AUSTRALIAN NATIONALS HELD CAPTIVE
EXCERPTED FROM SENIOR DIG (RETD) MERRIL GUNARATNE’S “COP IN THE CROSSFIRE”
Ansell Lanka was a Board of Investment (BOI) approved company established around 1989 in the Free Trade Zone (FTZ) in Biyagama. The factory had been set up within a 25 acre site to manufacture surgical gloves. Approximately 3,000 Sri Lankans had been employed there. The managerial staff in 1994 comprised five Australians and 35 Sri Lankans.
In the second quarter of 1994, the management of the factory had been restructured to ensure greater output and better supervision of the workers. This triggered considerable worker unrest and a 30% wage increase sought. The hostage drama which began on July 30, 1994 was over this issue. The authorities refused to yield considering the demands totally unreasonable. Incensed, the workers led by about 12 ring leaders had decided to take the law into their own hands.
On July 30, 1994 the work on the second shift was scheduled to commence at 1.30 pm. This was the time for the first shift comprising of about 1,000 workers to cease work and leave the factory premises. When the second shift began, 12 ring leaders from the first shift had coerced several workers on the second shift to take members of the managerial staff including five Australians captive and confine them to the administration block within the factory premises. They had thereafter surrounded the administration block with drums of Isopropyl Alcohol, an extremely combustible and lethal spirit capable of causing instant death and destruction. Ten such drums had been placed in and around the administration block where the hostages were held captive. Large numbers from the concluded first shift had been forced to remain within the premises as well, the object being to demonstrate that the acts of the captors had overwhelming support among workers.
The hostage takers had laid down conditions for the release of the hostages; that their demand for a salary increase be met, and that police should not enter the factory premises. They had in fact informed the police through members of the private security agency hired by the company for the security of the premises that drums of lethal alcohol would be employed to kill the hostages, and that the factory would be set on fire, if any attempt was made by the police to enter the premises. The captors had mounted sentries at vantage points including the water tank, to watch vehicles advancing towards the factory. From subsequent accounts given by the hostages, the situation had been extremely tense, with most captives believing that the captors were determined to execute their threats if their demands were not met.
At about 3.00 pm. on the following day, I received a telephone call from Rohitha Bogollagama, Director General of the Board of Investment (BOI), when I was in my office in police headquarters. I was then Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police (Ranges), and therefore had jurisdiction over all territorial police ranges of DIGs in the country, including the Kelaniya Police Division where Ansell Lanka was located. Bogollagama said that the President and the Prime Minister had directed me to visit Biyagama and explore whether it would be possible to take appropriate steps to overcome the impasse and secure the release of the hostages.
I immediately telephoned Edmund Karunanayake, DIG (Western Province, North) who had authority over Biyagama. I also spoke to Ananda Jayasekera, Senior Superintendent of Police Kelaniya (SSP) to ascertain facts connected with developments. Having been associated for a long time with work connected with intelligence and terrorism, I was convinced that only terrorists with political motives who had undergone training could be that fanatical. The narration of developments by the DIG and SSP Kelaniya gave me the impression that in this instance, the hostage situation had been triggered by novices masquerading as terrorists. Nonetheless the Kelaniya police officers had taken the threats of the hostage takers seriously.
Before leaving for Biyagama to take command of the situation, I informed DIG (Western Province, North) to establish a Command Post within Biyagama Free Trade Zone (FTZ) with radio and telephone facilities. I directed the DIG and the SSP to await me at the post. I thereafter telephoned the office of DIG of the Special Task Force (STF) in order to communicate with Lionel Karunasena, the commandant, to see whether it was possible for them to despatch an elite unit capable of mounting a rescue operation if necessary. Lionel Karunasena (who unfortunately died later) was not at his desk, having flown to Batticaloa – Ampara for operations against the militants. I thereupon spoke to his deputy, Upali Sahabandu, and requested his assistance.
