Nearly 200 IS-inspired activists in custody – PM

Ranil Wickremesinghe - Prime Minister of Sri Lanka

Nearly 200 Islamic State (IS)-inspired activists, together with their sympathisers are in custody under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe said yesterday (31).

Speaking at a tourism forum at Temple Trees, he further said all IS-inspired terrorists were in custody. Forthcoming public ceremonies such as the Esala Perahera will be held as scheduled amidst security, the Premier said.

Wickremesinghe also said the loss of revenue due to a free visa facility on board from this month (August), a loss of Rs 4.3 billion estimated for this year, would, however, be countermanded by increased tourist arrivals because of this facility.

Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) Chairman Kishu Gomes, another speaker at this occasion, said they were working closely with military intelligence on the aspect of security to tourists in the aftermath of ‘Bloody Easter Sunday.’ Gomes said the 26 October 2018 political coup too had negative repercussions on the industry.

He said, world over, it took an average of 13 months for a country impacted by terrorism to recover, Gomes felt that in Sri Lanka’s case, the time taken would be much less. For instance, tourist numbers, June over May increased by 67 per cent to 63,000 on a Month on Month (MoM) basis, while this percentage recovery, on a MoM basis to last month (July) is expected to further increase by over 80 per cent to 117,000, he said.

Gomes said that they expected the tourism numbers this year (2019) to end at a figure of 1.9 million to two million, a 30 per cent year on year (YoY) drop, while the revenue loss would be between US$ 800 million to US$ 1,000 million. Tourism Minister John Amaratunga, who also spoke at this event, said that last year (2018), tourism raked in US$ 4.5 billion to the country.

Meanwhile, the Tourism Ministry, yesterday, announced one-month visa-free arrival facilities to tourists and business travellers from 47 countries, beginning from this month (August), for a period of six months, taking the total number of countries enjoying such facilities to 49.

Those included the 28-member European Union (EU) bloc, North America; Australia-New Zealand,  the Far East other than North Korea and Taiwan, South East Asia other than Brunei, Myanmar and Laos, Israel, Norway, Ukraine and Russia. Previously, the Maldivian and Singaporean citizens were afforded visa-free facilities, a facility which will continue.

When Ceylon Today queried Amaratunga by how much they expected to uplift tourism numbers through this scheme, he said that he would have to wait till the month end (end August) to assess its success.

He further said countries which are to be granted free visas from this month, were countries which requested for such a benefit.

“Any country can apply for visa-free status to its citizens and we will consider such requests,” Amaratunga said.

(Source: Ceylon Today – By Paneetha Ameresekere)