Violence mars Sri Lankan economy

Colombo, November 19:

Sri Lanka’s president Mahinda Rajapakse came to power promising a new approach to peace. But as he marks his the end of his first year in office today, the country continues to be wracked by violence, pushing its defence budget to a record high.

When he ran for the presidency, Rajapakse was widely regarded as a hardliner and dubbed the ‘war candidate’ by Tamil rebels. He promised a new approach to bring an ‘honourable peace’ to the tropical island nation. But after winning the election, he said he would instead persist with the Norwegian-backed peace initiative supported by his predecessor.

The violence resulted in a 45 per cent increase in defence spending to $1.29 billion in the 2007 budget. The president justified the soaring defence spending by citing escalating Tamil Tiger attacks that have dogged his rule. “Increased violence compelled the government to channel more resources for security,” he said Rajapakse. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who are fighting for an independent homeland, walked out of peace talks in June, and the latest negotiations in Geneva in October ended in failure. The president again offered to resume talks with the Tigers last week, but the guerrillas dismissed his call to lay down arms.