COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Long lines formed at gasoline stations across Sri Lanka on Monday as workers at a state-run petroleum company went on strike to protest a government plan to lease out oil tanks to neighboring India.
D.J. Rajakaruna, secretary of the Ceylon Petroleum Common Workers Union, said workers stopped releasing fuel from 12 storage facilities on Sunday night. He said they would stop work entirely at the state-run refinery if the government fails to halt plans to transfer oil tank operations to India, saying such an agreement would benefit only Indian companies.
Rajakaruna said the tanks are a prime asset of the country and that the workers will continue to strike until their demand is met.
There are 99 tanks at the site in the eastern port city of Trincomalee. The tanks, built by the British during World War II, were unused until some were given to Lanka IOC, a unit of Indian Oil Corp., in 2002 as part of a privatization deal, giving Indians a presence at the strategic port.
Rajakaruna said the government is now trying to lease out 14 of the 99 tanks to Indian companies and have a joint venture for the other tanks. He said such a move would severely affect Sri Lanka's economy and sovereignty.
Anura Kithsiri, a spokesman for the Ministry of Petroleum Resources Development, said the agreement has not yet been finalized. He said Minister of Petroleum Resources Development Chandima Weerakkody was to meet with trade union leaders on Monday to discuss the issue.