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Sri Lanka tea talk turns bitter

SRI Lanka's Tea Board, responsible for promoting the nation's trademark export worldwide, said yesterday that the government had barred its officials from speaking to the media.

The Tea Board seems among the least likely institutions to fall under a government campaign to control the flow of information, an effort that has increased at the Defense Ministry's direction during the final years of a 25-year civil war that ended in May.

"The minister has sent a directive to not talk or comment to media," Lalith Hettiarachchi, the chairman at Sri Lanka Tea Board told reporters, when he was contacted to comment on the fall in the tea export revenue in the first five months of 2009.

The Tea Board is responsible for promoting tea exports under the "Ceylon Tea" trademark, a nod to Sri Lanka's colonial history and the reputation it built for growing and exporting the highest quality tea.

Sri Lanka is one of the world's leading tea exporters along with Kenya and India, and tea is the third main foreign currency revenue earner after foreign remittances and textiles.

"We are not allowed to provide even facts and figures," said H.D. Hemaratne, the director general at the Board.

Ceylon tea remained a potent brand for the Indian Ocean island nation even at the height of the war with the Tamil Tiger separatists, which started in 1983.

It is expected to be part of Sri Lanka's campaign to rehabilitate its commercial image after the war, along with tourism that has been long hampered by the conflict.

It was not immediately clear what had triggered the government move, but a minister said the administration was keen that all branches spoke in one voice.

Government officials must abide by a code that bars them from talking directly to any journalists, A. Dissanayake, the secretary of the Media Ministry, said.


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