He was most enthusiastic to participate in what would be a novel challenge, but said that he would first speak to his DIG for permission and telephone me. Within five minutes he telephoned and said that he had obtained the required approval. I directed him to arrive at Biyagama as early as possible. When I reached the Command Post at about 4.30 pm, Upali had already arrived there. He had brought with him an array of sophisticated weapons, body armour, stun grenades, the best sharp shooters and equipment to cut through physical barriers.
I sat down to a discussion with DIG Karunanayake, SSP Ananda Jayasekera, Deputy Commandant of the STF Upali Sahabandu and other senior officers of Kelaniya Police Division and the STF. After listening to them, I was surprised that the captors had been allowed to enjoy certain vital facilities without restriction.
They had been permitted the use of telephone facilities with the outside world. They had also enjoyed the luxury of obtaining crucial information through officers of the private security agency (attached to the Company) who had been allowed to move to and from the factory premises. As a result, the “hostage takers” were able to gauge the state of mind of the police and the FTZ authorities, and also to gain psychological dominance over the latter. The general view of those at the conference was that the hostage takers were serious in their threat to execute the hostages if their demands were not met. The point that the suspects had threatened death to the hostages if police were seen outside the factory was repeatedly emphasized by senior police officers of Kelaniya.
Having assessed the overall situation, I came to the conclusion that the hostage takers had gained ascendancy over the management of the FTZ in Biyagama and the police through deception and bluff. The police had been demoralized to a point where they had thought it appropriate to compromise rather than adopt decisive steps. What raced through my mind at the time was that I was encountering a dilemma of unusual proportions. On the one hand, there was no room for negotiations since the hostage takers were not only irrational, but were also some distance away from the gate of the factory, thus denying scope for discussion and negotiation. They had also assumed a state of dominance over the police. I realized that the strongest option available was to storm the factory in order to rescue the hostages. Before making such a choice fraught with the possibility of death and injury to hostages, and accompanying consequences to the government and myself, I considered it appropriate to address and drive sense into them, by speaking to them over a loud hailer from the factory gate.
Before exercising the chosen option, I ordered Upali Sahabandu to conduct a survey and indicate whether the STF could penetrate the perimeter fence, reach the administration block quickly, confront the miscreants and rescue the hostages. I felt that the captors may be confused and demoralized on seeing the STF troops doing a recce, a development they would not have expected.
At about 6.00 p.m, Upali Sahabandu, Deputy Commandant of the STF, returned after the recce and informed me that his men could successfully storm the administration block within the factory and rescue the hostages. Having received a brief report about his plan of action, I asked him how long it would take to complete the entire operation and also the possibility of casualties. He said that there were risks involved, but that casualties could be minimized, and that the entire operation including the successful rescue of the hostages would not exceed more than about 10 minutes. He further stated that the STF may have no option but to shoot at the captors at time of entry. I then took the decision that if my addressing the captors did not yield results, I would storm the premises. I still remember the surprise and consternation on the faces of Director General of the BOI, Rohitha Bogollagama and the Australian High Commissioner who had by now arrived at the Command Post and were privy to our discussions.
I decided as a first step to address the hostage takers from the entrance gate of the factory. DIG (W.P North) and SSP Kelaniya were vehemently opposed to my decision. Before speaking to them, steps were taken to disrupt telephone facilities and electricity within the factory premises. This unexpected step caused panic amongst the captors. Thereafter, officers of the private security agency who so far had unfettered movement to and from the factory, were barred further entry. The captors were thus denied a valuable source of information. At 7.30 pm, I addressed the hostage takers and told them through a loud hailer from the entrance gate that they should walk out with the hostages unharmed within half an hour or I would not be able to guarantee their safety. A misleading assurance was also communicated to them that their demand for a salary increase would be met if they obliged. This conciliatory step was adopted as bait as well as a face saving formula to enable them to comply with the ultimatum.
The captors, rather than confront the STF troops, decided to surrender. At about 8.00 pm. they walked out of the factory premises with the hostages unharmed. The 12 ring leaders were taken into custody. Rohitha Bogollagama and the Australian envoy were profuse in their thanks. After the successful conclusion of the mission, General Hamilton Wanasinghe, Secretary of Defence at the time, whilst extending congratulations, cautioned against summoning the STF without his sanction (the STF at that time was administered by the Ministry of Defence).
