The Web Sri Lanka In Focus

Friday, 11 July 2008

Sri Lanka's June tourist arrivals fall 9.3-pct

Sri Lanka attracted fewer holidaymakers in June, the island's main tourism promotion authority said Friday, blaming the drop in the number of visitors on the country's ongoing ethnic conflict.
Arrivals in June fell 9.3 percent to 27,960 from 30,810 reported a year earlier and totalled 224,363 in the first half of 2008, down 0.2 percent from the same period a year earlier, Sri Lanka Tourism said.

The number of visitors from Britain and Germany -- both key markets -- fell five percent each in June to 5,304 and 1,317 respectively over the same period a year earlier.

The number of leisure travellers from neighbouring India declined 28.8 percent in June to 5,664, as against the same period last year.

"It's the conflict that is keeping tourists away. There are frequent bomb attacks and it is natural they would be cautious to travel here," an official from the tourism authority said.

Many countries in the west have cautioned their nationals against travelling to Sri Lanka, where fighting between government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels has escalated since the start of the year.

The rebels, who are fighting for a separate homeland for minority Tamils, have been blamed for a string of bomb attacks in and around the capital, where most of the country's upmarket hotels are situated.

Despite the threat of terrorism, the state-run tourism promotion agency is aiming to attract 600,000 foreign visitors this year, officials said.
Tourism is the fourth biggest revenue generator for Sri Lanka's 27-billion-dollar economy, behind remittances from expatriate workers, clothing and tea exports.

Source: LBO

4 Sri Lankan Civilians Killed In Bus Ambush

At least four civilians were killed and 25 others injured when gunmen ambushed a crowded passenger bus in Sri Lanka’s deep south on Friday, according to army officials.

The incident took place in the southern town of Buttala, 240km south-east of the capital, Colombo, considerably far from the regular struggle regions in the north.

Authorities reported that the still unidentified attackers, hiding by the side of the road, began to fire at the bus as it passed. However, officials believe that the assaulters are members of the Tamil Tiger rebels, who are disputing for an autonomous homeland in Sri Lanka. Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan could not be contacted for comment. The Tamil Tigers have been held responsible for various suicide bombings and other attacks on civilians and are registered as a terror group by the United States, European Union and India.

The Associated Press cited military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara as saying that the bus driver accelerated in order to avoid the attack and stopped only when he was sure to have reached shelter.

The defense ministry reported in a statement that two women and a 12-year-old child were also among the victims murdered in the assault and their dead bodies have been taken to the hospital. A wounded individual died at the hospital because of the critical injuries, raising the number of dead to four, according to the statement.

In January this year, 26 people died in a bomb attack on a bus in the same region of Sri Lanka. Buttala is in a Sinhalese-ruled area, far from the rebels’ monopoly in the north.

Source: enews20

S.Lanka's budget deficit, foreign debts mounting: Treasury

Sri Lanka's overall budget deficit is growing due to increased public investment and foreign debt is mounting, the country's Treasury department said on Friday.

The budget deficit has risen 25.7 percent in the first four months of 2008 compared with last year, the department's mid year fiscal position report said.

"The overall deficit increased to 93.4 billion rupees ($867.4 million) from 74.3 billion rupees due to increased public investments," the treasury said in the report.

The government's external debt totalled $15.3 billion at the end of May, a $180 million increase from end 2007, the report showed, while its total debt rose to 3,328.8 billion rupees by the end of April, up 18.1 percent from a year earlier.

Credit rating agency Standard and Poor's warned Sri Lanka last month it was at risk of a downgrade from its current B+ rating, while Fitch Ratings said it was concerned over Sri Lanka's increasing foreign commercial borrowings.

"The government should curtail its spending," said Chirantha Caldera, a currency dealer at Commercial Bank of Ceylon.

