Int’l buoyancy affected by uncertainty in peace process

by Namini Wijedasa
The World Bank yesterday emphasised that the peace process cannot continue to "sit in limbo", warning also that the mood of the international community towards Sri Lanka had already changed due to uncertainty over the peace process and questions over the LTTE’s participation at the Tokyo conference.

However, WB Resident Representative Peter Harrold stressed that it wasn’t too late to swing things around.

"It is not too late," said Harrold, in an interview with ‘The Island’. "But the mood of the international community towards Sri Lanka a few months ago was very, very buoyant. That buoyancy has had a few holes punched in it... holes that can still be patched up."

"The peace process cannot just sit in limbo," he explained. "It can’t just sit here with nothing happening... with no meetings between the LTTE and government, no progress on the table but no fighting either. It is not a situation that can go on."

Both sides have said unanimously that they won’t revert to fighting, he noted. Therefore, they must find a formula on which to move forward.

Harrold supported an assertion by Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen that the international community has other points of focus at present, stressing that "if they think Sri Lanka’s peace process is not going anywhere, their attention will move away."

"He made a valid statement," he observed. "He said that the world’s got a lot of things on its mind right now. If they think that Sri Lanka’s peace process is not going anywhere, their attention will move away."

"That’s an important statement and something with which I would concur," he observed. "The donors, including ourselves, were interested in increasing their support for Sri Lanka not least because of the good progress in the peace process that was achieved from September till March."

"If that process doesn’t show progress or signs of continuing, then some donors will be discouraged."

The LTTE added another dampener on the peace process yesterday by issuing further conditions to their participation at Tokyo. Anton Balasingham, chief negotiator, wrote to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe asking him to formally respond to LTTE proposals for a north-east interim administration.

Harrold emphasised the hope of the international community that the LTTE would be present in Tokyo.

"Our hope has always been for this to be a conference where all the Sri Lankan parties would come together with the international community to discuss the situation," he explained.

"As such, we have made it clear — as have many other parties — that such an event would be devalued by the absence of the LTTE," he elaborated. "It remains our strong hope that they will decide to participate".

Harrold also pointed out that participation at Tokyo was only one aspect of the issue. Getting the Tigers back to the negotiating table was fundamentally important.

"Tokyo without the follow-up re-launch of the peace process won’t help Tokyo," he stressed. "Tokyo is about support for the whole of Sri Lanka in the context of a sustainable peace process."

Harrold said that for the international community, peace (signifying evident progress at talks) and development assistance were linked. Therefore, if the LTTE’s absence at Tokyo meant the peace process is affected, donors would be very cautious in pledging assistance.

"They may even say they are ready to help Sri Lanka when the peace process restarts," Harrold said. "This is a perfectly reasonable thing to do."