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Sri Lanka: Get the facts right and then market


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The weekend newspapers were highlighting the decision by EU General Court from Luxemburg stating that the EU has revised the proscription of the LTTE and that appeals be limited to points of law within two months of notification. I was confused on this development and checked with key authorities on same.                               The fact: LTTE proscription The fact was that Sri Lanka had nothing to do with it. It was now up to the EU to prove to the Court that the LTTE proscription needed to be continued, which in fact will be done within the next two months, the logic being the LTTE front organisations had made submissions to the EU Court that the automatic extension of the LTTE proscription was being biased and for the period 2009 and 2013 there had been no terrorist activity, which justifies the continuation of the proscription. It was purely on this submission that the EU General Court had made a judgment on the revision of the LTTE proscription. Sri Lanka had interpreted this judgement incorrectly. Sri Lankan Government strategy: Support EU The strategy of the Government now must be to be close to the EU officials and provide facts and data for the period 2009-20013 to justify the case for the EU to submit to the General Court that the LTTE proscription must continue. In my view, we as a country are somewhat distanced from engaging in this manner and that is where private and patriotic civil society needs to support the country. Biggest challenge The biggest challenge that Sri Lanka has on the war against terrorism is that the world never believed that the LTTE was a terrorist organisation. It was perceived globally as freedom fighters fighting for the rights of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka. Maybe after 9/11 in New York and closer to home the Mumbai attack on 26/11 and the possible links with ISSI was able to capture the attention of the world to the fact that Asia has a brewing terrorist problem and that global support is required to fight this menace and protect the world from this cancer that is terrorising the world. Marketing the challenge Apart from the perception issue that the world has on the LTTE, an area of weakness for Sri Lanka, I strongly feel, is that we as a nation have failed to market to the world the atrocities of the LTTE that has killed over 70,000 people in Sri Lanka and wiped away almost $ 20,000 billion out of Sri Lanka’s economy. If I may pick up the most horrifying facts on the years of life of the LTTE: Killing 120 devotees in the Buddhist sacred city in 1985; 110 people in the bomb blast in Pettah; 70 Muslims in the Kattankudy mosque; the Central Bank attack killing 86 people and injured 1,338 which far exceeds the Mumbai casualties on 26/11 can be named. It will be interesting to analyse the media space that Sri Lanka was able to get in the world’s media to determine if an opportunity has slipped. A point to be highlighted is that even when the LTTE assassinated one of the greatest sons of India, Rajiv Gandhi, or in 2007 a group of diplomats accompanied by a cabinet minister came under fire in Batticaloa by the LTTE, we could not garner the global support to stop the collection of funds by the LTTE in countries like Switzerland, France, Germany, Australia, Canada and the US for funding this terrorist organisation’s activities. Some estimate that the last LTTE P&L has recorded a profit of $ 200 million. Does the world know? Even if the world is unaware, if we take a look at the cost of the war on the Sri Lankan economy, it exceeds Rs. 20,000 billion. On tourism, in 1983 Sri Lanka enjoyed 337,530 visitor arrivals whilst a country like Cambodia had around 200,000 tourists at that time. Today Cambodia has over two million tourist arrivals whilst Sri Lanka was at around 0.5 million as at 2009 with revenue of Rs. 43 billion, whilst actually Sri Lanka should have had around 1.8 million tourists by now if not for terrorism and earnings touching Rs. 200 billion. On a GDP contribution basis, it would have contributed almost 8% to the country. Some could argue that marketing the ruthless activities of the LTTE would have hurt the tourism industry but given the marginal growth numbers we can easily determine that collateral damage was very limited. As at today the tourism industry is poised to be a two billion dollar industry bringing in 1.5 million tourists not forgetting Shangri La, ITC, Movenpick and OZOs that has moved into the tourism space as at now. The impact of FDIs that Sri Lanka could have attracted is around Rs. 3,000 billion, which stacks up to the cost of the war due to terrorism. If we hypothetically take the Rs. 400 billion that has been spent on the war in the last three to four years and divert it to the investment that can be made on Research and Development (R&D), it will be almost 7% of GDP which will be way above the 4% spend by industrialised countries like South Korea which have produced power brands like Samsung to the world, beating brands like Sony of yesteryear. This gives us an idea of the opportunity cost that economic terrorism has done to Sri Lanka. Maybe with consistent policy we can attract the top dollar investments into Sri Lanka but I do accept it is a challenge given the political economy at play in Sri Lanka, which is where a strong chamber and private sector comes to play in a country that is sadly lacking in Sri Lanka. 