Arms race accelerating to new heights in Asia
The arms race is being accelerated to unprecedented heights in the Asian region through the introduction by some major powers of what is being described as the hypersonic missile. China was the latest nuclear-capable state to test fire this missile which could be equipped with nuclear warheads and is, therefore, invested with a mass destruction potential. However, India is making it clear that it would not be outdone by China in this competition for superior weapons technology by developing a hypersonic missile of its own.
A recent news report said, among other things, of the Chinese experiment that, “China recently tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile which circled the globe before missing its target, demonstrating an advanced space capability that caught US intelligence by surprise.” It is the missile’s advanced space capability that is among its most notable characteristics. In this respect it is a clear upgrade over the inter-continental ballistic missile that has a very much lower strike range.
As specialists have pointed out, the ICBM has a parabolic movement and hits its target at an ascertainable distance on the same geographical plane from the launch site but it does not possess the capability of travelling around the globe. The hypersonic missile, in contrast, has this globe-encircling capability and ought to be more worrying in respect of its destructive capability. However, it is the weapon that has come to be prized by the major powers. Besides the US, China and Russia, some other states that are said to be in the running for developing hypersonic weapons technology are; Australia, France, Germany and Japan, besides India. That is, almost the entirety of the world’s regions is caught up in the race for developing hypersonic missiles, with, of course, grave implications for the security of the human race.
Considering that China and India are in an unrelenting arms race and also taking cognizance of the possibility of other regional powers, such as Pakistan, not standing idly by as this competition continuously hots-up, it could be said that South Asia’s development prospects in particular stand the risk of being progressively blighted. Needless to say, South Asia’s poverty would be greatly aggravated when defense budgets of the region’s key states acquire greater precedence over their social welfare budgets. Besides, issues such as climate change would come to be overlooked by these states, resulting in the region’s development prospects being further undermined.
Ideally, SAARC needs to take a collective policy position over climate change issues that would be surfacing at the upcoming Climate Change Conference in Glasgow but with the region’s foremost powers hardly talking to each other and arms taking precedence over ‘Bread ‘, climate change questions are unlikely to acquire the importance due to them at Glasgow and other prime climate-linked international parleys. As a result, social welfare in South Asia would be steadily imperiled in the days ahead.
Focusing on the numerous dangers faced by the SAARC region as a result of climate change questions coming to be overlooked by the relevant governments, the ADB warned some time back: “…the collective economy of six countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka – could shrink by up to 1.8 per cent every year by 2050 and 8.8 per cent by 2100, on average.”
However, it is not only the poor of South Asia who would be badly affected by the current global arms race. It would be correct to say that in degree to the proportion to which the arms race speeds-up worldwide, to the same extent would the poor everywhere be further impoverished and rendered vulnerable. This is on account of welfare budgets the world over suffering shrinkage in the wake of stepped-up arms spending. But the segment to suffer most acutely will be the poor of South Asia.
The continuing tensions between China and India on their disputed border areas would only aggravate the arms race between the Asian giants in the days to come. There are veritable eye-ball-to-eye-ball stand-offs between the armies of the two countries in the areas in contention. These tensions are currently focusing on the border India’s Arunachal Pradesh has with China. A few months back China-India tensions centred on the Ladakh region. Talks between the countries to sort out these disputes are ongoing but increasing insecurities would only stress the importance of armaments over development.
As this is being written, US President Joe Biden is heading for talks with the G20 grouping, which comprises the world’s most powerful countries. Biden would subsequently head for the climate change parley in Glasgow. Hopefully, the big powers would focus strongly on the current accelerating arms race and its consequences for the world. Put simply, they would need to discuss the ways and means of containing the arms race before it grows out of control. They would also need to understand, very crucially, that the major powers cannot credibly speak in terms of nuclear arms control and disarmament before they opt to systematically do away with the lethal, mass destruction arms which they already possess.
