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UPDATE 1-Sri Lanka to raise up to $1.5 bln in bonds to repay debt

Shihar Aneez

* Fundraising now to capitalize on favorable conditions-official

* $1.5 bln borrowing within approved public debt limit for 2019

* Likely to use same leads who managed March bond - govt official (Adds details, quotes)

COLOMBO, May 30 (Reuters) - Sri Lanka is planning to raise up to $1.5 billion via sovereign bonds, tapping global capital markets for the second time within three months as the government seeks new funds to repay loans that are maturing following last month's deadly bomb attacks.

Government officials said the move was to capitalize on favorable market conditions.

The fundraising comes nearly six weeks after suicide bombers killed more than 250 people in attacks at churches and luxury hotels on Easter Sunday. That attack has badly dented the Sri Lankan economy, in particular deterring many thousands of foreign tourists from coming to the island.

"This is mainly to capitalize on the current market condition which is favorable for us. The bonds we sold in March are now trading below or near the yields they were sold," a government official told Reuters.

The official said it was also best to tap the markets sooner rather than later, given that Sri Lanka needs to repay huge external debts and there is the uncertainty of a presidential election later this year and the impact of the bomb attacks on its economy.

In March, Sri Lanka sold $1 billion in five-year bonds with a coupon of 6.85 percent and $1.4 billion in 10-year bonds with a coupon of 7.85 percent and the borrowing costs were lower than originally predicted.

The 10-year bond sold in March last traded at 7.79% and the five-year bond last traded at 6.91%, Refinitiv data showed.

The government said in a cabinet decision document the $1.5 billion borrowing is "within the approved public debt limit for 2019" and the decision was taken "considering the international market situation."

A finance ministry official said BOC International, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, JPMorgan, SMBC Nikko and Standard Chartered Bank, who were the lead managers for the $2.4 billion borrowing in March, are likely to be the joint bookrunners for the upcoming bond sale as well.

"We do not want to take time to finalize fresh lead managers," the official said, asking not to be named as he is not authorized to speak to the media.

An official at one of the lead managers for the March bonds said they have yet to be told they will be one of the lead managers. The official said the bank understands that the central bank needs the money as soon as possible.

The sale of new global sovereign bonds comes as the South Asian island nation is struggling to repay foreign loans, with a record $5.9 billion due this year, including $2.6 billion in the first quarter and more than $1.2 billion in the second, central bank data showed.

All three major rating agencies downgraded Sri Lanka's debt after President Maithripala Sirisena sacked his prime minister in October and replaced him with pro-China former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, though that decision was later reversed.

But the seven-week-long crisis hurt the rupee and drove sovereign bond yields higher, straining state finances. (Additional Reporting by Ranga Sirilal; Editing by Martin Howell and Jacqueline Wong)