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Sri Lanka: major conference on trade in endangered species ‘postponed’

An international conference on the buying and selling of endangered animals and plants has been postponed following the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka.

The 18th Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CoP18, was due to take place from May 23-June 3 at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall, in the capital Colombo.

But following the coordinated attacks, which killed 253 people in churches and hotels around the capital and further afield, the meeting has been delayed indefinitely.

CITES secretary general Ivonne Higuero said the decision had been taken ‘out of respect for the victims’ and to allow the Sri Lankan authorities ‘the time needed to address the situation’.

She said: “We are fully committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of all delegates. The Secretariat is monitoring the situation closely in consultation with the Sri Lankan authorities and the United Nations Department of Safety and Security.

“The Secretariat will be working with Sri Lanka to try and honour this choice in consultation with the UN Department of Safety and Security and the CITES Standing Committee. Our support and solidarity remain with the people of Sri Lanka and those who have suffered losses from these tragic events.”

More than 2,500 delegates from 180 countries attended the last CITES meeting, which was held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2016, and a similar number was expected in Sri Lanka.

Higuero said a further announcement would be made ‘as soon as possible’.

The attacks may have destroyed a meticulously crafted decade-long recovery of Sri Lanka’s economy that is largely dependent on the thriving tourism industry. Around 40 international tourists are reported to have been victims of the explosive attacks. Consequently, the hotels and inbound DMCs have been deluged with cancellations ahead of the prime summer tourist season.

Meanwhile the attacks have ‘directly implicated’ International Congress and Convention Association member hotels, according to the association’s Sri Lanka-born CEO Senthil Gopinath.

He said: “We have seen so many disasters and calamities affecting people from around the world and tragic incidents, like the recent shooting in Christchurch,” Gopinath said. “But never before has such tragedy directly implicated ICCA members like in Sri Lanka. We were speechless when we heard that The Kingsbury Hotel has been attacked along with other member hotels, the Cinnamon Hotel and Shangri-La Colombo (a former member).”