WASHINGTON, May 26 — The IMF said today it is committed to helping crisis-battered Sri Lanka, but any aid programme will be contingent on ensuring the nation’s unsustainable debt can be managed.

The cash-strapped South Asian nation of 22 million people is facing its worst crisis since independence: it has suffered months of dire shortages of food and medicines, as well as intensifying anti-government protests.

Sri Lanka has defaulted on its US$51-billion (RM224-billion) foreign debt and on Tuesday appointed international consultants to help restructure its international sovereign bonds and bilateral loans.

The government also effectively ended subsidies on fuel by raising prices to a record high on Tuesday.

An IMF team held two weeks of discussions with authorities in Colombo and expressed commitment to continue to work on a package of “concrete measures” to end the crisis.

“We are deeply concerned about the impact of the ongoing crisis on the people, particularly the poor and vulnerable groups,” the IMF said in a statement.

The Washington-based crisis lender welcomed the appointment of advisors to work with the country’s creditors.

However, since the country’s public debt is “assessed as unsustainable, approval by the Executive Board of an IMF-supported programme for Sri Lanka would require adequate assurances that debt sustainability will be restored,” the statement said.

Local officials have said it could take another six months to finalise an IMF aid programme.

The fund said the talks were “focused on restoring fiscal sustainability while protecting the vulnerable and poor,” as well as reforms to enhance growth. — AFP