Japan might reconsider Sri Lanka aid if gov't fails to address civil war concerns
Tue January 15, 2008 12:39 EST .
RAVI NESSMAN - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) Japan might reconsider its massive annual aid package to Sri Lanka - if the South Asian nation's government does not address concerns over its escalating civil war, a diplomat said Tuesday. Japan is one of Sri Lanka - 's largest donors, giving about US$400 million (euro268.55 million) in grants and aid last year. Since 1985, Japan has given between US$8 billion and US$9 billion, according to the Japanese Embassy. Japan has yet to pledge money for 2008, a process that usually occurs in February.
As Akashi's three-day visit ended Tuesday, the military announced that 29 Tamil insurgents and three soldiers were killed in worsening fighting in the north. The rebels said 30 soldiers and three Tamil Tigers were killed.
Each side often gives vastly different accounts of the fighting, exaggerating enemy casualties while underreporting its own. Independent confirmation is unavailable since the battle zone is restricted.
Akashi, who has made 15 trips to Sri Lanka - in a vain attempt to end the civil war, said he worried the end of the cease-fire could trigger even more violence and more civilian casualties, ``with dire humanitarian consequences.''
``I conveyed ... the serious concern of the government of Japan on some of the recent moves,'' Akashi said.
He said he also urged Rajapaksa to improve Sri Lanka - 's human rights situation and told the president that only a political agreement could end the conflict between the separatist rebels and the government. Such a solution would require devolving power to local governments, he said.
However, military officials have said they hope to crush the rebels by force by the end of the year.
The Japanese government will closely monitor the situation and will review its financial assistance accordingly, Akashi said.
``Our aid package is based on a complex consideration of factors,'' he said. ``What the government does or does not do will be an important consideration.''
A halt or decrease in aid would be a serious blow to Sri Lanka - , especially with its plan to spend a record 166.4 billion rupees (US$1.5 billion; euro1 billion) on its defense budget this year.
Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona gave a different assessment of Akashi's trip, saying the envoy promised Rajapaksa that Japan would continue giving aid.
In their meeting, Rajapaksa explained to Akashi that he pulled out of the cease-fire because the deal had not delivered its promised benefits and the rebels used it as cover to build up their military strength, Kohona said.
The Tamil Tigers have been fighting since 1983 for an independent state for Sri Lanka - 's ethnic Tamil minority after decades of being marginalized by successive Sinhalese-dominated governments. The fighting has killed more than 70,000 people.
Violence continued to rage along the front lines, where government soldiers are facing off against rebel fighters defending their de facto state in parts of the north.
Both sides fought three battles in northeastern Weli-oya region Tuesday afternoon, killing four rebels and a soldier, the military said.
Soldiers pushed into rebel-held territory in northern Mannar district Monday and captured nine Tamil Tiger bunkers, killing nine insurgents, said military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara. Two soldiers also died in the fighting, he said.
Six other attacks at different points along the front lines Monday killed at least 16 other rebels, the military said.
The rebel-affiliated Web site TamilNet reported that Tamil Tiger fighters in Mannar held off a major military offensive backed by artillery and airstrikes in a fierce battle that killed at least 30 soldiers and three rebels. The rebel fighters recovered the body of one soldier, but said they saw other bodies across the field of battle, the Web site reported.
Violence has surged since the government announced its withdrawal from the cease-fire Jan. 3.Discuss this story
Published: Tue Jan 15 20:49:54 EST 2008