Shringla begins four-day visit to Sri Lanka on October 2

Shringla begins four-day visit to Sri Lanka on October 2

Foreign Secretary will assess development projects, progress on Tamil reconciliation

Assessing progress on a number of infrastructure and energy projects, and Sri Lanka’s need for economic assistance, will be at the top of the agenda as Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla arrives in Colombo on Saturday for a four-day visit to Sri Lanka.

An MEA release announcing the visit said: “The visit of Foreign Secretary will provide an opportunity to review our bilateral ties, progress of ongoing bilateral projects and ongoing cooperation to tackle Covid related disruptions.” The release said that Sri Lanka occupies a “central place” in India’s “neighbourhood first” policy.

The visit is being seen as an attempt to reset ties that have been under a strain over the Sri Lankan decision to cancel an MoU with India and Japan for Colombo’s East Container Terminal, and slow progress in a number of other proposals including the Trincomalee oil farms, the Sampur power project (which is being converted to a solar project), and the development of the northern part of the island nation. In particular, New Delhi has been concerned by the perception that while Indian projects have taken inordinately long to be cleared, projects helmed by China have been cleared even during the pandemic, as with the Sri Lankan government’s Parliament vote to facilitate the $1.4 billion China-backed Colombo Port City development in May this year. However, sources said that the Modi government is satisfied that India has a place in the Colombo port with President Gotabaya offering the West Coast Terminal to Adani Ports, for which an agreement was signed on Thursday.

In an exclusive interview to The Hindu, Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner Milinda Moragoda said that a “trust deficit” between the two countries could stem from issues like the “wrong perceptions” that Sri Lanka is closer to China, but that New Delhi and Colombo had a “civilisational link” that overrides differences.

In meetings with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda, the Foreign and Finance Ministers, and his counterpart, Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary Admiral Jayanath Colombage, Mr. Shringla is expected to raise concerns about the reconciliation process and promises of devolution of power to northern Sri Lanka, which have remained unfulfilled more than a decade after the end of the war on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009. Last week, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar was briefed by newly appointed Sri Lankan Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris about action taken by the Rajapaksa government on missing persons; release of LTTE prisoners; and human rights issues, where Sri Lanka is facing some pressure from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and the European Union.

According to a release issued by the Sri Lankan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Shringla will travel to Kandy, Trincomalee and Jaffna from Colombo. He will start the day on Sunday by visiting the Buddhist Sacred Tooth Relic temple, and then will travel to Trincomalee to see possible projects at the oil tank farms, part of an MoU signed in 2018. In Jaffna that evening, he will tour the Cultural Centre being built by India. On Monday, he will hold meetings with the Sri Lankan government and other parties.

Sources aware of the planning for the visit also said it would be a chance for the Indian delegation to assess Sri Lanka’s requirement for economic assistance as well as possible vaccine exports in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis that has devastated its key tourism sector, and dwindled foreign exchange reserves to a few months at best.

The two sides, that along with Maldives form the Colombo Security Conclave to discuss trilateral efforts to counter threats like terrorism, drugs and piracy, are also expected to take forward a proposal to include Mauritius, the Seychelles, and Bangladesh, in the security dialogue. However, an official said India’s Indo-Pacific policy or expected developments in the Indian Ocean with the launch of the Australia-U.K.-U.S. security alliance, which includes nuclear powered submarines, were not expected to be discussed during the talks.

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