Sri Lanka will top Modis three nation tour from March 10 to 14

By Sarkaritel March 9, 2015 13:59

Sri Lanka will top Modis three nation tour from March 10 to 14

By TN Ashok    Diplomatic Editor

NEW DELHI, March 09:  India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi leaves here tomorrow on a three nation tour of  Indian Ocean countries Seychelles, Mauritius and neighboring Sri Lanka in what is described as an “”over arch”” to develop the ocean economies in the region to usher in greater economic stability.

Sri Lanka will apparently top the list of these countries for Prime Minister Modi’s visit which seeks to take advantage of the new dispensation in the island republic headed by Maithirapala Sirisena that’s more conducive to taking the reconciliation process forward focusing on difficult issues such as the implementation of the 13th amendment guaranteeing equal rights for the minorities like the Tamil Population and also resolving the vexatious issue of Tamil fishermen.

India attaches great importance to furthering diplomatic, political and economic relations with its immediate neighbour Sri Lanka and the fact that Prime Minister Modi’s visit climaxes three other bilateral visits evidences its commitment for deeper relations with that country, India’s Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar told newsmen today on the even of PM’s three nation visit that includes Sri Lanka.

India’s External Affairs Minister Ms Sushma Swaraj, who has just returned from Colombo after her preparatory visit for Modis official tour, had met with her counterpart the Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera last week and Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Vikremesinghe where she held extensive and cordial discussions covering a wide range of areas relating to bilateral cooperation.

External Affairs Minister Ms Sushma Swaraj and Foreign Minister Samaraweera had reviewed the arrangements relating to Modi’s visit next week. The two Ministers had agreed to convene the Ninth Session of the Joint Commission, headed by them in Colombo at an early date. The successful completion of the Commerce Secretary level talks held on 04 March 2015 in Colombo was also taken into account.

Ms Swaraj was hosted to a luncheon by the Lankan PM Wickremesinghe and earlier on. Foreign Minister Samaraweera had hosted a welcome dinner in her honour.

Prime Minister Modi who flies out tomorrow on his first trip abroad this year will be visiting the three countries from March 10 to 14 and reaches Sri Lanka on March 13.  On March 11, in Seychelles, Modi will hold bilateral discussions with President James Alexis Michel to strengthen bilateral maritime ties and enhance development cooperation.

Secretary West in MEA Navtej Sarna said maritime relations and security was strong with both Mauritus and Seychelles. Both the Deputy NSA and NSA besides the Naval Chief had visited the countries to review maritime security.

Modi’s visit to Sri Lanka will be the 1st by an Indian Prime Minister in the last 28 years since the then (late) Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s visit in 1987.

Prime Minister Modi arrives in Sri Lanka on March 13th to a ceremonial welcome and soon moves into high level discussion with the President Maithripala Sirisena that would cover a wide range of topics as India engages in a major effort with that country in its quest to further the reconciliation process and the reconstruction it has committed to the civil war raved country.

Foreign Secretary Jaishankar said Prime Minister Modi would also have discussions with his counterpart Ranil Wikremesinghe. Prime Minister Modi will address the Sri Lankan parliament, a rare honour bestowed on a visiting dignitary. He meets with prominent Sri Lankan MP’s thereafter.

Modi will visit the IPKF memorial and pay homage to the Indian soldiers who sacrificed their lives in pursuit of preserving the integrity of Sri Lanka. Modi is also scheduled to meet leaders of the Tamil National alliance besides the former President Ms Chandrika Bandaranaike.

On Day two, Modi flies out of Colombo to Anuradhapura to visit the Mahabodhi shrine where he offers prayers. The Prime Minister also visits Talai Mannar , a historic place because it was the first point of contact between India and Sri Lanka before trading started between the two. He flags off a train from Talai Mannar to Medawachchiya Junction. Modi’s flagging off this train is very significant because Indian engineers have been involved in the reconstruction of this rail link.

With civil war ending in May 2009 in Sri Lanka, the government initiated various projects to rebuild the entire line. The contract to reconstruct the 44 kilometres (27 mi) line between Medawachchiya Junction and Madhu was awarded to India’s state owned engineering and construction company, IRCON international. The project’s cost is about US $ 81 million and its financed by a soft loan from the Indian government. I

IRCON has also been awarded the contract to reconstruct the 65 kilometres (40 mi) line between Madhu and Talaimannar. The project’s cost is about US $ 150 million, also financed by the Indian ‘government’s soft loan to the island republic. The section of the line between Medawachchiya and Madhu Road reopened on 14 May 2013, following its reconstruction.

Prime Minister Modi visits Jaffna where he unveils a foundation plaque. India’s committed to rebuilding homes for the displaced people there in the ethnic Tamil dominated region. From Jaffna PM Modi returns to Colombo where he meets leaders of the Tamil Congress among others before returning to India.

India has committed to building about 50,000 homes for displaced people with 42,000 in the northern region and 5,000 in the eastern region and the remaining in the central area. 27,000 of these homes have already been built.

Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Sri Lanka also hopes to boost the economic relations between the two countries. Sample this: IOCL and CPC together operate about 15 oil tankers, India is readying to build a 500 MW power plant in Sampa and its awaiting environment clearance.

India’s trade relations with Sri Lanka now stands at over US $ 5.2 billion with Indian exports amounting to about US $ 4.6 billion and imports equalling about US $ 600 million.  Prime Minister Modi, it might be recalled, had assured the visiting Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena that the trade imbalance would be corrected with India increasing its imports from the island nation. This could include garments and processed foods.

Prime Minister Modi’s address to the Sri Lankan chamber of commerce is also expected to strengthen trade ties between the two countries encouraging greater exports from the island to India.

India is also to explore how to improve the connectivity between the two countries. Currently about 118 weekly flights between India and Colombo facilitate movement of tourists to and fro. Over 200,000 tourists from India visit Sri Lanka every year and 260,000 tourists from Sri Lanka visit India. Measures to make travel for tourists between the two countries are being discussed which includes easing of regulations.

Answering questions, the Indian Foreign Secretary Jaishankar said rehabilitation and repatriation of Tamil refugees living in India back to their home land in Sri Lanka are being discussed between the two governments with India seeking assurances of their return with dignity, honour and security. There are more than 100,000 Tamil refugees living in Tamil Nadu with 65,000 of them in camps and 37,000 outside it.

The foreign secretary however declined to answer any questions on the Tamil Nadu government’s stand opposing the repatriation of the Tamil refugees back to Sri Lanka as also the opposition party DMKs similar stand on the issue.

Earlier briefing the media, Navtej Sarna, Secretary West, said PM Modi’s visit to Seychelles and Mauritius was part of India’s Over Arch to build Indian Ocean economies. In Mauritius, 70% of the population is Indian. India has built the 1st cyber city in Mauritius and has plans to make its port a petroleum hub in the region.

None of the foreign office officials offered an answer to a question on why Maldives was not included in the PM’s itinerary of the Indian Ocean countries. “What is not there is not there”, is what Indian Foreign Secretary Jaishankar said.

By Sarkaritel March 9, 2015 13:59