COLOMBO – The Sri Lankan army has been deployed in the facilities of state-owned Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) to restore fuel supply, following a workers’ strike against a Chinese project, official sources reported on Wednesday.
“We took steps to enter the premises last night, and we have secured the premises by now. We are now working with employees who are there to establish distribution again,” said army spokesperson Roshan Seneviratne at a press conference.
He said the situation on the island is expected to normalize by Wednesday evening and that Sri Lankan troops are now responsible for ensuring the safety of the corporation’s assets and provide security to employees who come to work.
CPC workers went on an indefinite strike Monday protesting a government decision to rent out the Hambanthotam port in southern Sri Lanka to China for a period of 99 years.
Government spokesperson Sri Rajitha Senaratne said at the press conference that CPC services will be considered essential services from Wednesday and that any employee who does not report to work will be considered as dismissed.
Police spokesperson Ruwan Gunasekara added that anyone who prevents an employee from reporting to work will be arrested.
In 2014, the CPC had 2,668 workers and reported gross revenues of more than $8 million.
In January, clashes broke out between detractors and supporters of a Chinese project on building an industrial zone, also linked to the Hambanthotam port.
Since 2007, China has invested in Sri Lanka – a country it considers important in the development of the 21st Century Silk Road – under agreements with then-President Mahinda Rajapaksa with $5 billion in loans for highway projects, power plants, ports and airports.
However, the current president, Maithripala Sirisena, said during his inauguration two years ago that he would try to balance the country’s foreign relations, unlike the previous government, which was known to be very close to Beijing.