Amid criticism from West, Sri Lanka turns to less picky donors
Sun April 27, 2008 05:54 EDT .
RAVI NESSMAN - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) Sri Lanka - has hailed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit here Monday as an important step in cementing closer ties between the two nations. ``In Asia, we don't go around preaching to our neighbors and our friends,'' said Sri Lanka - 's foreign secretary, Palitha Kohona. ``This public naming and shaming process that seems to have become so popular in the West is really not so accepted here.''
As if to drive home the point, the capital city of Colombo was plastered Sunday with posters showing smiling photos of Ahmadinejad and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa over the slogans: ``The Friendly Path to Progress'' and ``Traditional Asian Solidarity.''
In the past 18 months Rajapaksa visited China twice, dropped in on neighbors India and Pakistan and traveled to Iran in November.
During that trip, Iran pledged US$1.9 billion (euro1.2 billion) in soft loans and grants to Sri Lanka - to help it expand its only oil refinery, develop an irrigation and hydropower project and buy Iranian oil, Kohona said.
``It is the biggest development assistance package for Sri Lanka - at the moment,'' he said.
It is money Sri Lanka - desperately needs as it continues to wage civil war with the Tamil Tiger rebels a fight projected to cost US$1.5 billion (euro1 billion) this year.
Ahmadinejad was expected to meet top officials and to tour several development projects during his two-day visit. It has not been announced whether he will come bearing further aid for this South Asian nation.
China is also giving about US$1 billion (euro650 million) in aid for a massive new port, an arts center, a power plant and other development projects, Kohona said.
Meanwhile, Western nations have been giving far less money and much heavier criticism of Sri Lanka - 's conduct of the war.
A U.S. State Department report issued in March accused the government and allied militias of attacking civilians and practicing ``torture, kidnapping, hostage-taking, and extortion with impunity.''
A European Union delegation that visited last month said it had ``very serious concerns'' about reports of human rights abuses. It implied that if the situation did not improve, Sri Lankan exports could lose a lucrative tariff exemption.
Some Western nations and United Nations officials have also called for a U.N. human rights monitoring mission to be sent here. The government has rejected the idea as a breach of its sovereignty.
Kohona brushed off much of the criticism, saying the government had made improvements but was also in the middle of a war.
``I think it's a little unfair to beat up on a small democracy that is struggling to fight back a bitter and brutal terrorist organization,'' he said.
Sri Lanka - 's increasingly close ties with less traditional donor nations are allowing it to resist the Western pressure on its rights record, analysts say.
``It is sending a message to the international community ... that the government does have other options to keep its development policies kicking along, and those options come from its new allies,'' said Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the Center for Policy Alternatives, a Colombo-based think tank.
But he warned that while Sri Lanka - has always had good relations with Iran and China, it could be taking a risk by too closely embracing countries with shaky reputations of their own in the West, which remains Sri Lanka - 's most crucial trading partner.
``That is also the danger here that a small country trying to play big politics could end up as the big loser,'' Saravanamuttu said.
Sri Lanka - exported more than US$2 billion (euro1.3 billion) worth of goods to the United States last year and US$1.7 billion (euro1.1 billion) worth of goods to the European Union in 2006. Sri Lanka - also relies on loans from international financial institutions and the sale of bonds, which also require good relations with the West, Saravanamuttu said.
Kohona said Sri Lanka - had no intention of shunning the U.S. and Europe.
``Aid from the West is appreciated. Our relationships are valued and we would like to continue those relationships,'' he said. ``Our goal is to maintain and strengthen relations with everybody.''Discuss this story
Published: Sun Apr 27 08:49:56 EDT 2008