The Web Sri Lanka In Focus

Monday, 7 July 2008

India's Cairn to invest 100 mln dlrs to explore oil in Sri Lanka

Cairn India, a unit of British exploration firm Cairn Energy Plc, plans to invest 100 million dollars to explore oil and natural gas deposits off Sri Lanka's coast, officials said Monday.

Spread over three years, the investment includes conducting further seismic studies and drilling three wells off the island's northwestern coast of Mannar, Cairn India's chief financial officer Indrajit Banerjee told reporters here.

"Oil and gas exploration is a risky business and success is not always guaranteed. We plan to do more seismic studies because as of now we don't know what's down there," Banerjee said.

Sri Lanka, which imports all of its oil needs, offered three blocks to investors after seismic surveys showed oil deposits along the Gulf of Mannar close to neighbouring India.

Block two, an area that covers around 3,400 square kilometres (1,360 square miles) off Mannar, was offered to Cairn in June after a competitive bidding process.

"The Mannar basin has not been explored in Sri Lankan waters and as such represents a frontier petroleum province," Banerjee said.

Cairn has been in South Asia for more than a decade and has developed a good understanding of the region's geology, Banerjee said.

Banerjee added the company has made over 40 oil and gas discoveries to date in India, including the Mangala discovery onshore in the deserts of Rajasthan, which has an estimated total oil in place of 3.7 billion barrels.

Sri Lanka's north and east has seen heavy fighting over the past three decades as separatist rebels push to carve out a separate homeland for minority Tamils from the majority Sinhalese community.

Fighting has intensified since January, when the government pulled out of a Norwegian-brokered ceasefire with the Tamil Tigers.

"We have taken the security aspect into consideration in our bid. And the government has told us that the area is out of danger," Banerjee said.

Petroleum minister A.H.M. Fowzie said the government will provide adequate security when Cairn's project gets off the ground in six months.

"We can provide enough security for the project," Fowzie said.

Besides Cairn, India's state-run ONGC Videsh and Canada's Niko Resources bid to explore block two.

Sri Lanka has already allocated two other blocks to the governments of India and China.

Fowzie said Cairn deposited a one-million-dollar cheque with the Sri Lankan government during Monday's signing ceremony.

The island spent just under three billion dollars in 2007 importing oil and Fowzie expects the fuel bill to climb to four billion dollars this year.

Over 35 years ago, overseas companies explored areas off Sri Lanka's northwest coast, but failed to find any oil and gas reserves worth exploiting commercially.

Source: AFP

Sri Lanka warns of rebel attacks in Colombo

Sri Lanka beefed up security on Monday and warned of possible rebel attacks around the capital Colombo as the island's Tamil Tiger rebels marked the 21st anniversary of their first rebel suicide attack.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on the weekend commemorated the 356 men and women who have blown themselves up suicide attacks since the first such attack on 5th July 1987, when the suicide bomber or Black Tiger drove an explosive-laden truck into a Sri Lankan Army garrison in northern Jaffna.

"According to the information bureau, the LTTE is planning disruptions in south - Colombo, the suburbs and other parts. We have put all police officers on alert," said police spokesman Ranjith Gunasekera.

Last year, Black Tiger commandos attacked the Sri Lankan airbase in north central district of Anudradhapura in the rebels' first combined Black Tiger and air attack, destroying several aircraft.

Separately, Sri Lanka's military said it killed 69 Tamil Tiger rebels in the island's far north in fresh weekend fighting. Five soldiers were also killed.

The fighting in the northern districts of Jaffna, Vavuniya, Mannar and Polonnaruwa came amid near daily land, sea and air attacks, as the government tries to gradually retake the rebels' northern stronghold in a bid to win the 25-year civil war.

"Troops killed 69 LTTE terrorists and injured 77 in fighting since Friday. Five soldiers died and 23 were injured from the fighting," said a military spokesman.

The military also said troops captured strategically important rebel bunkers in island's north on weekend while air force gunship helicopters attacked rebel positions.

