.Yoshiyo Yabe, Senior consultant and Director of Planning Department of IDI undertook a fact-finding mission in the northeastern province from February 26 till March 6 to study rehabilitation and development plans for the region.

Describing Japan's role as host in the latest peace talks as a "milestone" in its efforts to promote peace, the officials said the talks are expected to offer Tokyo a "good chance" to clearly show its commitment to Sri Lanka's peace process.

On Tuesday, Mr. Akashi hosted a luncheon for the negotiators and facilitators at another location in Hakone, located in the foothills of Mount Fuji. As the LTTE team was unable to attend the meal as the members were preparing for the talks later that day, Mr. Akashi is to host the Tiger delegation to lunch on Thursday, officials said.


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