Swaraj, Wickremesinghe hold talks on investment, SEZ

IndiaExternal affairs minister Sushma Swaraj on Friday called on Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who sought Indian investment and offered partnership in setting up a Special Economic Zone besides briefing her on latest political developments in the country.

Swaraj, who arrived Colombo on Friday on her second visit to the country within a year, held talks with Wickremesinghe at the Prime Minister’s Office ‘Temple Trees’, and the two leaders had a “fruitful exchange of views”.

During their 50-minute long meeting, Wickremesinghe sought Indian investment in Sri Lanka and proposed partnership in setting up an SEZ in Trincomalee, officials said.

“Their talks began with the discussion on the India-Lanka Joint Commission meeting and the prime minister said this is a very important forum for the two sides to advance in bilateral partnership in all areas,” they said.

Wickremesinghe also proposed to make the Joint Commission meeting an annual affair. The two leaders also talked about state university linkages. The joint commission was set up in 1992 as a mechanism to address issues of bilateral cooperation. The last meeting of the Joint Commission was held in New Delhi in January 2013.

Wickremesinghe briefed Swaraj on the latest political developments in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan prime minister had last month said his government was ready to devolve power to minority Tamils under a new Constitution, aimed at resolving the ethnic conflict and achieving reconciliation with Tamils.

Swaraj, who arrived Colombo on a two-day visit, was received by her Sri Lankan counterpart Mangala Samaraweera at the airport. The two leaders will co-chair the 9th Joint Commission meeting to discuss key bilateral and regional issues today.

The talks will cover the entire gamut of relationship pertaining to economic cooperation, trade, power and energy, technical and maritime cooperation, social, cultural and educational matters, science and technology, defence cooperation, health, civil aviation, tourism and people-to- people contact.

The fishermen issue is expected to figure during Joint Commission meeting. The fishermen issue continues to be a major irritant in India-Lanka ties.

Sri Lanka accuses Indian fishermen of straying into its territorial waters, while India maintains they are only fishing in their traditional areas, especially around Katchatheevu, an islet ceded to Colombo in 1974.

Though the fishermen’s associations of the two sides are in regular touch with each other, they have not been able to reach a mutually-acceptable solution to end this problem.

Swaraj will also call on President Maithripala Sirisena and former president Chandrika Kumaratunga besides meeting other top leaders.

India-Sri Lanka relations had seen lows during last few years of the tenure of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was voted out of power, even as China had expanded its footprint in the country by building ports, highways and participating in other infrastructure projects.

Ties gained momentum after the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Sri Lanka in March last year, the first bilateral tour by an Indian premier in over 25 years. Swaraj had visited Sri Lanka in March 2015. (PTI)

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