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Tokyo aid conference
Japan will not beg of LTTE
By Our Diplomatic Correspondent
Japan is not begging the LTTE to attend the Sri Lanka aid conference next week in Tokyo, but pledges will be conditional to the success of the peace process, the man spearheading the organisational work for the event warned.

Yasushi Akashi, Special Representative of the Japanese Government to Sri Lanka, said that the aid conference would go ahead as scheduled with or without LTTE participation, and dismissed recent pronouncements by the militants that six rounds of talks had been a " waste of time".

In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Times, Mr. Akashi said Sri Lankans should not think that the world's focus on them would last forever and other conflicts could divert attention.

"The invitation to the LTTE to attend the Tokyo conference is an opportunity for it to help its people, and it will be a lost opportunity if it misses out. We hope substantial support will be given for the whole of Sri Lanka at the conference and it will be in the LTTE's interest to attend,” he said.

Mr. Akashi, who also heads the Japan Centre for Preventive Diplomacy, said it was "comical" that the people in the south (of Sri Lanka) thought all the aid was for the north and east, while the LTTE leadership asked if all the money was for the south.

He said a "very large sum" would be pledged to the south, but "substantial assistance "was earmarked for the north and east. Conceding that most of the aid would be long-term/low-interest loans which need to be repaid someday, he said that monies for the reconstruction of the north and east would largely be outright grants.

Mr. Akashi insisted that Japan would give funds only to the Sri Lankan government and that it was upto the Sri Lankan Government to work out a mechanism to give the LTTE monies to spend in the north-east as demanded by the militants. Asked whether the whole country had to repay all the loans, including those taken by the LTTE, Mr. Akashi said "yes".

"If Sri Lanka wants to be one country, then the whole country will have to do so, but that the Sri Lankan Government may have to work out a method by which the LTTEwould be responsible for an appropriate and proportionate debt-payment share if they are to get a slice of the aid for them to spend."

During the week, Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Bondevik was in Tokyo and met Mr. Akashi thrice in two days in addition to having Sri Lanka high on the list during his talks with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi The three of them discussed the upcoming Tokyo aid conference and the stalled peace process between the Sri Lanka Government and the LTTE.

Mr. Bondevic has referred to the Sri Lankan peace process as "irreversible", and shown a politician's optimism by calling the peace process a "resounding success" during a talk to the United Nations University in Tokyo despite the LTTE referring to the six rounds of Norwegian brokered peace talks as a "waste of time".

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