Lanka denies using aid to buy weapons
COLOMBO: The Sri Lankan government on Sunday denied claims by Tamil Tiger rebels that it is using tsunami relief donations to buy arms, as peace broker Norway urged the two sides to unite to rebuild the battered country.
A report on the Tamil net website said Velupillai Prabhakaran, leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), had raised the issue with Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen when they met in the north-eastern town of Kilinochchi on Saturday.
“Our leader (Prabhakaran) has brought to the notice of the Norwegian delegation that the international aid coming to the country due to sympathy following tsunami disaster is being misused by the government,” LTTE chief negotiator Anton Balasingham was quoted by Tamilnet as saying. “Our leader has pointed out that the (government) has taken steps to purchase arms from Iran at a cost of 150 million US dollars. This act is considered as an attempt to tilt the balance of military power.”
Defence ministry spokesman Brigadier Daya Ratnayake strongly denied the claim that aid cash was involved but told AFP that talks with Iran had been going on for some time although there was no deal yet. “Nothing is finalised.” He declined to say what weaponry was being discussed or the sums involved. “We have a regular armed force and procurement is a national requirement,” Ratnayake said. “But as for using aid money - we deny it.” Tiger rebels and troops have been observing a truce, which peace broker Norway arranged in February 2002 but peace talks have remained deadlocked since April 2003.
Attempts by Norway to break the impasse have since failed and each side has accused the other of using the truce to rearm. The Iran arms deal claim is the latest in a series of increasingly bitter disputes between the government and rebels over the distribution of millions of dollars of relief materials and funds. afp