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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Sri Lanka signs tsunami aid pact with rebels

ReliefWeb - Document Preview : Source: Reuters Foundation
Date: 24 Jun 2005, By Simon Gardner and Ajith Jayasinghe

COLOMBO, June 24 (Reuters) - Sri Lanka's government signed a long-awaited pact to share $3.0 billion worth of tsunami aid with the Tamil Tigers on Friday, a senior government official told Reuters, and the rebels are set to sign later in the day.

The signing comes after months of political bickering that threatened to collapse the government. Outside parliament, hardline Marxists opposed to the Tigers skirmished with anti-riot police as Buddhist monks in saffron robes noisily helped derail a debate inside.

The pact, under which committees comprising rebels, government officials and Muslims can recommend, prioritise and monitor projects, has been held up for months because of in-fighting that has split the ruling coalition.

But the rebels say the pact could help jumpstart stalled talks aimed at converting a three-year ceasefire into permanent peace if properly implemented, a move that would likely boost investor confidence choked by two decades of war.

"The government signed the memorandum of understanding," Maithripala Sirisena, minister in charge of the Mahaweli River Basin and leader of the house in parliament, said in his office minutes after protests forced him to abandon a parliamentary debate.

The aid deal will help speed up relief to tens of thousands of Sri Lankans still living in tents, wooden shacks and rudimentary concrete homes six months after December's tsunami killed 40,000 people along the island's shores.

S. Puleedevan, who heads the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam's (LTTE) Peace Secretariat, told Reuters he was due to sign the pact later on Friday.

"Norway's ambassador is going to come today. They would like to get our signature today," he said by telephone from the rebels' northern stronghold of Kilinochchi.

Leader of the house Sirisena said M.S. Jayasinghe, secretary of the ministry of rehabilitation, had signed the pact on behalf of the government. Senior government aides said a second-tier official was chosen to play down the political importance of the divisive signing.
Sri Lanka's rupee firmed on the Reuters report.
"It has strengthened the rupee to 99.70 per dollar (from 99.80)," said Marais Fernandez, a currency dealer with NDB Bank in Colombo.

AID PACT DIVISIVE

Parliament was forced to suspend a planned symbolic debate on the pact because of protests by hardline Marxists and Buddhist monk politicians rabidly opposed to the Tigers.
The Marxist People's Liberation Party (JVP) -- which quit the ruling coalition last week over the aid-sharing plan -- and monks in saffron robes, protested noisily in parliament.
Outside, police fired tear gas canisters to disperse about 1,000 of the Marxists' supporters as they demonstrated angrily against a deal they say will legitimise the rebels, whom they call terrorists.
"Down with the Tiger mechanism. Roll up the Joint Mechanism," read the Marxists' banners as jeering demonstrators waved black flags and tried to force their way past police barriers before scrambling for cover amid the acrid white smoke.
The JVP's defection last week reduced the government to a hamstrung minority in parliament, and analysts say Sri Lanka could face a general election in months.
But while political volatility has unnerved investors in recent weeks, economic analysts say markets will take heart from the pact signing because it could help put a long-stagnant process back on track.
That in turn could help boost foreign investment in the $18 billion economy, which has been held back by years of incessant shelling in the north and east and suicide bombs in Colombo.
"I think this is good for everyone -- Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim," said M. Muthiah, a 62-year-old retired government servant, as he bought a lottery ticket in downtown Colombo.
"Now we can start rebuilding the country," he added.
The aid-share pact will last one year, but can be extended if both sides agree.


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