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Jaffna blames India but welcomes investment

[Express Buzz, Thursday, 18 February 2010 11:24 No Comment]

The business community in the north Sri Lankan Tamil-speaking district of Jaffna is ready to welcome Indian investments and development projects amidst them, in spite of the fact that they, like the people of the district, harbour strong anti-Indian feelings.

A Jaffna man blames India for the defeat of the LTTE. “India had failed to stop the last leg of the war between the Lankan forces and the LTTE and prevent the killing of thousands of Tamil civilians,” they complained.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi only enacted a “drama” in support of the Tamils here, they sneered.

However, Jaffna is safe for Indian investors and businessmen, assured R Janakumar, president of the Jaffna Chamber of Commerce.

“We would like Indian companies to participate in the trade fair the chamber is holding from March 27 to 29. It costs only SL Rs 30,000 to book a stall,” he said.

The businessmen and others Express spoke to made it clear that they had fraternal feelings towards Indians. The issue was with the government in Delhi and the ruling party in Tamil Nadu, they stressed. The general feeling here is that Congress leader Sonia Gandhi had punished people for a crime they did not commit.

Whatever the feelings of the locals, India seems determined to invest in Jaffna heavily. It has announced a credit line of Indian Rs 500 crore for the Tamil-speaking north and East. India is setting up a cultural centre and a technical training institute for $5 million in Jaffna. India would also supply 800,000 cement bags for distribution among 100,000 Tamil war refugee families. US $8.5 million has been allocated to the seven Indian de-mining teams working in the war zone.

Members of the chamber acknowledged that after three decades of extreme sluggishness, trade in Jaffna was booming, with the full opening of the land route to Sri Lankan citizens. Shops are overflowing with goods, which are also selling goods at lower prices when compared to Colombo.

“Now, only 10 to 15 per cent of the lorries go out of Jaffna carry local goods for the south Sri Lankan market. Others return empty. But before the war, more goods went out of Jaffna as compared to the amount that came in,” Janakumar said.

“A third of the land area has been a High Security Zone (HSZ) since the 1980s. Our economy cannot improve if the HSZs are not reduced drastically,” Janakumar said.

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