Sri Lanka Aug tourist arrivals fall 15.5 pct yr/yr

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COLOMBO, Sep 12 (Reuters) Tourist arrivals in Sri Lanka fell 15.5 per cent in August from a year earlier, but the pace of the decline is slowing with fewer incidents of militant attacks in the strife-torn island.

The government said there has been an improvement in monthly arrivals since a 40 per cent drop in May, when the authorities closed the island's only international airport during night for seven weeks after Tamil rebels bombed an adjacent air force base.

''We are progressively increasing the number every month compared to previous month,'' said Renton de Alwis, chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourist Board.

Arrivals in August, the start of the domestic tourist season, dropped to 44,742 from 52,931 in the same month last year. But they were better than 44,142 in July and 26,307 in May.

A number of foreign embassies have advised their nationals to avoid north and east Sri Lanka because of a two-decade civil war that has killed nearly 70,000 people since 1983 and around 5,000 people since last year.

Arrivals in the first eight months of the year have fallen 22.6 per cent, the government said.

According to central bank data, earnings from tourism in the first half of 2007 fell by 19.6 per cent from a year earlier to 217.9 million dollars.

REUTERS SG HS1646

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