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Sri Lanka gets $4.5bn aid pledge

Sri Lanka has been racked by civil war for more than two decades.
Sri Lanka has been racked by civil war for more than two decades.

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• Timeline: A fragile peace 
• Special report: A nation divided 

TOKYO, Japan -- International donors have pledged more than $4.5 billion in aid to Sri Lanka, as part of a plan to get the government and Tamil Tiger rebels back to the negotiating table.

The aid equals the amount pledged to post-war Afghanistan last year and is substantially more than the $3 billion the Tokyo conference had been expected to raise, according to Reuters news reports.

But much of the aid, to be released over four years mostly in the form of low-cost loans, is conditional on both parties getting back to the peace table to end more than two decades of civil war that has claimed 65,000 lives.

Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe welcomed the international support at the meeting, which wrapped up in Tokyo on Tuesday.

But conspicuous in their absence were the partners to the peace process, the rebels of the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam, or the LTTE.

After 19 months of cease-fire, the rebels broke off peace talks with the government seven weeks ago, describing them as "a waste of time."

They said decisions made during six rounds of talks have not been implemented, and boycotted the meeting to show the global community their dismay at the lack of progress.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who attended the conference, told CNN this was an opportunity that couldn't be passed up.

Wickremsinghe speaks at the Tokyo conference.
Wickremsinghe speaks at the Tokyo conference.

"Now whether the LTTE or the rebels as you call them choose to participate or not, that's up to them," he said.

"But the eye of history is going to judge very harshly those who don't seize this opportunity for peace. Not to mention the people of Sri Lanka who I believe will judge them harshly."

The government says the money will bring peace dividends to the people in this Indian Ocean country.

But the Tiger rebels say they want the government to hand over the administration of the Tamil-majority north and east to them as a condition for their return to the negotiating table.

Observers say this is an almost impossible demand, as the government would need to change the constitution. This would require a two-thirds majority in parliament -- a majority the government does not enjoy.

An overwhelming majority of Sri Lankans back the peace talks, and 62 percent believe there will be peace soon, a recent survey shows.

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