Yasushi Akashi, who oversaw the U.N. transitional administration in Cambodia in the early 1990s, vowed in a recent interview with Kyodo News to try his best as Japan’s representative to Sri Lanka to help broker peace and reconstruction there.
“I would like first to go (to Sri Lanka) and think about what I can do after observing the situation,” said Akashi, a former U.N. undersecretary general.
Akashi, 71, was scheduled to head Sunday to Sri Lanka for seven days to talk with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Foreign Minister Tyronne Fernando as well as visit refugee camps and observe land-mine removal activities.
Before leaving, Akashi stressed the significance of Japan being actively involved in the peace-building process.
“I assume this is the first time Japan has appointed a government representative before the (peace process) framework is built,” he said.
Akashi said the Sri Lankan government asked him for advice in the spring, but he has been waiting to assess the fate of the peace process to make sure he wouldn’t be working in a “totally hopeless situation.”
Constitutional Affairs Minister G. L. Peiris, the Sri Lankan government’s top negotiator in peace talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), asked Japan last month to host a donor conference to help move the peace process forward.
Peiris also asked that Akashi visit Sri Lanka to share his expertise as it begins the rehabilitation and reconstruction process, according to Japanese officials.
The Sri Lankan government delegation, headed by Peiris, and LTTE, headed by negotiator Anton Balasingham, began a second round of talks Oct. 31 in Thailand.
The two sides held their first round of talks Sept. 16 to 18 in Thailand and set the dates for three more rounds — last weekend, Dec. 2 to 5 and Jan. 6 to 9 — in a bid to end one of Asia’s longest ethnic conflicts, which has cost more than 60,000 lives.
“The first round of talks was a success,” Akashi said. “But I think it will be two to three years before the peace process is complete, because distrust remains on both sides.
“The negotiations will not succeed unless the residents there are able to actually feel the dividends of peace, feel that their lives have improved.”
Akashi added that to promote the peace process, grassroots assistance such as digging wells may be important.
Asked about domestic criticism of Japan’s official development assistance, he said it is important to examine the ODA programs and let taxpayers know the programs are actually used to benefit peace.
“In order to do so, the government should actively cooperate with NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) and give ODA with great impact and the right timing,” he said.
He said the main task of the peace talks is to get Sri Lanka’s different ethnic groups to cooperate in the process.
“There are many Muslims in eastern Sri Lanka, and it is important to get the Muslims, Sinhalese and Tamils cooperating,” he said. “Balance in the reconstruction process between the least-developed southern part of Sri Lanka and the northern and eastern parts of the country is another task for the negotiations.”
The circumstances of each of the world’s conflicts is different, Akashi said, so it is necessary for the countries involved in conflict areas to proceed “step by step, by carefully listening to what the people in the areas have to say.”
Akashi has held various U.N. posts, including undersecretary general for public information, disarmament affairs and humanitarian affairs, U.N. representative in Cambodia, and special envoy to the former Yugoslavia.
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