Jaishankar-Peiris to focus on economic assistance, fishers issue

Jaishankar-Peiris to focus on economic assistance, fishers issue

Sri Lanakan Foreign Minister’s visit ahead of Finance Minister trip

Sri Lankan Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris will meet External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on Monday, in his first visit to India since being appointed last August. Both sides are expected to discuss India’s economic support to Sri Lanka, plans for new infrastructure projects and pending issues over fishermen’s rights.

Announcing Mr. Peiris’ arrival in Delhi on Sunday, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla would call on him on Monday morning, and he would meet Mr. Jaishankar later in the day, and fly out on Tuesday.

BIMSTEC summit

Officials are also expected to discuss Sri Lanka’s plans to hold the BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) summit on March 30 as the current Chair of the regional grouping that includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also been invited to attend.

The Foreign Minister arrived just days after the Export Import Bank (EXIM) of India and the Government of Sri Lanka signed a $500- million Line of Credit agreement which would help Sri Lanka cope with its current fuel shortages. Last month India announced it would defer Sri Lankan debt repayment of $500 million by two months, and extended a $400 million currency swap arrangement, to give its neighbour some breathing space on a currency reserve crunch.

India and Sri Lanka have signed an MoU for the development of oil facilities in Trincomalee, after detailed talks with Sri Lankan Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa during his visit to Delhi in November. Both governments are in talks for another $1 billion in assistance from India, which will be reviewed during Mr. Peiris’s visit, and also during another visit later this month by Mr. Basil Rajapaksa.

Tensions over fishing

However, long-drawn differences over fishermen’s rights are expected to be on the agenda for talks, as Sri Lanka demands that Indian fishermen stop “bottom trawling” and overfishing of the Palk Straits. Tensions escalated last month after mid-sea clashes between Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen that led to the death of two Jaffna fishermen. Meanwhile, on January 25, Sri Lanka released more than 50 Indian fishermen who had been detained by the Sri Lankan navy in December. The foreign ministers are expected to discuss ways to defuse tensions over the issue.

Mr. Peris has met Mr. Jaishankar on two previous occasions in the past few months, including on the side-lines of the UN General Assembly in New York, and an Indian Ocean Region conference in Abu Dhabi in December. He was Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka from 2010-2015 under then-President Mahinda Rajapaksa who is now Prime Minister.

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