India and Pakistan possess a nuclear capability but they are not signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). From the viewpoint of these regional powers, this refusal to formally endorse the NPT is understandable because although some of the foremost powers of the Western hemisphere have signed the NPT, they are yet to say a clear “Yes” to nuclear disarmament. As long as the foremost global powers, such as the US, China and Russia, hold on to their nuclear weapons they cannot expect the prime powers of the South, such as India and Pakistan, to desist from developing a nuclear weapons capability.
Accordingly, the foremost powers could no longer gloss over arm control issues and pursue the relevant talks mechanically without connecting them to questions, such as, development, climate change and increasing worldwide insecurity. There is a logical link between insecurity, arms spending, underdevelopment and climate questions. The securing of sophisticated nuclear weapons is seen as a means to their security by powerful states, but they only create insecurities in their neighbours and the wider international community, who are in turn prompted to arm themselves with the same weapons. Thus is the arms race accelerated at the cost of human development and the environment. Slowing down the arms race is, therefore, imperative.
Ending the Dispossession of Northern Fishers by Indian Trawlers
Prof. Oscar Amarasinghe and Dr. Ahilan Kadirgamar
(Chancellor of the Ocean University and Senior Lecturer, Jaffna University, they are also, President and Executive Committee member respectively, of the Sri Lanka Forum for Small Scale Fisheries – SLFSSF)
From the beginning of the early 1980s, trawlers, from Tamil Nadu, have been crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) and illegally fishing in the Palk Bay waters of northern Sri Lanka, damaging the ecosystem by bottom trawling, smuggling fisheries resources, belonging to the northern Sri Lankan fishers, damaging their fishing equipment, and undermining their livelihoods. Diverse types of interventions, by the two governments, dialogues between the fishers of the two countries, involvement of civil society actors, and others, have done little to prevent human suffering, economic losses and the volatile political situation disturbing the relations between two friendly countries that have emerged from this 40-year long story of resource piracy. The northern Sri Lankan fishers, who suffered 30 years of civil war have had enough and there is an urgent need to end this crisis.
Extracting and devastating resources
Both Sri Lankan and Indian fishers used to share the Palk Bay waters (historic waters) in the past, which they did in harmony. However, post-war developments saw radical changes in the structure and organisation in fisheries, the expansion of the market and the establishment of borders separating the Palk Bay region, all of which had tremendous influence on fisheries, especially on the type of technology employed (craft-gear combinations), target species, fishing pressure and area of operation. In this process of change, a tremendous increase in Indian trawlers was observed, which finally resulted in a serious decline of fisheries resources on the Indian side of the Palk Bay and crossing of the IMBL by the Indian trawl fleet to fish in Sri Lankan waters.
In northern Sri Lanka, over 37,000 fishers operate more than 11,650 boats, the majority of which are 18 feet FRP boats propelled by outboard engines of 8 to 25hp. Including post-harvest sector employment and dependents, about 200,000 people in the Northern Province are dependent on the sector. They don’t stand a chance against the 2500 odd 30-60 feet trawlers from Tamil Nadu propelled by 70-190hp outboard engines. Indian trawl boats are crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (which was established in 1974 and 1976) to fish on the Sri Lankan side of the Palk Bay. These boats are poaching in Sri Lankan waters in large numbers as well as extracting and devastating the resources belonging to Sri Lankan fishers. Although the process of poaching commenced in a situation where Sri Lankan fishers in the North had limited fishing opportunities due to the civil war. Today the issue has become one of the most important economic and political issues in the country, because with the end of the war in 2009, the Sri Lankan fishers in the North has commenced fishing.
The Palk Bay Pirates
Trawlers come at night, three days a week, smuggle colossal amounts of fisheries resources, and damage Sri Lankan fishers’ nets, causing enormous financial losses. To avoid the trawlers, Sri Lankan fishers often stay at home instead of going out to sea, thus loosing valuable fishing time. They are forced to adopt less-profitable, near shore operations and/or resort to destructive fishing practices (trawling, wing nets, purse seining, dynamiting, etc.). The social institutions of the fishing communities, particularly fisheries co-operatives present in every village, have been weakened due to the long decline of fishing incomes, where a fraction of such incomes are normally contributed to run the co-operatives. Thus, participatory management and coastal support for fishing communities have been undermined. The long disruption of fisheries after the war has made it difficult for fishing communities to plan for the next season, and many are slowly moving out of the fishing sector to other forms of day wage labour.
