Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa arrives in New Delhi

Mr. Rajapaksa will have meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar.

February 07, 2020 04:44 pm | Updated 09:30 pm IST - Colombo

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa being recieved by MoS HRD Sanjay Dhotre at the IGI airport on February 7, 2020.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa being recieved by MoS HRD Sanjay Dhotre at the IGI airport on February 7, 2020.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa arrived in New Delhi on Friday evening on his first official visit abroad after being appointed to the office by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, his younger brother.

Mr. Rajapaksa is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi at noon on Saturday while External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar will call on the visiting leader earlier, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement. The Sri Lankan Prime Minister, who will receive a ceremonial reception at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, will also call on President Ram Nath Kovind, the ministry added.

Mr. Rajapaksa’s visit to New Delhi follows those of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in late November — when New Delhi announced a $450 million Line of Credit — and Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena in January. From the Indian side, Mr. Jaishankar and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval have visited Colombo after the new government took charge in November.


Development and debt

According to a statement from the Sri Lankan Prime Minister’s office, defence and maritime security cooperation, politics, trade, development, culture and tourism would be discussed during the visit.

Development cooperation is likely to be high on the agenda, while it remains to be seen if New Delhi might announce any new assistance. Especially since Mr. Doval, in his meeting with President Rajapaksa in Colombo last month, reportedly discussed countering “debt traps”, a term often used in the West and India while referring to large-scale Chinese loans. Prime Minister Rajapaksa, who also has the Finance, Economic and Policy Development portfolios, has the task of overseeing the repayment of Sri Lanka’s mounting external debt totalling billions of dollars.

Tamil concerns

Sri Lanka’s Tamil leadership will keenly watch if the pending political solution to Sri Lanka’s national question is discussed. Following Mr. Jaishankar’s Colombo visit in November, the MEA said New Delhi “expects” Colombo to take forward post-war reconciliation. Mr. Modi, during President Rajapaksa’s visit, expressed confidence that Sri Lanka would carry forward the process of reconciliation, “to fulfil the aspirations of the Tamil for equality, justice, peace and respect.”

The Sri Lankan President has emphasised the need for development over power devolution in the war-hit areas and expressed reservations over devolving land and police powers to the provinces envisaged in the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, an outcome of the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987. 

On the other hand, Prime Minister Rajapaksa told Tamil media heads in Colombo last month that there was “no change” in his position to implement “13 Plus”, implying he would implement the existing amendment in full and go beyond it — an assurance he had given India in the past. 

Fisheries conflict

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s Minister of Fisheries & Aquatic Resources Douglas Devananda, who is travelling with the PM, said he was going to propose that the two countries set up a joint marine resources management authority. “We should have seven members from either side, including bureaucrats, researchers, fishermen’s association representatives, and find a lasting solution to the Palk Bay fisheries conflict,” Mr. Devananda told The Hindu  on Friday. 

Further, the Minister said he planned to request India to build more houses in the north and east and provide assistance for deep sea fishing techniques. India has so far helped build 46,000 homes in the war-affected areas. 

Minister of Community Empowerment and Estate Infrastructure Development Arumugan Thondaman and former foreign minister G.L. Peiris are also part of the PM’s delegation. Following his meetings in New Delhi, Mr. Rajapaksa will proceed to temples including the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi, the Maha Bodhi temple in Bodh Gaya and Tirupati before concluding his four-day visit, the MEA said.

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