Sri Lankan minister seeks Japan ODA hike

The Sri Lankan government’s top negotiator in peace talks with the Tamil Tiger rebels urged Japan on Wednesday to boost its official development assistance to Sri Lanka, pointing out that the two sides have stopped fighting and are working to rehabilitate and reconstruct the island’s war-ravaged north and northeast.

Constitutional Affairs Minister G. L. Peiris, who led a government delegation to an opening round of peace talks with the rebels in Thailand in September, told reporters at the Japan National Press Club he would be seeking “enhanced ODA assistance” from Japan in a meeting with Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi later in the day.

An increase in aid is “justifiable” considering the stage the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have reached in their peace efforts, he said.

“It is possible to embark on development activities without any risk of interruption, because the government and the LTTE are working together in partnership — so that makes a difference,” he said.

Japan has already hailed the agreement reached in August between the government and Tamil Tigers to initiate formal peace talks, and Kawaguchi is on record vowing that once peace is achieved, Japan “will spare no efforts toward supporting reconstruction.”

On Tuesday, a 10-member “needs assessment” and “project formulation” mission from Japan, comprising five Foreign Ministry officials and five consultants representing fields in which assistance is being considered, arrived in Colombo, according to the Japanese Embassy there.

The mission is scheduled to stay in Sri Lanka through Oct. 12 to examine humanitarian and reconstruction needs in the north and northeast, including medical and health services, agriculture and fisheries, drinking water supply and education.

Japan, Sri Lanka’s largest ODA donor, accounts for 45 percent of the country’s development assistance, according to Peiris.

During his weeklong stay through Saturday, Peiris, who also serves as enterprise development, industrial policy and investment promotion minister, will also meet Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda and Crown Prince Naruhito.

He is in Japan to brief officials on the peace process in his country and to attend events to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the normalization of ties between Japan and Sri Lanka.

More than 65,000 people have died and 800,000 displaced during nearly two decades of ethnic war in Sri Lanka. A truce, formalized by a ceasefire agreement signed in February, has held since Dec. 24.