The US deputy assistant administrator for the US Agency for International Development (USAID), Mark Ward, on Friday said widespread, multi-partisan support was necessary to take Sri Lanka's fragile peace bid forward.

His remarks came a day after Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe accused his rival, President Chandrika Kumaratunga, of "seriously jeopardising" the Norwegian-backed peace bid with Tamil Tiger rebels by sacking 39 junior ministers.

"Development assistance and private investment from abroad can help Sri Lanka to realise its enormous economic potential," Ward said in Colombo.

"Such overseas support will be jeopardised, however, in the absence of political stability"

Mark Ward,
deputy assistant administrator, USAID

"Such overseas support will be jeopardised, however, in the absence of political stability."

He said the USAID offices here had planned to close down three years ago, but with the revival of the peace process and a truce since February 2002, they had changed their minds and were strongly committed here.

Ward said USAID officials had finalised a five-year $120 million plan entitled Supporting Peace and Reform in Sri Lanka.

Postwar recovery

He said continued international support was necessary to help rebuild and reconstruct Sri Lanka's infrastructure, damaged by three decades of fighting, and create new jobs and address poverty.

The political crisis, which culminated with Kumaratunga sacking the legislature led by his rival premier Saturday, is seen by diplomats here as a setback to the peace process.
 
The US has been strongly supporting Norway's efforts to broker peace in the island where more than 60,000 people have been killed in three decades of ethnic bloodshed.

However, the US does not directly fund areas held by the Tamil Tigers in the island's northeast, Ward said.

The US outlawed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in October 1997 and has said it will reconsider if the guerrillas give up their terror tactics, stop child recruitment and show their commitment to democracy.