Unpublicised meeting held between NSA and Gotabaya

India and Sri Lanka have agreed to a slew of naval cooperation measures to target pirates and terrorist groups operating in the Indian ocean, highly-placed government sources have told The Hindu. The measures were discussed at an unpublicised meeting between Sri Lanka’s permanent Defence Secretary, Lieutenant-Colonel Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and India’s National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon on Thursday.

The meeting, as well as separate dialogues with Indian naval commanders, took place amidst tensions in diplomatic relations between the countries. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had stayed away from a recent Commonwealth Heads of Government summit in Colombo, amidst criticism of Sri Lanka’s human rights record.

A Ministry of External Affairs official confirmed that Mr. Gotabaya Rajapakse made what it called a “courtesy call” on External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, but said he had no comment to offer on military meetings. A spokesperson for the Indian Navy also confirmed that meetings between the Defence Secretary and the naval commanders took place on Thursday and Friday, but said he could not share details. Mr. Menon’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Indian government sources, however, said Thursday’s meetings were focussed on pushing ahead military-to-military cooperation to secure both countries’ common security interests. Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa also discussed the wider strategic environment, including the possible impact of political tensions on India-Sri Lanka relationship.

The two countries, along with the Maldives, had signed a security cooperation agreement in July this year, designed to make operations by the three navies seamless.

India’s military-to-military relationship with Sri Lanka has grown despite political tensions.

India, military sources said, also trains several hundred Sri Lankan military personnel at its schools, in spite of political opposition from some leaders in Tamil Nadu. In addition to naval personnel, over a hundred Sri Lankan army officers are being trained at the Mhow Infantry School and other prestigious institutions.

The training has continued despite protests from Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa.

(With inputs from Meera Srinivasan in Colombo and Gaurav Bhatnagar in New Delhi.)

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