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Even though Sri Lanka’s rebel group may boycott an upcoming international aid conference in Tokyo designed to help the nation’s peace process, the meeting is still significant as it will send a strong message of support to the people of the country, according to Yasushi Akashi, Japan’s special peace envoy to Sri Lanka.

“We feel that a large number of pledges to offer a better life to the people of Sri Lanka, including the people in the northern and eastern regions (dominated by the rebel forces), would send a very strong message of support,” Akashi, a former U.N. undersecretary general, told The Japan Times.

Financial support will reduce poverty and improve the social and economic conditions, leading to better exchanges and cooperation across ethnic barriers, he said.

Japan, which is the top aid donor to Sri Lanka, is expected to host a two-day conference in Tokyo beginning Monday that will be attended by officials from about 50 nations, including U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, and 20 international organizations.

However, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has said it will not attend the Tokyo conference unless the Sri Lankan government agrees to establish an interim administrative council — a proposal Colombo has rejected.

Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi is planning to announce a total of $1 billion in fresh Japanese aid to Sri Lanka on Monday, ministry officials said.

Japan is hoping to make Sri Lanka’s case a role model for the use of its official development assistance in promoting peace negotiations, which Akashi described as the “dividend of peace.”

“I think the assistance will be an encouragement that the international community is siding with Sri Lankan people, of all ethnic origins, to create a new society,” he said.

He promised that the assistance will be distributed to people nationwide, including those in the northern and eastern regions, where the LTTE is most powerful.

The rebels had been fighting to create a separate state in a 19-year civil war that killed more than 65,000 people. The conflict ceased, however, after the government and rebels signed a Norway-brokered truce in February 2002, paving the way for the peace talks.

During six rounds of discussions, Colombo and the LTTE agreed to introduce a federal system so that Tamil Tiger rebels will be allowed partial autonomy.

However, the rebels recently upped the ante, saying they would not attend the Tokyo international donors meeting unless the government agrees to establish an interim administrative council.

Akashi expressed strong hope that the LTTE will reconsider its position and return to the negotiating table.

“No people should have to endure civil wars,” Akashi said. “Countries have to reform their economies so they are better prepared for global competition. There is no room for warfare.”

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