6 Ceasefires – Case study If we examine the number of times the Sri Lankan Government tried to engage the LTTE, it must be clearly shared with the world which we have failed. If I may take you back to the first ceasefire, it was the famous ‘Thimphu talks’ where the LTTE came in solidarity with five Tamil groups – the TULF, PLOTE, EROS, EPRLF and TELO. It ended with the LTTE unilaterally walking out but during this time the LTTE strengthened itself and secured total control of the Jaffna peninsula which was called ‘Operation Liberation’. The second ceasefire was championed by Lalith Athulathmudali from 11 to 17 April 1987, for the Sinhala/Tamil New Year. The LTTE reciprocated by ambushing three buses at Kithuluttuwa in the Polonnaruwa District, separating the Sinhalese passengers from the others and murdering every one of them and in total 127. Sri Lanka never saw a Condoleezza Rice or for that any global leader wanting to stop the funding operations globally. The third ceasefire came into effect with the so-called Indo Lanka Accord. The LTTE, which pretended to surrender arms (while surrendering only their defective and unusable arms) used the confinement of the Sri Lankan troops to barracks in terms of that ceasefire to engage in an anti Sinhalese/Muslim pogrom by murdering about 200 Sinhalese and Muslim civilians along the eastern seaboard between 1 and 7 October 1987. Once again the world just watched. The fourth ceasefire was orchestrated by then President Premadasa from 1 June 1989 and ‘peace talks’ commenced. The LTTE once again used that ceasefire to strengthen itself and then abrogated the ceasefire by attacking all police stations in the east on 11 June 1990 and murdering about 678 unarmed police officers who had laid down arms and surrendered to them. The fifth ceasefire came into effect under the leadership of President Kumaratunga in January 1995 that once again resulted in the LTTE sinking two naval gun-boats anchored at Trincomalee, murdering 12 sailors and thereafter murdered 264 members of the security forces and 57 civilians in 27 separate attacks over the next 39 days. Subsequently the LTTE with surface-to-air missiles brought down two Avro aircraft on 28 and 29 April 1994 murdering 99 persons including two journalists which one again the world watched with the Sri Lankan economy reeling. The sixth and last ceasefire that Sri Lanka saw was in 2002 under Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe that once again the LTTE violated, murdering Sri Lanka security forces personnel, informants and political opponents and led to the act that LTTE will never forget – shutting off water at the Mavil Aru anicut in August 2006, which led to the final battle that saw the end to the ground attack of the LTTE. Military strategy – Part of peace We must create awareness that in any peace process of a country, the military strategy becomes an integral part of it. Language policy, governance structure, economic development, human rights and democracy, IDP resettlement and the military strategy must go hand in hand so that with the development in each of these areas, normalcy can be restored in a country whilst some elements are weaned out and others take centre stage, like for instance economic development takes the driving seat over military strategy. If this does not happen, we can be found fault with, which is what we as a country need to understand. Marketing is king In conclusion, we see that marketing is a key element when a country is at war with a terrorist organisation, especially an organisation such as the LTTE, which has its tentacles across the world. Hence it is important to get the facts right and agree on the partners that we can work with like the EU in the above instance and arrive at a conclusion. A head-on collision must be avoided at any cost, which is the most important attribute of nation branding. [Dr. Rohantha Athukorala is a double award winner in marketing by the Chartered Institute of Marketing and was the youngest Chairman to serve the Sri Lanka Export Development Board and continues to serve the Board for the last six years. He is Merit Award winner in the United Nations system of five years and currently heads an US-based invest giant as the Country Director – Asia Pacific. He is an alumnus of Harvard University (Boston).]

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