Sushma Swaraj meets Sirisena, discusses progress on Indian projects

The issue of perceived delay in India-backed schemes figures at meet

September 01, 2017 09:34 pm | Updated September 02, 2017 12:44 am IST - COLOMBO

Close allies:  Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj with Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in Colombo.

Close allies: Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj with Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in Colombo.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Friday met President Maithripala Sirisena and discussed ​a host of bilateral matters, including the perceived delay ​in implementing India​-backed projects in the island​.

The meeting took place at President Sirisena’s residence, a top source in Colombo told  ​​The Hindu . While Ms. Swaraj assur​ed ​President Sirisena that ​New Delhi appreciated the domestic political challenges​ facing his government,​ ​she urged Colombo to expedite decision-making on the terms of the projects, ​the top source said, requesting anonymity​.​

India assured him of its continued and fullest support to the Sri Lankan government, a statement from the President's office said.  The national unity government led by President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe -- from the rival parties SLFP and UNP  --   is under pressure. It faces large scale corruption allegations in addition to a challenge from the SLFP faction led by former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has vowed to topple the government. 

The government's agreements with foreign actors including China and India have come under sharp criticism from sections in the ​country's ​Sinhala-majority south.

 The specifics of a host of India-supported development projects in ​Sri Lanka ​have been under negotiation​ ​since ​April 2017​, ​ when the neighbours signed an overarching MoU ​.

In addition to jointly developing a World War-era oil tank in the strategically located eastern port town of Trincomalee, India has more recently expressed interest to operate Sri Lanka’s second international airport in Mattala.

The southern town is 40 km away from Hambantota, where China has majority stake in a port.  However New Delhi has been concerned over Colombo’s apparently slow-paced efforts in taking the projects forward.Minister Swaraj, who met Prime Minister Wickremesinghe on Thursday, held discussions with her counterpart Tilak Marapana on Friday. Before her departure to India Ms. Swaraj met Leader of Opposition and Tamil National Alliance leader R. Sampanthan at the airport.

The veteran Tamil politician briefed Ms. Swaraj on the delay in the Constitution making process and urged New Delhi to use its good offices to support the government see the process through, a statement said.​Ms. Swaraj was  in Colombo to participate in the Indian Ocean Conference organised by the India Foundation. 

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