Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka President shuns aid suspension by UK, US

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COLOMBO, May 16 (Reuters) - Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Wednesday defied moves by Britain and the United States to halt some aid to the island over human rights concerns, saying the state would go it alone if necessary.

Britain suspended around $3 million of debt relief aid to the government earlier this month, citing human rights and defence spending concerns amid renewed civil war between the state and Tamil Tiger rebels.

The United States followed suit last week, announcing it had suspended an aid project given "the security situation and the human rights situation".

"If we are offered genuine aid we will take it," Rajapaksa's office quoted him as saying. "If not, we will forget about aid and do our job. We will not be dependent on aid.

"The work of resettlement, whether the tsunami displaced or those displaced due to the conflict is the responsibility of the government," he added. "We will discharge this obligation whether we get aid or not."

Aid organisations and donors across the world gave hundreds of millions of dollars to Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami -- at the time estimated to be double what the island needed to rebuild damaged homes and infrastructure.

But as aid dollars flowed in, suppliers of building materials jacked up their prices and many aid groups had to go back to the drawing board to rebudget post-tsunami housing projects. Others were delayed because of bureaucracy and difficulty in obtaining land to build on.

A resurgence of the island's two-decade civil war compounded matters. Many post-tsunami projects had to be abandoned, and in some cases in the restive east, were destroyed by artillery shells.

More than two years on, tens of thousands of families are still living in spartan transitional shelters.

The Tigers have vowed to intensify their fight for an independent state in the north and east, while the government has pledged to wipe out all rebel military assets. Analysts fear a conflict that has killed nearly 70,000 people since 1983 could rage on for years.

Around 200 protesters marched in downtown Colombo on Wednesday to demand the government end a state of emergency declared in late 2005, which gives security forces wide detention powers they argue lead to human rights abuses.

"Stop all illegal arrests," read one banner. "Immediately stop the disappearances," said another, referring to more than 600 disappearances and abductions reported to the island's Human Rights Commission so far this year and blamed on both sides.

(Additional reporting by Ranga Sirilal) (Reporting by Simon Gardner, editing by Sanjeev Miglani; Colombo newsroom, simon.gardner@reuters.com, Tel: +94-777-686-030))

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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