Iran has extended by another year the four-month interest-free credit facility granted to Sri Lanka after President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visit to Iran in November 2007, state-run Daily News reported on Monday.

It said that consequent to talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian government granted the facility from January 2008 to August 31.

In 2008, Sri Lanka imported crude oil under this facility to the tune of $1.05 billion, nearly all of its requirements, easing the pressure on the country’s foreign exchange requirements in a year of significance for the government’s war with the LTTE.

An additional three-month credit package at a concessionary rate of interest was also accommodated in Sri Lanka’s favour on September 3 at a meeting between the representatives of the countries in Tehran.

“Further to the discussions Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Iran M.M. Zuhair had with the Iranian authorities on the instructions of President Rajapaksa, the National Iranian Oil Co. under the oil Ministry of the Islamic Republic of Iran has extended by another year the special facility on the same terms as earlier,” said the daily.

Mr. Ahmadinejad visited Sri Lanka in May 2008 on the invitation of Mr. Rajapaksa and inaugurated the $450-million Uma Oya Hydro Power and Irrigation Project, 85 per cent of which is funded by Iran.

During that visit, President Ahmadinejad also formally inaugurated the $1.47-billion Sapugaskanda Refinery expansion and modernisation project, 70 per cent of which has been committed to be financed by Iran.

According to Minister Maithripala Sirisena, the second part of the $2.6-billion IMF facility for the country was due in the next few weeks and the country held gold worth $4 billion in addition to $4.5 billion in reserves.

Meanwhile, Walter Kalin, the U.N. Secretary-General’s envoy for refugee rights, would arrive late on Wednesday on a five-day visit for an assessment of the government-run relief camps in the north where nearly 2.5 lakh war-displaced are housed.

His trip comes a week after the visit of the U.N.’s political chief, Lynn Pascoe, at the behest of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and at the invitation of the Sri Lankan government.

Mr. Kalin would meet with senior government officials, international aid agencies, including U.N. staff, and also visit some transitional relief camps.

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