PM to inaugurate slew of projects in Sri Lanka

India is “intent on strengthening ties” with Sri Lanka, said Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar as he announced a number of projects to be inaugurated during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Sri Lanka on March 13 and 14.

Mr. Modi, who is the first Indian Prime Minister to make a visit to the neighbouring country in 24 years, will commission a railway line in Talaimannar, inaugurate the cultural centre in Jaffna, and also hand over 20,000 homes that have been built by India in the Northern Province.

“India has been a significant contributor to the rebuilding process in Sri Lanka,” Mr. Jaishankar told journalists here at a press conference to discuss the Prime Minister’s three-nation “Indian Ocean foray”, including the Seychelles and Mauritius, that begins on Tuesday.

Mr. Modi will reach Colombo on March 13 and hold discussions with President Maithripala Sirisena. He will attend a lunch hosted by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who has set off a storm with his recent remarks on “shooting Indian fishermen” if they trespass into Sri Lankan waters.

“An emotive issue”

Seeking to downplay the controversy, Mr. Jaishankar said the remarks had been clarified and since it was an “emotive issue” he would not like to comment further.

“All that needed to be said” had been conveyed by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj during her meeting with Mr. Wickremesinghe on Saturday, he said.

Speaking to The Hindu in Delhi, Sri Lankan analyst P. Saravanamuttu from the Centre for Policy Alternatives in Colombo, doubted if Mr. Wickremesinghe’s comments would overshadow Mr. Modi’s visit. “In Sri Lanka, Mr. Wickremesinghe is under criticism from all quarters with pressure to prove his ‘nationalistic’ credentials, and especially over-reliance on India, and his comments may be seen in that context.”

In Colombo, the highlight of Mr. Modi’s visit will possibly be his address to the Sri Lankan Parliament. He has earlier addressed Parliaments in Thimphu and Kathmandu during his visits there in 2014. He will also go to Anuradhapura to see religious sites. Mr. Modi will be the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Jaffna and Talaimannar.

He is expected to take up India’s concerns over the implementation of the 13th amendment and rehabilitation of Tamil refugees in his bilateral talks as well as during his meeting with the governor of the Northern Province in Jaffna.

The Prime Minister will also look to “promote reconciliation” during meetings with leaders of all political parties, including the Tamil National Alliance that rules in the Tamil-majority Northern Province, the ruling SLFP and the UNP, the Foreign Secretary said. However, no meeting has been planned with the former President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, during Mr. Modi’s visit.

No defence pact

While ruling out any defence cooperation agreement during Mr. Modi’s Sri Lanka visit, Mr. Jaishankar said there was a “common thread” to the Prime Minister’s outreach to all three countries vis-à-vis India’s maritime influence.

To hand over 20,000 homes built by India in the Northern Province

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