B. Muralidhar Reddy

There has been a substantial drop in the arrival of tourists in the last few weeks

HIKKADUWA (Sri Lanka): People in this picturesque town along the sea coast in the Western Province of the island nation have little to cheer about the recent successes of Sri Lanka military against the Tigers in the east.

The overwhelming sentiment in the town, a popular destination for European tourists, is for peace.

There has been a substantial drop in the arrival of tourists in the last few weeks, hurting thousands of people whose livelihood is dependent on tourism. Most of the sea-side resorts and hotels, barring a few star hotels, dotted all along the 103-km Colombo-Galle highway are deserted.

Despite the tension in the north and east, tourism industry in the south, particularly along the coast to Galle, was faring well. However, the January 5 passenger bus blast in Nitttambuwa, a few kilometres from the town, has changed it all.

"In December, the town was full of tourists. The sensational headlines by the media on the passenger bus blast have led to cancellation of most bookings by Western tourists. This is the tourist season and if the trend continues like this, we would be faced with a serious situation", says Gamini Liyanage who runs a restaurant in the town.

Monika, owner of a communications centre, has other than business in mind when she talks of the need for cessation of hostilities. The person she married three months ago is a commander in the Special Task Force (STF) currently fighting the Tigers in the jungles of Amparai in the east.

"I live in tension every minute of my life. We don't want this war to continue. Like me, there are so many women whose men are in the forces.

"I wonder how long we can continue to live like this. It does not matter to us who is running the Government. What matters to us is peace and an opportunity to live a dignified life", she says.

People echo similar views across the Western Province, which incidentally was the worst affected in the December 2004 tsunami.

The in-charge of a Christian NGO based in Galle for over 15 years, who does not want to be identified says, "From my experience of seeing people here closely I can tell you that the so-called Sinhala chauvinism is stoked by politicians for their petty gains.

"Ordinary people are peace-loving and simple. Yes, they do get agitated when they hear of the senseless killings and destruction but certainly do not nurse any hatred towards any community".