Colombo seeks new funding sources in shift away from ally Beijing

Updated 16 July 2015
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Colombo seeks new funding sources in shift away from ally Beijing

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka is seeking cheaper funding sources to replace billions of dollars in debt from Chinese banks, government officials said, as the six-month-old government distances itself from Beijing weeks before a general election.
The government is seeking to consolidate its power in the Aug. 17 vote after reformer Maithripala Sirisena was elected president in January. The pro-China leader he ousted — Mahinda Rajapaksa — is staging a comeback bid.
Sirisena had suspended most Chinese-backed infrastructure projects started under Rajapaksa, who has denied allegations of corruption and overpricing in contract awards.
Sirisena’s reformist coalition is in talks to replace about 70 percent of the more than $5 billion in debt from Chinese lenders with loans at cheaper interest rates and longer durations from other sources, two finance ministry officials involved in the negotiations said. The move follows failed government efforts to negotiate more favorable terms with the Chinese banks, and the finance ministry is looking at options including borrowing from lenders in Japan, the United States or Europe, a top government official said.
“Money is there at a cheaper rate and for a longer tenure,” he said.
Sri Lanka has sought to pursue a more global foreign policy since the new government was formed, breaking with the previous pursuit of close ties with China.
Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake has been exploring ways his nation could borrow at lower rates after concluding from a trip to Japan this month that loans could be obtained for between 0.1 percent and 0.2 percent, a senior finance ministry official said.
Sri Lanka’s government has 16 ongoing Chinese-backed infrastructure projects which depend on $4 billion in borrowing from the Export-Import Bank of China (Exim Bank) and the rates of interest are between 2.5 percent and 9 percent, finance ministry data shows.
Chinese officials have said the rates of interest are only 2 percent. But the data shows there are extra fees that add to cost the servicing the loan.


Mission sets up emergency center for Bangladesh workers caught in Libyan conflict

Updated 2 min 49 sec ago
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Mission sets up emergency center for Bangladesh workers caught in Libyan conflict

DHAKA: Construction worker Nurul Alam, 27, who became stranded in Tripoli, unable to move due to heavy gunfire surrounding his hideout, is one of 25 Bangladeshi migrant workers who have been rescued thanks to a 24-hour control center set up in the Libyan capital.
He was rescued after he contacted the Bangladesh Embassy for help.
His mother Jainab Akhter, 59, said her son had been living in Tripoli for four years, working for a construction company when he became stranded at Khalid Farjan in the city, trying to eke out his stockpile of food, but in such a vulnerable position that he did not dare to leave his hiding place.
“Due to heavy gunfighting, Alam could not come out on the streets to find a safer place. Although Alam talked to us every day from that stranded situation, it was like a nightmare for me. I prayed every moment to Almighty Allah to save my son’s life,” said Akhter.
Alam and three other Bangladeshi migrant workers were caught in sporadic battles between rival groups in Tripoli this month. After Alam contacted the Bangladesh Embassy for help they were rescued and taken to a safer location nearby.
A round-the-clock control room service has been set up by the Bangladesh mission in Tripoli to protect Bangladeshi migrant workers since the latest clashes began.
“So far, we have rescued around 25 Bangladeshi workers from different areas of Tripoli,” says Ashraful Islam, the first secretary of Bangladesh mission in Libya.
Islam told Arab News that when they receive an emergency call from a Bangladeshi worker, the mission immediately contacts the local Red Cross. The Red Cross initiates a cease-fire for few minutes by negotiating with the battling groups, then evacuates the stranded individuals.
“We will continue to run this emergency control room service until the situation returns to normal,” Islam added.
Around 8,000 Bangladeshi workers currently live in Tripoli, mostly unskilled migrant workers, Islam said.
“So far we have not received any information of Bangladeshi workers’ casualties resulting from recent clashes and our citizens are still in a comparatively safe position,” he said.
The wave of violence has also affected those Bangladeshis who have been living in Libya for many years. One such is Abdul Mannan Chowdhury, a Bangladeshi who has lived in Libya since 2009.
“One of the rival groups have taken my personal car to fight in the battle. Ten days have passed and they have still not returned my car,” he said.
The expat Bangladeshi businessman added that a state of anarchy now existed in the country. “I don’t feel secure in any part of this country, but I cannot leave as I have already invested a significant amount of money in business. We have been running for the past few years due to security concerns,” added Chowdhury.
Around 30,000 Bangladeshi expats currently live in Libya. The country stopped issuing visas to Bangladeshi workers in May 2015 following reports of illegal human trafficking. In recent years, hundreds of Bangladeshi migrant workers traveled to Italy from Libya through the risky boat journey.
Before the Libyan war, around 60,000 Bangladeshi workers worked for Libyan companies.