- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 13, 2002

America's ambassador to Sri Lanka says an end to the island's 18-year civil war could give birth to Asia's newest economic "success story."

With peace, the island will "become South Asia's Singapore in a jiffy," Ambassador E. Ashley Wills told a group of Sri Lanka scholars and policy officials at a recent breakfast meeting.

Mr. Wills said he was optimistic that peace talks to be sponsored by Norway later this month could end the civil war between Sri Lanka's government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

The government and the Tamil Tigers signed a cease-fire agreement on Feb. 22 to set the stage for talks sometime in July to end the conflict that has killed an estimated 70,000.

Mr. Wills said the island already has many economic advantages, including a 90 percent literacy rate and an excellent public health care system.

"No doubt that the government of Sri Lanka is sincere in wanting to end this war and bring about lasting peace," he said.

Norway is to mediate the proposed talks in Thailand.

The United States has expressed enthusiasm for the peace effort, but it is unlikely to offer substantial aid until the conflict is resolved, the ambassador said.

Japan stands behind the scenes as the largest donor of assistance to Sri Lanka.

Mr. Wills said the war has served hard-liners among the island's ruling Sinhalese majority and the ethnic Tamil minority.

The conflict in Sri Lanka in part a result of discrimination against the Tamils has been characterized by suicide bombings, the use of child soldiers and other human rights abuses.

Last year, UNICEF and other U.N. agencies criticized the Tamil Tigers for continuing to recruit child soldiers.

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