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Security assurance still inadequate to convince tourists

29 May 2019 12:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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President Maithripala Sirisena on Monday had again given an assurance on the country’s security situation to the international community and said that 99% of the terrorists had been contained. 

He addressed the diplomatic community with a view of persuading it to lift the travel adversaries that had been announced by some countries for their citizens, who intend to travel to Sri Lanka.   

This is the second time the President had given the same assurance to the international community about the security situation, but he seems to have failed to convince them yet. His concern is comprehensible as the country’s tourism sector has suffered a severe setback after the Easter Sunday terrorist suicide attack on churches and five-star hotels. Two weeks ago, newspaper reports said that only four out of 140 rooms in a hotel in Nuwara Eliya had been occupied and in another, the room occupation had been only one out of 40.   

Our sister paper, ‘The Sunday Times’ reported in its latest issue that the situation has not improved despite repeated assurances by the government to the international community on the security situation. The paper quoted Saliya Dayananda, President of the Cultural Triangle Hoteliers Association and the Co-Chairperson of the Association for Dambulla and Sigiriya Tourism Promotion as saying that in some hotels not even one room was occupied. According to the story, Dayananda had said that hoteliers chose to shut down to save on electricity and overhead costs and many hotels have sent their staff on paid leave.   

The paper further says that at Yala National Park, the number of vehicles has dropped from 400 a day to just two or three trucks a day, and in Minneriya, the number of vehicles has dropped from 450 a day before the terrorist attack to just 16 trucks last Wednesday.   

At a time when the present government has not undertaken any new development programme except for the Moragahakanda-Kaluganga irrigation project, the tourism industry has become one of the major foreign exchange earners, but it has been severely hit by the tense situation in the country. In fact, the industry had not been hit in such a drastic way even during the height of the separatist war.   

While the leaders of the country are giving assurances to the international community on the security situation keeping in mind only ISIS-affiliated terrorism, Saliya Dayananda points out another important factor that haunts the tourism industry. “The attacks hurt tourism, and the riots hurt tourism. The riots caused the same security issues that the terrorist attacks had caused” he said. “The industry will slowly catch up, but only if the riots stop,” he stressed.

Terrorism seems to have been contained. No incidents related to terrorism were heard since the last bomb explosion by the National Thawheed Jama’ath terrorists at Sainthamaruthu on April 26 and no challenges or rhetoric was heard from them after the ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi claimed responsibility to the barbaric Easter Sunday attacks on innocent people on April 29.
 It seems that all leaders of the local terrorist group are dead and their network in the country has been dismantled. However, the dramatized media hype about the capture of weapons such as swords and knives has created a fear psychosis among the people and rekindled the hate campaign in social media and to some extent even in mainstream media.  

With two main national elections, especially the Presidential election approaching, some politicians seem to want the tempo on and hatred spreads freely in social media, despite repeated assurances by the authorities concerned to remove such posts. In turn, a situation has arisen where communal riots could break out anywhere at any time. With the same elections in mind, leaders of the government seem to be perplexed and helpless. 

It is against this backdrop, that the President had addressed the diplomatic community. However, without identifying the immediate problem and developing a strategy to address the tense situation, it would be difficult to convince the international community.   

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