International

Ajit Doval to visit Colombo on November 27

National Security Advisor Ajit Doval | File   | Photo Credit: AP

National Security Adviser Ajit Doval will be in Colombo on Friday for trilateral discussions among India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

Maldivian Defence Minister Mariya Ahmed Didi will also travel to Colombo, while the Sri Lankan side will be represented at the highest levels by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, officials said.

This is Mr. Doval’s second official visit to Sri Lanka this year. He was here in January — on the heels of President Rajapaksa’s resounding election victory last year and New Delhi visit soon after — and held discussions on strengthening military ties and countering a “debt trap”, with the Sri Lankan leadership.

Friday’s scheduled meeting of the Indian Ocean neighbours marks the resumption of the NSA-level trilateral Maritime Security Cooperation talks, after six years. The last such discussion was held in New Delhi in March 2014, and the Sri Lankan side was represented by President Rajapaksa, who was then the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development.

The initiative began in 2011 and top officials met regularly until New Delhi’s relations with the former Abdulla Yameen administration in Male deteriorated, according to diplomatic sources. New Delhi was waiting for the conclusion of Sri Lanka’s parliamentary elections — they were held in August and reaffirmed the Rajapaksas’ electoral appeal — to revive the trilateral talks, sources said.

On the sidelines of the trilateral meeting, the NSA is also expected to have “other high-level bilateral engagements”, a press release from the Ministry of External Affairs said, in an indication that bilateral matters of top priority to New Delhi will be discussed with the Sri Lankan leadership. The possible joint development of the East Container Terminal at the strategically located Colombo Port — by Sri Lanka, in partnership with India and Japan — has been in news, with port worker unions resisting foreign involvement.

Sources in Colombo said matters of shared interest and concern are likely to be taken up for discussion. Significantly, the meeting comes months after the Maldives signed a defence deal with the U.S., and more recently, received a Japanese grant to strengthen its coastguard.

Mr. Doval’s visit also comes in a series of visits by top foreign officials to Colombo, first by a high-powered Chinese delegation early in October, followed by that of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo late last month amid a persisting second wave of COVID-19 in Sri Lanka. The visiting delegations, Colombo maintained, were within a “travel bubble” and “followed all health protocols”.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2021 5:59:25 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/ajit-doval-to-visit-colombo-on-november-27/article33182359.ece

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