The LTTE, now facing annihilation in a small corner of
the Vanni, has still not given up its terror tactics. Reports
from the Safe Zone indicate that it has resorted to firing at
civilians who had tried to come over to the cleared areas. This
is nothing new to a terrorist organisation holding the civilians
hostage to slow down a military advance.
The world has called upon the LTTE to let the civilians go,
with little success. Nearly 65,000 civilians have crossed over
on their own, braving LTTE threats and attacks. Yet thousands
more remain in the Safe Zone at the behest of the LTTE, which
knows that the civilians are its last remaining hope to buy time
to prolong total elimination.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has once again reaffirmed the
Government's commitment to ensure the safety and security of the
civilians, in a telephone conversation with UN Secretary General
Ban ki Moon. Secretary General Moon has also stressed the
importance of the (LTTE) letting civilians go. The same
sentiments have been echoed by Sir John Holmes, the UN's top
humanitarian official. In the words of Sir Holmes, "if the LTTE
truly has the best interests of the Tamil people at heart, they
should contribute to ending this unnecessary suffering of the
The Government is sending regular supplies of foods and
essentials to the Vanni civilians including those in the Safe
Zone and has provided facilities to all those who come over. In
the context of these developments, President Rajapaksa
reiterated his call for all remaining LTTE cadres to surrender
to the Forces, so that they can complete the humanitarian
mission of liberating all civilians held hostage by the Tigers.
There would be no need for further fighting if the LTTE cadres
surrender and lay down weapons. It would make the task of
rescuing the civilians much easier.
Another disturbing development is that the LTTE is once again
threatening Indian leaders including Sonia Gandhi, apparently
for not interfering in Lanka's internal affairs. Certain Tamil
Nadu politicians have already made the Lankan conflict a major
issue, issuing veiled threats against the Indian establishment.
The LTTE made one of its biggest mistakes by assassinating
former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, but learning lessons
has never been the LTTE's forte. Death, terror and revenge are
the only words it can understand. Both India and Sri Lanka must
be on guard to prevent any LTTE attack on Indian soil. The LTTE
must listen to the tide of world opinion turning against it even
at this late stage.
A prudent move
Sri Lanka is primarily an agricultural country.
Agriculture is the lifeblood of the nation. The present
Government, under the Mahinda Chinthana policies, has given all
concessions and incentives to farmers island-wide. One of the
most effective measures in this regard has been the fertiliser
subsidy which has led to a significant increase in the paddy
Agricultural loans are an essential component in the exercise
of developing the sector. Most farmers cannot afford to buy
agricultural and transport equipment without loan facilities.
Nevertheless, some farmers have been reluctant to apply for
loans due to high interest rates charged by banks. This has
affected the agricultural sector and the overall impact to the
economy cannot be disregarded.
Sri Lanka has weathered the current global economic storm
with a healthy growth rate and it must strive to maintain that
momentum. Lowering interest rates, at least for identified
productive sectors of the economy, is one way of achieving that
aim. Lowering interest rates is viable again as inflation and
call rates are down. The State banks have once again taken the
lead to reduce interest rates. The nascent industrial and
services sectors too have to be nurtured in the same manner.
People's Bank has reduced the interest rate on loans issued
to the industrial and agricultural sectors with immediate
effect. The interest rate on loans issued for the purchase of
agricultural implements has been reduced to 18 percent while the
interest rate on loans for the purchase of fishing gear and the
cultivation of export oriented crops will be 19 percent.
Earlier, the Bank of Ceylon decided to reduce interest rates
by two percentage points. The National Savings Bank is slated to
take similar action. There is every indication that private
banks would follow suit. This is a very healthy trend for an
emerging economy as high interest rates tend to stifle economic
The banks will also have a major role to play in the economic
rejuvenation of the Eastern and Northern provinces following
their total liberation from LTTE terrorism. The banks must reach
the Northern and Eastern population with innovative products to
stimulate the regions' economy. The Bank of Ceylon has already
decided to open several more branches in the two provinces and
we hope the other banks would follow.