India and Sri Lanka held the first bilateral meeting after the new government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa took over. India was fast to move-in to invite the Sri Lankan President to India, making this his first port of call since he was sworn in.
The two sides discussed all aspects of ties, specifically economic and security cooperation. The’fruitful’ talks concluded with press statements wherein President Rajapaksa invited Prime Minister to Colombo to become his first State guest.
During the press statement on Friday, Gotabaya Rajapaksa said, “After my election as the President of Sri Lanka, the first official invitation was from His Excellency Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Government of India. I am certainly very happy to be here because India is our closest neighbour, as well as our long-standing friend. I would avail this opportunity to invite Prime Modi to visit us as the first government to visit Sri Lanka since my election.”
While an invitation has been extended, Government of India is yet to respond to the invite. Sources told India Today TV that both sides will first have to work out the dates.
The two leaders met and had close to an hour-long one-on-one meeting where both, President Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed confidence in building “a strong relationship based on mutual respect and shared values”.
Two key announcements that came out of this visit were about India’s new Lines of Credit (LoC) to Sri Lanka — 1) A $400 million LoC for infrastructure and development and, 2) $50 million special LoC for security and counter-terrorism.
Explaining the counter-terror fund, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “On the occasion of Easter this year, terrorists in Sri Lanka launched brutal attacks on the diversity of mankind and the valuable heritage of symbiosis. I have discussed, in detail, with President Rajapaksa for mutual security and to further strengthen mutual cooperation against terrorism. I am happy to announce a special Line of Credit of $50 million to Sri Lanka to combat terrorism.”
“Since our recent experience in April this year, we have had to rethink our national security strategies, and assistance from India in this regard would be most appreciated”, President Rajapaksa said.
The talks also focused on issues like fulfilling aspirations of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka, how the country could benefit from certain economic sectors of India and address India’s concerns on the fishermen issue.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa said that the fishermen issue would be addressed and also agreed to the demand of releasing boats of Indian fishermen.
“We discussed in length the fishermen’s issue and we will take steps to release the boats belonging to India in our custody”, he said.
India and Sri Lanka saw a major dip in ties in 2014 when Mahinda Rajapaksa allowed docking of Chinese submarines in Colombo’s harbour. Both sides reaffirmed that no destabilising factor would be entertained by wither administration in the Indian Ocean waters.
“We will continue to work with India to ensure that the Indian Ocean region remains as a zone of peace”, said President Rajapaksa.