A gift for Mr. Akashi: LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran presents a map of ‘Tamil Eelam’ with the LTTE insignia

Not one-sided aid - Akashi
By our Diplomatic Editor
Yakushi Akashi, Japan's Special Representative for Sri Lanka, is reported to have had eggs thrown at him when he tried to broker peace in Bosnia not too long ago.
A long-time servant of the United Nations, Mr. Akashi has not given up. He is now engaged in Sri Lanka's peace process, his assignment – to woo the recalcitrant Tamil Tigers back to civic street with the hope of rebuilding the war-ravaged economy of Sri Lanka's North and East.

Mr. Akashi heads a private think-tank in Tokyo called the Center for Preventive Diplomacy, and has the ear of his Prime Minister Janchiro Kuizimo.
When he gave The Sunday Times an exclusive interview in his Crystal Towers apartment in Tokyo, senior officials of the Gaimucho, Japan's Foreign Ministry, were in attendance.

Japan is today flirting with the idea of playing a more dynamic role in international affairs – half a century after World War II, and a Constitution which (Article 9) expressly renounces war as a sovereign right of the nation. But, fed up with merely doling out cheques, new thinking has seen them pass special laws to participate in the Afghanistan war and send an increasing number of troops under the aegis of the 'blue helmets' of the UN Peace Keeping Forces to many conflict zones.

They are widening their sphere of influence in their neighbourhood inter-alia, digging garbage disposable units in Oceania and the Pacific Islands. They have offered logistical support for the settling of Indonesia's 'Aech' separatist problem, and tomorrow they will have a show-piece aid conference for Sri Lanka.

The Prime Ministers of Japan and Sri Lanka will open the conference which will be attended by political heavyweights from the world over. The man behind the organisational work, Mr. Akashi spoke to The Sunday Times on the eve of the conference. He urged Sri Lankans not to forego this opportunity saying that the world's focus on any one issue can be short-lived;

ST: Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Bondevic told the UN University in Tokyo that the Sri Lankan peace process is a "resounding success". The LTTE at the same time says six rounds of peace talks have been a " waste of time". Diametrically opposite views. What has Japan to say?

Mr. Akashi: I don’t subscribe to the view that six rounds of talks have been a waste of time. I feel some progress has been made, especially that the LTTE will seek a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka. The basic structure of a federal setup vis-a-vis a separate state for the North and East is a very distinct achievement.

Agreements on human rights observances, an end to child recruitment, the resettlement of internally displaced persons have progressed. One-third of such displaced persons have been resettled. The LTTE says there is no progress - that is undeniable - and progress is not as much as we had hoped - but the Prime Minister (of Sri Lanka) has taken steps to expedite 11 projects. The ceasefire has been largely observed. There have been disturbing instances in the seas; the SLMM must be strengthened, but large-scale fighting has stopped. Body bags have not been seen in villages. However precarious the peace, there is a cessation of hostilities.

ST: So you say it has not been a waste of time?
Mr. Akashi:
Yes. There has not been too much of a peace dividend, but as the ceasefire endures, with more monitors, the A-9 highway will actively be used for the movement of people and cargo. There will be circulation of people throughout the country. There is undeniable evidence that this has helped. But there is room for improvement. I hope the Sri Lanka Government and the LTTE will continue to negotiate to tackle the difficult issues.

ST: Japan will host the Sri Lanka aid conference tomorrow (June 9 and 10) in Tokyo. What is the co-relationship between aid and the peace process?
Mr. Akashi: The international community of nations wants to send a strong signal for the peace process. Otherwise we will not agree to host this conference. We hope very substantial support will be shown. We hope it will give a new momentum to peace in Sri Lanka.

ST: Isn't this about aid to Sri Lanka in general - for the general development of Sri Lanka? What’s the tie-up with the LTTE or the peace process?

Mr. Akashi: At the conference a lot of aid will be pledged. These pledges are not completely un-conditional assistance, but it hinges on the peace process. In the South, some people have the notion that all the aid will go to the North. LTTE leaders said the entire aid was going to the South.

This is comical. Absurd. A large sum will go to the South. A substantial assistance will go to the North and East. Aid will be disbursed the most justifiable way based on actual needs of the people, the damage caused by the war and the quality of the projects – on the real needs, economically and socially, and the capacity of the Government and the LTTE to implement these projects.

ST: This not really an aid conference, is it? These are mostly loans, right?
Mr. Akashi: Most of it will be low-interest/long-term loans.

ST: Who pays back the loans taken by the LTTE?
Mr. Akashi: If Sri Lanka is going to be a united country, then the loans will have to be paid back by the political establishment concerned, i.e. the Government. The Government and the LTTE will have to negotiate on the appropriate and proportionate share the LTTE undertakes on debt-payment. Most of the humanitarian assistance however will come by way of outright grants. Lot of these grants will go to the North and East, though not entirely to the exclusion of the South.

ST: Such as flood assistance?
Mr. Akashi: That was not anticipated for the forthcoming conference and it should not affect the humanitarian assistance for the legacy of the war.

ST: How does Japan see the boycott of the Tokyo conference by the LTTE and the LTTE's insistance that they exclusively control these funds?
Mr. Akashi: In their (LTTE) wisdom we still hope they will come, but the conference will be held with or without them. It is in their interest. It is upto the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE to agree on a fair distribution of assistance to Government-controlled areas and LTTE-controlled areas, but the donor countries want to give assistance to the whole of Sri Lanka - Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims. This is not one-sided help. Not politically-motivated. I don’t think anyone should doubt the nature of this assistance.

ST: Why is the international community bending backwards so much to accommodate the LTTE? They seem to be acquiring a certain 'cockiness' because of the way you, the Norwegians, the other Western powers, the NGOs are falling at their feet.

Mr. Akashi: We are not begging the LTTE to come to the conference. We are inviting them to come in their own interest. It should mean so much to their own people. This is an invitation to live in a united and democratic Sri Lanka, to participate in the parliamentary process. Democracy has two pillars - majority rule and respect for the minority's point-of-view. In any ethnic conflict, either the majority tries to impose its will or the minority uses force.

Parliamentary democracy must provide outlets for divergent viewpoints. The Sri Lanka Government must have flexibility to invite them (LTTE) back to the democratic fold and since a lot of mutual distrust exists - of 20 years of killing - a lot of gestures will have to be made by both sides to live under a single political system. This system must have enough flexibility for people to feel at home about their identity being accepted and respected. There is a more rewarding life together ahead for all.

ST: And when you met the LTTE leader in Kilinochchi last month, he gave you a present which contained the map of Tamil Eelam. What do you think of that message to you. Are you concerned.

Mr. Akashi: Yeah. I won’t say "concerned", but yeah, the present he gave was a symbolic message of his political ideology. Someone with his background feels that such a present should be given. I dont know what the Norwegian Foreign Minister (who met the LTTE leader the next day) got from Mr. Prabhakaran, but he did specify 50 years of discrimination from which the Tamil people suffered. He expressed this with conviction, but I told him that I have seen Tamil people being persecuted. I have seen Sinhalese being persecuted, and Muslims being persecuted, and that there will be no end to this cycle of mutual violence and that the leaders must have the courage to put an end to this cycle. And no time is better than now to make that decisive move.

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