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India signs $416-mn deal for railways in Lanka

[Express Buzz, Saturday, 27 November 2010 20:14 No Comment]

Over a year after the Tamil Tigers were crushed, India and Sri Lanka Friday took their ties to new heights by unveiling New Delhi-aided projects worth $1 billion and expanding cooperation in areas ranging from energy to defence.

Even as India called for a lasting political settlement, Colombo promised that the estimated 20,000 Tamils still without homes because of the war will be resettled by the end of the year.

The two countries signed a credit arrangement for $416.39 million for a railway link in Sri Lanka’s north — the former war zoen — to be formally launched by Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna Saturday.

Seeking to expand their until now quiet security cooperation, the two sides decided to operationalise the pact on transferring each other’s prisoners sentenced to jail.

Krishna and his Sri Lankan counterpart G.L. Peiris concluded the seventh session of the India-Sri Lanka Joint Commission, covering an entire range of issues including intensification of trade and defence ties.

On a busy day Friday, Krishna launched the Consulate General of India in Hambantota, in the political territory of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and will inaugurate a consulate in Jaffna, the Tamil heartland, Saturday.

The joint statement issued after the talks captured an unprecedented expansion in ties since the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May last year.

"India-Sri Lanka relations have diversified with the passage of time, encompassing all areas of contemporary relevance, including trade, services and investment, development cooperation, science and technology, culture and education," it said.

"Today, with the end of armed conflict in Sri Lanka, these relations are poised to develop further in an all-round manner."

"The cessation of hostilities in Sri Lanka provides a historic opportunity to address all outstanding issues related to rehabilitation as well as a political settlement in a spirit of understanding and mutual accommodation," Krishna said after the meeting.

"It is our hope that a structured dialogue mechanism to work towards this end will be launched soon," he said.

"We have been assured that it is the intention of the Sri Lankan government to resettle the Internally Displaced Persons by the end of this year," he added.

In a significant step, the two countries plan to start an annual defence dialogue, likely next year.

Earlier in the day, Krishna, who began a four-day visit to Sri Lanka Thursday, called on President Rajapaksa. The two countries are to build 50,000 houses for displaced Tamils in the Northern and Eastern provinces and for workers in the tea estates in the Central Province.

Krishna, who will formally launch the housing project in Jaffna Saturday, described it "an enduring symbol of India-Sri Lanka partnership".

Krishna said he discussed with Peiris issues related to the safety of Indian fishermen in the sea dividing the two countries.

Against the backdrop of increasing Chinese influence in Sri Lanka, Krishna rejected any rivalry with Beijing.

"The relationship between India and Sri Lanka need not be at the cost of other countries," Krishna told reporters. "Our ultimate objective is hoping to see a prosperous, stable Sri Lanka at peace with itself."

The two sides boosted cooperation in the energy sector. India’s National Thermal Power Corp and Sri Lanka’s state-owned Ceylon Electricity Board have concluded agreements to build a 500 megawatt coal-fired power plant near Trincomalee in the east.

The two sides are also set to resume ferry services between Colombo and the southern Indian ports of Tuticorin, Talaimannar and Rameswaram, which were interrupted by the war.

Economically, the two neighbours are heading for greater trade and investment. A delegation from India’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry will visit Sri Lanka next month to resume discussions on the draft framework text of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA)

Sri Lanka lauded India’s assistance in a wide variety of projects for resettlement of displaced civilians and reconstruction of the war-ravaged north and east.

[Full Coverage]

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