19th October 1997

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Unshaken by the bomb

Often in the past few years Sri Lanka has been bruised and battered by bombs. Yet we have bounced back and rebuilt, with a resilience that augurs well for the future. A smooth sea seldom makes a good sailor. We also know that the finest steel comes out of the hottest fire. So perhaps every crisis or catastrophe while causing extensive damage externally, is also moulding inner qualities and characteristics with a new nation being built, paradoxically on the stones or the bombs that are thrown at it.

Trials and terrors generally bring about a growth in patience and we see that quality among our people today even in the face of the most horrible provocation. Patience in turn builds strength of character individually and collectively.

Officials of the Galadari and Hilton hotels, which suffered extensive damage in Wednesday’s truck bomb explosion have vowed to rebuild from the shambles, with the Govt. taking the initiative to provide them with soft loans and other concessions. The tourist industry, for which the blast was a body blow just as the boom time was beginning, has also expressed determination to recover fully within a month. The Tourism Ministry Secretary and the Tourist Board Chairman have both expressed confidence that the industry would be back to normal soon, pointing out that even on the day after the explosion some 500 tourists had flown in to Sri Lanka.

We are also happy that most western nations including Britain, France and Germany from where thousands of tourists come here for the winter are painting not a rosy but a realistic picture of Sri Lanka. They are advising tourists to come to Sri Lanka and spend more time in the beautiful places outside the city without tarrying too much in Colombo.

In going for the World Trade Centre which houses the Central Bank, the Stock Exchange and other key offices, the LTTE was obviously intent on causing maximum economic damage. But the business community is not overly disturbed. That is how it should be. The resilience, flexibility and the determination to rise from the ashes are indeed commendable. If Germany and Japan could have done it in the aftermath of much greater devastation, we see no reason why Sri Lanka cannot rebuild after every bomb.

While the hotels, the tourist industry and the business community work on the positive basis that the clouds will soon roll by, the country also needs to realistically take stock of what the LTTE was trying to say by virtually bringing the war to the city.

Some analysts are saying the LTTE chose a quiet Poya holiday for the attack because it wanted to minimize civilian casualties while hitting a major economic target. But such humane feelings are uncharacteristic of the deadliest terrorist movement in the world. The choice of a Poya holiday was probably based more on some cowardly desperation as the Defence Secretary says in an interview elsewhere or on security considerations. Lorries are not allowed to enter the city after 7 a.m. on working days but this rule is relaxed on holidays. So the LTTE took advantage of it.

The troops did indeed move fast and with professional skill to track down and overpower the terrorists. We also are proud of the way in which the National Hospital handled the crisis, with some 100 doctors being at the wards when the victims were brought in.

While putting the shattering experience behind us and building anew we must learn from it especially in terms of security. For a bomb truck to get into one of the tightest security zones in the city was surely a sign of something having gone wrong somewhere, though the Defence Secretary rejects suggestions of a security lapse.

At a news conference on Friday, President Kumaratunga accused sections of the media of irresponsibility in reporting the bomb attack. She denied media reports that some of the LTTE bombers were still at large and claimed that all had been overpowered. But on the very day she spoke, state-run newspapers reported that some of the suspected bombers had been nabbed on a Vavuniya bound train and others were still at large. It’s like the head not knowing what the eyes are seeing or the mouth is saying. No system is fool-proof. We must honestly see what went wrong and put Colombo under a new security command, as most reports indicate that two suicide bomber groups are still at large.

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