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Russia to lend post-war Sri Lanka $300 mln for arms

[Reuters, Saturday, 6 February 2010 09:21 No Comment]

slarmy Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa left on Saturday for Moscow, where he will sign a $300 million (192 million pound) loan to buy military equipment from Russia, despite an end to his country’s quarter-century civil war.

Sri Lanka defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May in a final offensive that prompted allegations of human rights abuses from the international community.

Russia, one of the main arms suppliers during the war apart from China and India, backed the Sri Lankan government on several occasions at the Geneva human rights council to head off a debate over the conduct of the war in Sri Lanka.

"We don’t manufacture arms," an official at the presidential office told Reuters when asked about the Russian deal. "Sri Lanka might need arms for its armed forces. It is a legitimate need for its forces."

Russian state-run news agency RIA has said the $300-million loan deal to buy military and dual-purpose equipment would be signed during Rajapaksa’s visit.

Russia is one of the largest buyers of Sri Lankan tea, RIA said

Sri Lanka’s 2009 defence spending was estimated at up to 200 billion rupees ($1.74 billion), 17 percent of the country’s total estimated expenditure.

The Russia deal comes after the former army commander General Sarath Fonseka in July said the island nation had cancelled a $200 million purchase of arms from Pakistan and China after the end of its war with the Tamil Tigers.

Fonseka stood victorious with Rajapaksa in the war, but the two fell out and have become bitter political enemies since the general entered the presidential race in November, in which the government blamed Fonseka for a corrupt arms deal.

Fonseka has denied the charge.

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