The LTTE, fighting to create an independent state in north and east Sri Lanka for ethnic Tamils, a minority in the predominantly Sinhalese country, were not immediately available for comment.

Analysts say the military has the upper hand in the latest phase of the long-running war given superior air power, strength of numbers and swathes of terrain captured in the island's east, though they still see no clear winner on the horizon.

An estimated 70,000 people have died since the civil war began in 1983.

Source: Hindu

Bharti to start Lanka services by year-end

Bharti Airtel hopes to start providing services in Sri Lanka by the end of this year. Besides 2G, the firm is currently testing 3G services in the island.

"We will roll out both 2G and 3G network throughout Sri Lanka. The roll out will replicate the model currently followed in India," a source close to the development said. The company will initially start with Colombo and thereafter move to other towns and rural areas, he added.

Bharti has tied up with Huawei Technologies to build and manage GSM mobile infrastructure in Sri Lanka. Huawei will deploy and manage Airtel's core network, BTS and end-to-end 2G/3G network solutions. About 80% of Sri Lanka's mobile market is controlled by Dialog Telekom, a unit of Telekom Malaysia. "We will soon take a decision on the handset company with which we can tie up for bundled offers," the source said.

Meanwhile, Bharti intends to cover around 85% of India's rural population by the year-end. "We will expand in clusters to reach remote villages," said K Srinivas, Bharti executive director (east hub & Sri Lanka). Bharti currently enjoys 28.5% market share in eastern India. "We have already identified the areas that need to be covered," K Srinivas added.

Source: timesofindia

Canadian Tamils hold rally, condemn Ottawa's ban

Waving the flag of the Tamil Tigers guerrillas, thousands of Canadian Tamils gathered this weekend for their first rally since the federal government shocked the community by outlawing a Toronto-based Tamil non-profit group under the Anti-Terrorism Act.

A statement issued by the event's organizers condemned the government for last month's decision to ban the World Tamil Movement as a suspected financial front for the Tigers, and called on Canada to recognize guerrilla-held areas of northern Sri Lanka as an independent state, called Tamil Eelam.

"There is no other solution to this conflict," said Brian Senewiratne, a medical doctor from Australia who was the keynote speaker, addressing the large crowd at Downsview Park from a giant stage.

The Sri Lankan-born physician, who showed video clips of helicopter gunships firing rockets, called the Sri Lankan government a "murderous, barbaric regime" that was at war "against the Tamil people."

He said the Tamil Tigers, also known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, were a legitimate liberation movement. "There is a very clear distinction between terrorism and freedom fighters."

He urged the crowd to get more involved in the fight for Tamil independence.

"What I want to do is move you from watching things happen to making things happen." Canada's decision to ban the Tamil Tigers "has to be challenged," he said.

The rally was just the latest of many similar events that have taken place across Canada over the past decade but it came at a critical time: as the Tigers are apparently losing ground steadily on the battlefield and the Conservatives in Ottawa are taking a firm stand against Tamil Tigers activities in Canada.

Following a five-year RCMP investigation, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day announced in June that the government had placed the World Tamil Movement, which had offices in Toronto and Montreal, on Canada's list of outlawed terrorist groups because of evidence it was financing the Tigers.

The location of the rally was not announced until late Friday afternoon. The Sri Lankan United National Association of Canada had written to police asking them to cancel the event's permit because the Tigers are an outlawed terrorist group under Canadian law.

Participants were bussed in from around the region. They ranged from young children to the elderly, and carried signs that read: "O Canada you have a responsibility," and "Don't label us as terrorists."

Organizer Thiru Thiruchelvam said the location was only announced at the last minute because the event kept growing and they had to find a venue to accommodate the expected crowds.

"What we want is peace," said Thiruchelvam, who told how his 19-year-old son was killed by Sri Lankan government forces. "We are asking the Canadian government to get involved."

Sri Lankan Consul General Bandula Jayasekara denied Senewiratne's claim that Sri Lanka was at war with the Tamil people.

"The LTTE has killed more Tamil leaders than anyone else," he said. "Unfortunately the LTTE, a ruthless terrorist organization, has brought its ruthless war to Canada."