"If your revenue is coming down, and your defence expenditure is escalating, then curtailing spending on capital expenditure like infrastructure should be there," Caldera said, adding the government risked further stoking inflation which was running at an annual 28.2 percent in June.

The government has allocated around 18 percent of its 925.1 billion rupees budget this year to defence spending, after pledging to finally crush Tamil Tiger rebels in a war that has killed more than 70,000 people since 1983.

Sri Lanka has also been struggling to pay high global oil prices, which have hit levels above $145 this month compared with the island's 2008 budget estimate of $85 per barrel.

The central bank this week said the oil price alone would increase the country's trade deficit by $500 million to $4.47 billion this year.

Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal told Reuters on Tuesday that inflation would be no higher than 20 percent at the end of 2008 and stuck with an economic growth forecast of 7 percent. [ID:nCOL98109].

The fiscal report showed revenue increased by 23.5 percent to 210.4 billion rupees, while expenditure rose 24.2 percent to 303.8 billion rupees in the first four months.

Public investment spending increased by 15.1 billion rupees, while current government spending rose by 23.5 percent or 43.6 billion rupees to 229.2 billion rupees.

The treasury said the deficit from its operating activities in the first five months had surged to 23.4 billion rupees ($217.3 million) from last year's 11.62 billion rupees. "The main reason for the deviation was the shortfall of revenue receipts," it said.

Source: reuters

Ready for ceasefire and talks, says LTTE

Facing a concerted military offensive by the Sri Lankan army in its stronghold of Jaffna peninsula, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has expressed readiness for ceasefire and peace talks with the island government.

LTTE's political wing chief, V Nadesan, on Thursday said that the group was ready for a ceasefire now, while accusing the Sri Lankan government of 'abrogating' the six-year-long ceasefire, which came to an end early this year.

Nadesan, in a telephonic interview to Times Now television channel, said the LTTE was not against peace negotiations.
'Yes' was his answer when asked whether the LTTE was for the ceasefire starting again.

'It is the Sri Lankan State that unilaterally abrogated the ceasefire agreement and is unleashing a war against the Tamils in their homeland,' he charged.

'We are not against ceasefire or peace talks,' he said.

Asked about the petition filed by Nalini, sentenced to life in the Rajiv Gandhi Assassination case, seeking premature release, Nadesan said the LTTE believed that holistic changes will take place and the Indian government 'will recognise the legitimate aspirations of Tamil people and their freedom struggle. And Nalini's release will start the holistic change'.

He also termed Priyanka Vadhra's visit to the Vellore prison to meet Nalini a few months ago as a 'humanitarian gesture'. LTTE, which was indicted in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination, continues to be banned in India.

Nadesan's interview came as the Sri Lankan military chief LT Gen Sarath Fonseka claimed on June 30 that LTTE had lost capability to fight as a conventional force and its cadre strength had dropped to 5000 from 8000 in August 2006.

Nadesan said weakening of the Eelam movement will 'definitely undermine' Indian interest in the region, paving way for anti-Indian forces to gain a stronghold.

Referring to reports of Indian military aiding the Lankan armed forces, he said the Indian government had 'wrongly identified the partner'.

'It (Sri Lanka government) has always been working against Indian interest in the area (region); once again the (Sri Lankan) government is going to cheat the Indian government,' he said.

About support from some political leaders in Tamil Nadu, he said their backing was a 'support to their brothers and sisters in Tamil Eelam to achieve their legitimate aspirations and freedom'.

On the recent escalation of 'war' in Sri Lanka and LTTE's strategy to face it, he said: 'We always use various military strategies according to the political and military conditions on the ground. Tamil people are giving full support to our struggle. We are confident we can pass any obstacle in the freedom struggle with the help of our people.'

He denied that his outfit suffered huge losses due to the escalation and its morale was at the lowest ebb.

He also brushed aside claims by the Sri Lankan Army that LTTE leader V Prabhakaran would be captured alive soon and said 'our leader is carrying on his work'.

Source: rediff