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Sri Lanka says it’s poised for economic takeoff

[AP, Sunday, 31 May 2009 11:41 No Comment]

Sri Lanka is poised for an "economic takeoff" now that its military has routed the Tamil Tiger rebels, the country’s foreign minister said Sunday.

Rohitha Bogollagama told a high-level security and defense conference that the government’s priorities now are reconciliation with the Tamil minority in the Sinhalese-majority country, rehabilitation of Tamil civilians and holding free and fair elections.

"Our people are weary of war, yet they are resilient and want to get on with their lives," Bogollagama told the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual meeting of defense ministers, officials and experts.

The Sri Lankan government announced last week it had ended the 25-year separatist war on the island after expelling the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam from their last holdout in the country’s northeast and killing the rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.

"We have overcome terrorism and Sri Lanka is poised for an economic takeoff," Bogollagama said. "Sri Lanka, absent of terrorism, will be the most liberalized economy in this region and could be compared with some of the most developed countries."

The separatist war shattered the country’s economy, which was once one of the most vibrant in South Asia thanks to its thriving tea, tourism and garment industries. The government is currently in talks with the IMF about an emergency loan worth $1.9 billion.

In a forceful speech, Bogollagama detailed the growth of the Tamil insurgency, which began fighting in 1983 for a separate state for the Tamils in the northern and eastern parts of of the island nation. The U.N. estimates that 80,000 to 100,000 people were killed in the war.

Bogollagama, however, did not touch upon concerns that tens of thousands of civilians may have been killed in the final weeks of the military’s push against the rebels. Some have also expressed concerns that the Tigers could continue to threaten the stability of the country by waging an insurgency.

The U.N. said earlier that 7,000 civilians were killed and 16,700 wounded from Jan. 20 through May 7. However, these estimates, circulated among diplomats, were not released publicly.

Bogollagama portrayed the Tamil rebels as a ruthless, murderous organization with a widespread international network that funded itself with arms and narcotics smuggling, donations from the Tamil diaspora, credit card scams and other illegal means.

"Sri Lanka has become a free country today," he said.

The elimination of the rebels will help put an end to other facets of terrorism such as money laundering, smuggling of drugs, arms and humans, he said.

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