Sri Lankan negotiator says global support key


New York Times, USA
November 19, 2002

By Reuters

It's not the cash but the signal you send by giving it. That was the message from Sri Lanka's top peace negotiator Tuesday, ahead of an aid conference in Oslo next week where the government and Tamil Tiger rebels hope for support to underpin a peace bid aimed at ending 19 years of ethnic war.

``We are not hoping for astronomical sums of money,'' G. L. Peiris told Reuters. ``What we expect most out of the Oslo conference is a very strong, unequivocal message of support and solidarity for the peace process,'' said Peiris, who is also Constitutional Affairs Minister. Norway brokered a truce last February and has been mediating talks to end the war that pitted minority Tamils in the north and east against the Sinhalese south, and killed more than 64,000.

Initial talks have focused on aid for rebuilding, but Peiris said Oslo would be different from other pledging conferences. ``What is important is not the magnitude of the resources -- the absorptive capacity is limited -- it is to identify resources. It is the seed money that is urgently required.''The government and the Tigers discussed a joint appeal to international donors to help rebuild the war-torn country at a meeting on rehabilitation Monday. The Oslo conference is also expected to feature a landmark meeting between Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the rebels' chief negotiator, Anton Balasingham.

Safety net for peace

But Peiris said keeping global players involved to lock in gains from the peace process was as important as aid money. ``The prime minister has frequently spoken of a safety net for Sri Lanka, and the U.S., Britain, members of the EU -- all these people are coming forward to assist Sri Lanka. That is what the country needs,'' he said, speaking in his garden, as the sun steamed off the night's monsoon rains.

Keeping up the momentum of the process is especially important to stave off political rivals -- Sri Lanka's awkward political system has resulted in a government and president from opposing parties, raising fears the opposition could derail the talks. But Peiris said as long as progress was being made at the negotiating table he was unconcerned, adding that the fact the budget passed without a hitch last week shows the government has stable support in parliament. He said rapport between the former foes was building, and the third session of talks would see the start of discussions on political issues dividing them, namely Tiger demands for self-determination for minority Tamils in the north and east. ``We are already formulating some ideas. We will be able to give those ideas some shape and form,'' Peiris said, adding he had been in touch with Balasingham since the second session of talks in Thailand.

He said identifying projects and agencies to make use of aid pledged at the conference will also feature high on the agenda. Most of all, he said, the two sides were building rapport. ``It is not that we agree on everything. Obviously we can't,'' Peiris said. ``More and more the government and rebels are able to identify common ground. These are parties that have been at war -- and ferocious war -- for almost two decades, and now the world sees the very refreshing spectacle of these former combatants coming together.''``You must have a threshold of trust,'' he said. ``And the rapport that has been built up augurs well for the future.''

 



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