Agence France Presse

Colombo, January 23:

The Sri Lankan government today vehemently denied claims by Tamil Tiger rebels that it is using international aid for post-tsunami relief to purchase arms.

A report on the Tamilnet 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 Kilinochchi yesterday. “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. 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.”

The Iran arms deal claim is the latest in a series of increasingly bitter spats between the government and rebels over the distribution of millions of dollars of relief materials and funds arriving in the country to assist tsunami victims.