Tourism Minister John Amaratunga on Friday ruled out that terrorists involved in the Easter bombing in the island nation had any Indian links. He was interacting with reporters as part of the Sri Lanka tourism promotion programme in Kochi on Friday, the New Indian Express reported.
Earlier, Sri Lankan Army Chief Mahesh Senanayake said terrorists involved in the Easter day bombing had travelled to Kashmir, Bengaluru and Kerala. He suspected it to be for training or establishing links with other organisation outside India. However, Amaratunga ruled out any such links. “I am not quite sure about it. But there were not many terrorists in Sri Lanka. I don’t know about terrorist training in India. I know they had a couple of training centres in Sri Lanka itself. We were able to identify those places,” he said.
Sri Lankan tourism took a major hit following the bombing. However, tourism is back on track now. “In May, our number of tourist arrival drastically dropped. Several cancellations took place on account of the safety measures. But our security forces were able to nab all persons who were directly involved in the IS terrorist activities. Now we are assuring anyone who visits Sri Lanka 100 per cent safety. Many countries that came out with travel advisories against visiting Sri Lanka have now withdrawn them,” he said.
Sri Lanka had targeted to host three million tourists in 2019, but due to the bomb attack, reaching the figure would be a hard task. “But we will reach close to the figure. Sri Lanka relies on tourism for its foreign exchange. Last year, we received $4.3 billion in foreign exchange (from the sector).
We had targeted to extended it to $5 billion in 2019, but we may not achieve it due to various developments,” he said. The tourism sector in the island nation is looking to attract more tourists from India, especially southern states.
More tourism promotion activities will be concentrated around South India. In 2018, the highest number of foreign tourists who reached Sri Lanka were from India, followed by China. As many as 4.25 lakh Indian travellers visited Sri Lanka with most visitors from metro cities in India. “The population of India is 1.5 billion and if we can attract half of them to Sri Lanka, it will be more than enough for our tourism,” he said.
Amaratunga said the Sri Lanka High Commission in Delhi has taken up with the Indian authorities the resumption of the ferry service connecting Talaimannar Pier in North Sri Lanka and Rameshwaram in South India.
“I visited the Talaimannar Pier twice to see the facilities there. Now the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister has to give the green light. It will make very inexpensive for tourists to reach Sri Lanka. It will also save time and cost for trade. We hope the matter will be sorted out by the end of the year,” he said. Sri Lanka is also opening Jaffna for tourists.
According to Amaratunga, the political relationship between India and Sri Lanka is now very strong and cordial, especially after Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power. “He made his first visit as the Prime Minister to Sri Lanka which was after the bomb attack. That showed to the rest of the world that Sri Lanka is safe for tourists. India has proposed several projects in Sri Lanka,” he said.