Japan to drum up international support for Sri Lankan Peace Process
John de Boer (University of Tokyo & GLOCOM Platform)
While most were concentrating on the crisis in North Korea, Japanese foreign ministry officials and an ambassador engaged in a flurry of activity to support one of the few bright spots that exist in Asia in terms of conflict resolution. Between 13 - 19 January, Mr. Yasushi Akashi, Japan's "Peace Ambassador", visited India and Sri Lanka to exchange views on the peace process in Sri Lanka and to attend the third meeting of the Subcommittee on Immediate Humanitarian and Rehabilitation Needs in the North and East of Sri Lanka. During his visit Akashi pledged that Japan would play a major political and economic role in the process with the objective of "rehabilitating and reconstructing" the country.
Sri Lanka has been ravaged by a 19 year old civil war fought between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) and Sri Lankan government forces. The ravages of this conflict have been dramatic claiming over 65,000 lives, displacing between 800,000 and 1.6 million people (depending on the source), destroying the economy, infrastructure and robbing millions of people (children in particular) of their human, economic and social rights.
After a truce was declared between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government in February 2002, peace negotiations began in September 2002 facilitated by Norway and hosted by the Thai government. While a final settlement may not be reached until 2005, both parties are calling upon Japan to provide financial, technical and diplomatic aid in order to keep the process going.
Several news agencies including the Associated Press, the Inter Press News Agency, OneWorld.net South Asia and MediaCorp News featured articles this week on the importance of Japan's role in providing the tangible benefits of peace to those most affected by the conflict. Above and beyond Japan's contribution to Sri Lanka in terms of Overseas Development Assistance (currently Japan accounts for 45% of Sri Lanka's foreign aid, equivalent to US $300 million per year), the Japanese people and its government have been called upon to support "peace building" and "peace consolidation" efforts particularly in the Northern and Eastern parts of the country.
Thus far Japan seems to be responding. On 19th January, MediaCorp News quoted Akashi as stating that "Tokyo will seek an aggressive role in drumming up more foreign support to help Sri Lanka". As part of this bid Japan will host an International Donors Conference in June, similar in spirit to those held in relation to Afghanistan and Palestine over the past years. According to Akashi, the main focus of this conference and additional Japanese efforts would be to "speed up aid delivery, particularly for the grassroots level, to make a visible difference to the life of the people" (MediaCorp News, 19 January). To date the Japanese government has already pledged \152.7 million for five NGO projects aimed at clearing mines and helping internally displaced persons. This is in addition to the pledge made to the UNHCR valued at US $1.62 million as emergency assistance in December.
Recent experience in the Occupied Palestinian Territories has taught us that the tangible benefits of peace need to reach the people, particularly those most affected, in order to sustain and "consolidate" peace in the area. In the Israeli Occupied Territories, despite years of negotiation and an international aid effort that gave tens of billions of dollars for supposed reconstruction and rehabilitation projects, the living standard of the average Palestinian did not improve. There was more unemployment, more controls, more occupation leading to more violence. Peace dividends did not reach the people. Meanwhile, politicians flew from capital to capital, were hosted in five star restaurants and hotels, and some even received the Nobel Peace Prize.
As has been witnessed between Israel and the Palestinians there always exists the danger that peace talks will collapse. In order to prevent a return to violence, the internationally community has to make sure that the peace process is making a positive difference in the day-to-day lives of the people. In the case of Sri Lanka it already has. According to Feizal Sameth of the Inter Press News Agency, "over 2,500 lives, an average of 7 per day, have been saved during 2002 due to the guns going silent" (14 January, Inter Press News Agency). Nevertheless, most experts conclude that 2003 will be the key year for Sri Lanka. Many hurdles still exist in the peace negotiations such as issues of disarmament, resettlement and unemployment. Furthermore, while most of the world's attention remains focused on a pending war in Iraq, the crisis in North Korea and the on-going turmoil in Afghanistan and in the Israeli Occupied Territories, the Sri Lankan peace process has not received the coverage and attention it deserves. In this sense, developments over the past week reinforcing Japan's commitment to "drumming up foreign support for Sri Lanka" is welcome and appropriate for a Japan that seeks to be increasingly engaged in international peace efforts. However, we must remain vigilant and make sure that peace dividends reach the majority.
- Grant Peck, "Envoy: Japan committed to playing economic role in Sri Lanka process", The Associated Press, 12 January 2003
- Krishan Francis, "Japan seeks to help Sri Lanka's peace process, pledges more aid", The Associated Press, 12 January 2003
- "Japan seeks to boost Sri Lanka peace bid", MediaCorp News, 19 January 2003
- Feizal Sameth, "Peace to build on gains in peace talks", Inter Press Service News Agency, 14 January 2003
- Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (http://www.mofa.go.jp)