NEW DELHI: Security and counter-terrorism dominated talks between India and Sri Lanka, as the Modi government hosted the new prime minister of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa on his first visit outside the island on Saturday. India also asked Sri Lanka to expedite the reconciliation process for the Tamils of the island.
In his statement to the media, Modi said, “I am confident that the Government of Sri Lanka will realize the expectations of the Tamil people for equality, justice, peace, and respect within a united Sri Lanka. For this, it will be necessary to carry forward the process of reconciliation with the implementation of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka.”
The two sides held delegation level talks, restricted talks (with external affairs minister S. Jaishankar and NSA Ajit Doval) and a one-on-one conversation between Modi and Rajapaksa on Saturday. In their talks, the two prime ministers deliberated on the entire expanse of bilateral ties and resolved to further deepen anti-terror cooperation and boost trade and investment ties.
The two sides are working on a faster exchange of intelligence on counter-terrorism. This comes in the context of the Easter Sunday terror attacks that ripped through Sri Lanka last year. India had provided detailed intelligence in advance of the attack, but the Sri Lanka security forces reportedly discounted the importance of that intelligence. Modi said today, “we discussed furthering our cooperation against terrorism. I am happy that Sri Lankan police officers have started participating in anti-terrorism courses in India’s premier training institutes. We are also committed to further strengthening the contacts and cooperation between the agencies of the two countries.”
India is wary of the new government, given the Rajapaksa brothers’ history of letting China into the country and therefore into the Indian ocean region, so important for India’s security. To that extent, India has to show a mix of incentives as well as firmness in its dealings with this new government.
In their talks, India also pushed the Sri Lankan side to expedite clearances for two big infrastructure projects that India is undertaking – the Mattala airport in Hambantota and the Eastern Container Terminal off Colombo which India is developing together with Japan. The Rajapaksa government earlier had leant heavily towards China and given the Hambantota port to them. In the intervening years, India has managed to get development rights to Mattala airport, close to the Hambantota port and the ECT.
In his remarks, Rajapaksa said, “Part of our discussions centred around security of our two countries; India always helped us in countering terrorism. … India is our closest neighbour, long-standing friend; close historical links provided solid foundation to our ties. Stability, security, prosperity of Sri Lanka in interests of India as well as Indian Ocean Region.”
The new Rajapaksa government announced recently that the airport would be operated by Sri Lanka, and last week, promised to infuse Rs 500 million to upgrade the airport. Modi reminded Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka’s importance in India’s Indo-Pacific strategy. “Stability, security and prosperity in Sri Lanka are not only in interest of India, but also in the interest of the entire Indian Ocean region. And therefore, our close cooperation is valuable for peace and prosperity even in the Indo-Pacific region.”
Earlier, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar called on the Sri Lankan prime minister.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, elder brother of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, arrived here on Friday on a five-day visit, his first overseas tour after being appointed as prime minister of the island nation in November last year.

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