In the early years, arrests of Indian trawlers for poaching were made for security reasons, because the Sri Lanka Navy, which was fighting a war, was less interested in fisheries issues. But since the cessation of the war, the Navy arrested the intruders for illegal entry into Sri Lankan territory. The arrests were made under the Foreign Fishing Boat Regulations Act No. 59 of 1979, Immigration Act of Sri Lanka and the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The impact of the arrests in preventing Indian trawl intrusion was neutralised by the arrests of Sri Lankan multiday fishers for poaching in Indian Territory, and detained in Indian prisons. Often, through the intervention of the embassies of the two countries, the Indian trawler fishers arrested and detained in Sri Lankan prisons were released in exchange for Sri Lankan fishers detained in India.
In trying to deal with this escalating crisis, the two governments drew up an MOU in 2005, which made provision for the establishment of a Joint Working Group (JWG), which among other things, would deal with issues of poaching and arrests. Although several rounds of discussions were held since 2008, no significant developments were reported, other than agreeing that fishers in both countries should be able to pursue fishing activity in a safe, secure and sustainable manner. However, some progress was achieved in the front of fisher-fisher dialogues. Several such dialogues have taken place in the past, initially organised by ARIF (Alliance for the Release of Innocent Fishermen) and later with the active involvement of the two governments. The most important of such dialogues took place in August 2010, where the Indians agreed to stop mechanised trawl fishing in Sri Lankan waters within a period of one year, during which time, only 70 days of trawling were to be allowed. Unfortunately, the governments failed to back up these decisions, and the promises were not kept. Further dialogues took place under state patronage in March 2011 and January 2014, which did not produce any fruitful results.
In April 2015, President Maithripala Sirisena convened a meeting with the various arms of the state and the northern fisher leaders on the request of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). This high level meeting and continued engagement gave the fisher folk the confidence that their plight was a matter of serious concern to the Government, and initiated bipartisan engagement on the issue, leading to significant progress. The Parliamentary debate in October 2015 on the ecological and socio-economic damage by Indian trawlers, growing awareness through media coverage and the greater involvement of actors in Colombo, raised the fisheries conflict to the level of a national issue, rather than a problem confined to the North. Fisher leaders also took their issue to court and actively sought legal recourse towards prolonged confiscation of trawlers, and a ban of trawling in Sri Lanka. An Amendment to the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act banning bottom trawling in Sri Lanka was passed by Parliament in July 2017.
On another front, the Indian Government, in 2015, made unambiguous statements that Tamil Nadu trawlers should stop cross-border fishing. Furthermore, the increased media attention on the devastation caused to Northern Fishers exposed Tamil Nadu’s hypocrisy. The Tamil Nadu Government called for INR 1,520 crore (USD 225 million) package to convert the trawler fleet to deep sea vessels under the ‘Blue Revolution Scheme’., of which INR 450 crore (USD 66 million) was approved by the Government in Delhi, and the rest was to come from bank loans. By September 2019, close to 590 trawlers have applied for this facility. Although concerns were raised about whether such a conversion to deep sea fishing and buy back is realistic and sustainable, the engagement from Tamil Nadu pointed to an acknowledgement of the unsustainability of trawling and poaching.
An important development was the setting up of a Joint Working Group in November 2016 during ministerial talks held between India and Sri Lanka (revitalising what was formed in 2005), which would meet every three months and a meeting between the Ministers for Fisheries every six months.
The Terms of Reference for the Joint Working Group (JWG) included: i. expediting the transition towards ending the practice of bottom trawling at the earliest, ii. working out the modalities for the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for handing over of apprehended fishermen, and iii. ascertaining possibilities for cooperation on patrolling. Both Governments agreed on setting up a hotline between the two Coast Guards. Agreement was also reached on the request by the Fishermen Associations that there should be no violence and no loss of life in the handling of fishermen by the Navies and Coast Guards of the two countries. They agreed to encourage the Fishermen Associations of the two countries to meet every six months to take further their dialogue. Yet, many of the decisions taken at the bilateral Ministerial talks were not followed through towards a permanent solution.
