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We will support you in quest for peace - Armitage

Deputy Secretary of State of US Richard Armitage yesterday said the international community is demonstrating to the government of Sri Lanka and to the LTTE that "we will support them in the quest for peace".

"We are demonstrating to the people of Sri Lanka that we will help them when they need it most," he told the Concluding Plenary Session of the Tokyo Conference at the Akasaka Prince Hotel last morning.

Armitage also said: "Sri Lanka is a country that has seen far too many swerves of history in the past 20 years, and while the path to peace has not exactly been a straight line, I think today we can all imagine a better future for Sri Lanka. It is important for all the parties involved - from the prime minister to the president, to the leaders and the members of the LTTE, to the people of Sri Lanka - to keep their eyes firmly fixed on the destination they want to reach, which is peace and prosperity for all Sri Lankans - Muslim, Christian, Buddhist and Hindu, Tamil and Sinhalese.

We donor nations - we who are involved in the future of Sri Lanka as a matter of choice - we too will be keeping our eyes on the horizon. At the same time, we're also going to be watching the milestones along the way. After all, we are pledging to the people of Sri Lanka a considerable amount of money, and we all want to be sure that the hard-earned resources of all of our people are well spent. Today the international community is demonstrating to the government of Sri Lanka and to the LTTE that we will support them in the quest for peace, and we are demonstrating to the people of Sri Lanka that we will help them when they need it most.

Indeed, much of the assistance we have pledged today will go to those who are most desperate, the more than half-million refugees who want to return home, and it will help to restore the physical and the social infrastructure within the communities of those areas and between communities across the country. But for Sri Lankans, there is a price to pay. The price of our faith in you is your progress toward peace. We expect you to disperse this assistance fairly and equitably, with transparency and accountability, and above all with respect for human rights.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there has to be measurable movement towards peace, which I believe will require a series of steps that are incremental and progressive, such as those Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has delineated. It is my fervent hope that those steps can be discussed and decided upon in negotiations that will resume immediately. In this endeavour, I urge the government and the LTTE to allow themselves to be governed by their " expectations, rather than by their frustrations.

The cost of failure at this point in lives and lost opportunities is too high to bear, and the potential benefits are equally beyond calculation. It has taken the courage of many people to reach this point. President Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, Ministers G. L. Peiris and my friend Milinda Moragoda - and for that matter Velupillai Pirapaharan and Anton Balasingham. Now these are the people who must show even more courage, as well as patience, as well as perseverance.

Indeed, it is my belief that the people of Sri Lanka, and the long eye of history, will not look kindly on anyone who fails to be an agent for peace at this moment of decision. I'd like to join others this morning in expressing my appreciation once again to my co-chairs: the government of Norway, for its unshakeable faith in the cause of peace; the European Union, which added so much credibility to these proceedings; and of course, our Japanese hosts, for organizing this conference.

Indeed, Japan's legendary generosity of spirit appears to have inspired all of us, these past two days, with the considerable material support pledged here, and even more considerable moral support. It is my hope - indeed it is my belief - that today in Sri Lanka, a generation that has grown up knowing nothing but war and hardship will grow old knowing only security and prosperity.

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