Sri Lankan President tells Modi: Will work closely with India.
New Delhi: Announcing a new $400 million line of credit to Sri Lanka for infrastructure development, and a separate “special” $50 million line of credit to help Sri Lanka boost its fight against terrorism and also swift activation of an earlier announced $100 million for solar projects in the island nation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday — after holding extensive talks with visiting Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa here on Friday — said both countries “should be alert to each other’s security concerns and sensitivities”. Both countries also decided to further strengthen bilateral ties. Perhaps in a veiled reference to India’s concerns over the earlier movement of Chinese submarines in Sri Lankan waters and also the fast increasing Chinese footprint in the island nation, President Rajapaksa is understood to have assured Mr Modi that “India will remain his top priority and that he will not allow any third force to come in between cooperation” of the two countries. The assurance comes in the wake of China’s growing influence in Sri Lanka and perceived earlier proximity of the Rajapaksa brothers (President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa) towards Beijing. The lines of credit announced by India are also being seen as an effort to counter the Chinese financial muscle in the island nation.
After Mr Modi expressed confidence that Colombo would fulfil the aspirations of Sri Lankan Tamils for “equality, justice, peace and honour” and take forward the process of “national reconciliation”, including implementation of the 13th Amendment (for devolution of power to the provinces), President Rajapaksa is learnt to have told Mr Modi that “he will be President of all Sri Lankans irrespective of ethnicity or religion or voting choices”, thereby signalling a “meeting of minds on reconciliation within Sri Lanka”. Mr Modi, meanwhile, also said President Rajapaksa had told him about his vision for “ethnic harmony” in the island nation. The Sri Lankan President also apparently conveyed to Mr Modi that he would also work for the economic development of Sri Lanka’s northern and eastern provinces that have a significant Tamil population.
Agreeing with Mr Modi that the “fishermen issue” be discussed in a “constructive and humanitarian way”, President Rajapaksa said his country would release all the boats of Indian fishermen who had earlier strayed into Sri Lankan waters. Thanking India for the lines of credit, President Rajapaksa said the two leaders “cordially discussed several important issues”, adding that the “security of our two countries is a priority”. Perhaps in a veiled reference to India’s concerns over the movement of Chinese submarines in Sri Lankan waters a few years ago, President Rajapaksa said his country “will continue to work closely with India to ensure that the Indian Ocean remains a zone of peace”. He also described India as the “closest neighbour and longstanding friend” while inviting Prime Minister Modi to visit Sri Lanka soon.
Both leaders had an hour-long one-on-one talks that were “free and frank”, followed by the delegation-level talks. President Rajapaksa is understood to have told India that he wanted a “deeper partnership” with New Delhi and “India’s help in skill-development, information technology (IT), agriculture, education and job creation”. President Rajapaksa is also understood to have expressed an interest in strengthening intelligence-sharing with India, in view of the Easter terror attacks earlier this year in his country when officials under the earlier government failed to take preventive action despite advance inputs from Indian Intelligence agencies then.
Welcoming President Rajapaksa to India and congratulating him on his recent electoral victory, Mr Modi said: “It is an honour for us that President Rajapaksa chose India for his first foreign visit and gave us a chance to honour him in India within two weeks of assuming office. It symbolises the strength and dynamism of friendly relations between India and Sri Lanka... We look forward to working closely with President Rajapaksa ... A stable, secure and prosperous Sri Lanka is not only in India’s interest, but also in the interest of the entire Indian Ocean Region.”
Pointing out that India is Sri Lanka’s closest maritime neighbour and trusted friend, Mr Modi said India too accords priority to ties with Sri Lanka as part of the “neighbourhood first” policy of India and also the “Sagar” doctrine.
In his speech after the talks, Mr Modi said, “Today the President and I had a very good and fruitful discussion on bilateral relations and international affairs of mutual interest. We have decided that together we will strengthen the multi-faceted partnership and cooperation between the two countries. I have assured the President of India’s commitment to a development partnership with Sri Lanka. As always, this cooperation will be in accordance with the priorities of the people of Sri Lanka. A new $400 million line of credit will give a boost to infrastructure and development in Sri Lanka. I am confident the Sri Lankan economy will benefit as well as this line of credit will also accelerate project cooperation of mutual benefit... I am also pleased we have agreed to use the (earlier) announced $100 million credit for solar projects in Sri Lanka early.”
On the Sri Lankan Tamils’ issue, Mr Modi said: “We also openly exchanged views on reconciliation in Sri Lanka. President Rajapaksa told me about his inclusive political outlook on ethnic harmony. I am confident that the Government of Sri Lanka will pursue the process of reconciliation, to fulfil the aspirations of the Tamils for equality, justice, peace and honour. It also includes the implementation of the 13th Amendment. India will become a trusted partner for development throughout Sri Lanka, including the North and East.” He added: “Issues affecting the livelihood of fishermen were also discussed. We agreed that we will continue with a constructive and humane approach in this matter.”
On helping Sri Lanka in the fight against terror, Mr Modi said: “India has always opposed terrorism in all its forms, and also has expected action from the international community against other forms of terrorism, including cross-border terrorism. On the occasion of Easter this year, terrorists in Sri Lanka launched brutal attacks on the diversity of mankind and the valuable heritage of symbiosis. I went to Sri Lanka immediately after the elections in India to express India’s unwavering support in the Sri Lankan fight against terrorist and extremist forces. I have discussed in detail with President Rajpaksa for mutual security and to further strengthen mutual cooperation against terrorism. Sri Lankan police officers in major Indian institutions are already receiving the benefit of training in counter-terrorism efforts. I am happy to announce a special line of credit of $50 million to Sri Lanka to combat terrorism.”