As a result of campaigns of small scale fishers from the North, the work of researchers and activists and engagement with the governments of the two countries, and more importantly, the enforcement of the Foreign Fishing Boat Regulations (amendment) Act, a significant reduction in the incidence of Indian trawlers illegally fishing in Sri Lankan waters was noticed by 2018. Yet, the Northern fishers did not even have a breathing space for a new beginning, because the country was hit by the Covid Pandemic in early 2020. Very little action was paid against the poachers and there has been a resurgence of the incidence of Indian trawlers poaching in Sri Lankan waters, drastically affecting fishing livelihoods, which were already being threatened by the pandemic. The aggravated current situation, continues to dispossess the small scale fishers of the North; they were devastated by the war until 2009, crippled by the Indian trawlers in the decade after the war and impoverished by market disruptions with the Covid-19 pandemic since March 2020.
The decision to arrest and retain trawlers that are crossing over the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) by the Sri Lanka Navy, particularly since 2013, places significant pressure on the Tamil Nadu establishment. Yet, the lower levels of arrests over the last two years (71 vessels were arrested in 2017 while only nine were arrested in 2020) is in part due to fears of the Covid-19 virus spreading through arrests. Evidently, expanding deterrence is of paramount importance in dealing with the present crises, which needs strict enforcement of the Foreign Fishing Boats Regulations (Amendment) Act, No. 01 of 2018 to arrest foreign vessels in Sri Lankan EEZ which has provisions for imposing heavy fines on trawl owners ranging from Rs. 4 – 15 million. The Trawl Ban Act. No. 11 of 2017 should also be implemented. Given that Indo-Sri Lankan relations are currently of great importance, where the priorities for both governments are in furthering trade, investment and defence ties between the two countries, deterrence is to be employed carefully. There is the need for a broader strategy that asserts pressure at different levels to ensure that Tamil Nadu addresses the issue of poaching by their trawlers; particularly given that fisheries is a devolved subject in India. Pushing for joint patrolling operations by the Indian and Sri Lankan Navy could be strategic. The Indian side needs to be convinced to install vessel monitoring devices on their trawlers to track their location. However, these efforts will prove futile unless the incidence of Sri Lankan multiday boats violating Indian maritime boundaries is brought under control.
Raising the issue both by the Sri Lankan Government towards the Indian Government and the TNA and Tamil political actors towards Tamil Nadu would be strategic, given the political realities. Strong emphasis should be made on the devastating impact of resource smuggling on the livelihoods of Northern fishing populations of Sri Lanka. Strategies to work with the newly elected Government in Tamil Nadu in relation to the fishing conflict will be necessary. Engagement by the Tamil fishing community and community leaders from the North will prove important for challenging a change of stance by Tamil Nadu Government and its leaders.
Thousands of nets worth millions of Rupees have been lost in the past decade, with no single fisherman ever being compensated and with no insurance being available. Fishers now deserve financial reparations for their lost assets and for lost fishing days. Financial reparations can also be asked from the Tamil Nadu fishers, the Tamil Nadu government or the Indian government. If such demands, however, are not met in the short term, the Sri Lankan government itself may need to find the required funds. A campaign for reparations for northern Sri Lankan fishers will help consolidate the demand for a permanent solution to the fishing conflict.
The larger aim of interventions in the Palk Bay should be to establish a sustainable, comprehensive, and socially just fisheries. Current data on the state of fish stocks in this region are highly deficient. Similarly, very little scientific knowledge on the damage caused to the environment by trawling is currently available. There is an urgent need for NARA to intensify research in the Palk Bay. This can provide the foundation for developing a rational and legitimate framework for fisheries governance. Such research will also continue to weigh on the need for a permanent solution that ends bottom trawling in the Palk Bay.
