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Foreign secy Jaishankar in Colombo: On agenda, Lanka port development, security ties

Officials said that the Foreign secretary would also try to get a sense of the progress on the new Constitution, being drafted by the Sirisena government.

Written by Shubhajit Roy | New Delhi |
February 18, 2017 1:20:45 am
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India and Sri Lanka will discuss the final modalities of developing the strategically-located Trincomalee port, when Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar meets the Sri Lankan leadership over the next three days, top government sources told The Indian Express. Jaishankar, who served in Sri Lanka during the Indian Peace Keeping Force mission, is headed to Colombo for the weekend — February 18 to 20 — for bilateral consultations. Sources said that Jaishankar’s visit will have economic, strategic and political content and is aimed at preparing ground for high-level visits this year. Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is expected to come to India again this year, and the two sides want to have some big-ticket announcements.

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On the port development, officials said that the two countries are close to finalising an accord to take New Delhi’s help to develop Trincomalee Port in the east of the island nation. This is widely perceived to be Colombo’s effort to assuage India’s concerns about Beijing’s presence. China has developed the Hambantota port in the south and is investing in Colombo port. This has caused some worry in Delhi about Beijing’s intent. Officials said that there is a possibility of projects in the railway sector, as Colombo is planning to expand its railway connectivity within the island. “The Indian government has shown some good expertise in the rebuilding of railway lines, so that is another area of focus during the visit,” a source said.

The two sides are also working on a plan to set up a 500 MW gas-based power plant after protests erupted over a coal-based power project in Sampur. “The Foreign secretary would also want this project to move forward… and there are issues related to gas supply, pricing etc, apart from land acquisition…they all need to be discussed,” a source said. “The two sides will also discuss security and defence cooperation, and they will work on ways to strengthen this area of partnership,” a source said.

Officials said that the Foreign secretary would also try to get a sense of the progress on the new Constitution, being drafted by the Sirisena government. After Sirisena assumed office in January 2015, the government had promised to come up with a new Constitution which would give more powers to provinces in the north, where a majority of ethnic Tamil minorities live.

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