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India to normalise defence ties with Sri Lanka

Sandeep Dikshit

Killing of fishermen unacceptable: India


Defence Secretary will visit Colombo soon

Discussion held on areas which will be focussed at annual dialogue


NEW DELHI: With the end of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, New Delhi and Colombo will revert to a normal defence relationship. Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar will soon visit Colombo to get an idea of the issues to be taken up at the first annual defence dialogue between the two countries.

The institutional mechanism of yearly defence dialogue was decided by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa during their summit meeting here in June. “It is time to look at greater comprehensive cooperation. In this context, we broadly discussed the areas which would be important to focus on in the annual defence dialogue. An earlier visit by the Defence Secretary would help to understand the issues. In the aftermath of the conflict, there is need for a different defence relationship,” sources said after high level India-Sri Lanka talks on Thursday.

The sources denied that Sri Lanka had approached India for assistance in building the second phase of the Hamabantota port. China had undertaken the expansion and modernisation work in the first phase and is understood to have tied up with Sri Lanka for the second phase as well. The third phase is not in sight, according to the sources.

At Thursday's talks, India was represented by National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and Mr. Pradeep Kumar. The Sri Lankan side included Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga, and Senior Advisor to the President Basil Rajapaksa, who is also in charge of rehabilitation efforts in the war-affected parts.

India was cautious in its defence ties with Sri Lanka while the conflict was on and restricted military assistance to non-lethal aspects such as enhancing the Armed forces' maritime and aerial domain awareness. When Sri Lanka sought arms from other countries including Pakistan, New Delhi enabled Colombo to seal a $300-million armaments deal with its old ally, Moscow.

At the table, defence was one of the several issues, most of which were a follow-up of decisions taken during Mr. Rajapaksa's recent visit, the sources pointed out. Both sides also discussed the problems facing fishermen, with India pointing out that killings were unacceptable and that a way had to be found to eliminate this kind of action altogether. It was agreed to open channels of communication between fishermen from both countries to understand issues that sparked violence on the high seas.

Having embarked on building rail infrastructure in Sri Lanka, India has signed most of the contracts and an Export and Import Bank team will shortly complete the arrangements for a $800-million credit for the purpose.

India has completed the hydrological survey of the Kankesanthurai port and will send a team to finalise the detailed project report. It is also finalising tender documents for modernisation of the Palaly airport.

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