While the fisher-to-fisher negotiations conducted in Chennai in 2010 were initially widely acknowledged as promising, the follow-up was poor. Similarly, the Ministerial level talks in November 2016 were significant and even led to considerable changes, however, again follow up was poor. There is a need to build on the tremendous gains of those talks, regardless of the change of Government.
At the current moment there should be a clear plan recognising the realities in Sri Lanka and India, including the political changes in Tamil Nadu and the Covid-19 pandemic to work through a process of consensus building, but with firm resolve to end bottom trawling. There should be no setback on issues agreed at the Ministerial level talks in November 2016, and calls for licensing cross border fishing should be rejected outright.
The measures suggested above will be important steps towards resolving the Palk Bay fisheries conflict. Such measures along with the recent national attention on fisheries can also lay the foundation to ensure sustainable governance and management of the natural resource base and the people who depend on it. The establishment of effective interactive platforms (e.g., strengthening fisher community organizations, co-management platforms) and clearly laid down rights and responsibilities of participating actors, along with consultation, collaboration and coordination of all concerned actors can lead to effective and sustainable policies. Indeed, sustaining small scale fisheries in addition to solving the Palk Bay fishing conflict will encompass dialogue among relevant actors, capacity development, law enforcement and empowerment of coastal communities.
Sri Lanka at EXPO 2020
….a huge disappointment
Rajitha Seneviratne’s description of the country’s pavilion, at EXPO 2020, in Dubai, has been endorsed by quite a few Sri Lankans who had the opportunity of checking out the Pavilion, themselves.
Briefly, this is what Rajitha had to say (The Island of October 12th):
“When I saw the pavilions of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and even Afghanistan (this country has no official exhibit but a private collector’s items), the SL pavilion is a huge disappointment, indeed. An EXPO is held to show the world where we are heading, more leaning on futuristic hope…not on showcasing only what we have/had….EXPO happens once in five years (Olympics is held every four years) and it’s a once in a decade opportunity. Where is the “WOW” factor in our pavilion? It is NOT about money but I got to know we have spent USD150 million – by any means quite a sum – and created a “pavilion” good enough to be a regular ‘stall’, at a local show, at the BMICH, in Colombo.”
And corroborating his statement are the following:
* Kumudu Abeyawardane:
I’m not someone who ever runs SL down. As messed up as we maybe, it is still the country that is home and I am one of those who chose not to leave, even when the opportunity existed.
“I was at EXPO 2020, in Dubai. I didn’t visit everything, but I visited almost all of Africa, and Asia, and, of course, Sri Lanka. What I saw was sad…as you entered there was a counter from the Ceylon Tea Board, with two very friendly girls who talked to everyone, who stopped to have a cup of tea, and did a brilliant explanation of Ceylon tea. Hats off to them! But, the experience ended there.
“The rest of the staff, except for one other lady, who was welcoming everyone, was sitting in corners, ignoring everyone….The SL brochure was only in Arabic. Someone forgot that this is an International exhibition.
“There were a few masks…a few photos that did nothing to bring out the magnificent beaches, or the heritage, or the wildlife we possess. Nothing about the development, or anything about the opportunities for investment!
SL was a sad contrast to even countries like Bhutan, or Congo, who were so eager to explain about their heritage.
“The US, and many other pavilions, were manned by student ambassadors – young and energetic, eager to talk, and happy to talk to people. Proud of where they come from.
“Let’s hope the authorities concerned will see this. EXPO 2020 is on till March 2022. We have five months to change things because we need both Tourism and Investments.”
* Akram Abbas:
“Totally agree with Rajitha Seneviratne’s article. We are living in Dubai and it was so disappointing to see the standard of our pavilion. The Afghanistan Pavilion is better than ours.”
“I visited. Can’t explain how disappointed I am.”
In the meanwhile, it’s reported that the Saudi Arabia Pavilion, at EXPO 2020 Dubai, received 23,000 visitors in one day, bringing the total number of visits to over 200,000…at the time this article was written. Probably, it would have doubled by now!
The Saudi pavilion provides visitors with diversified content, based on four main pillars: nature, heritage, bio-community, and the economic opportunities that the country offers to the world.
And, what is our Pavilion, at EXPO 2020, offering the world!
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